Saturday, December 27, 2008
BEHIND THE FENCE - IT IS FAIR GAME
BEHIND THE FENCE - ITS FAIR GAME
Behind the fence hunts have been a controversial topic for many years and one of the primary targets of the anti-hunting organizations. And unfortunately they are also looked upon by some hunters and hunting organizations with disdain as well. I understand the objection by the anti’s but quite frankly I do not understand that of the hunters. But after talking with many of these hunters I have found that the majority of them do not totally understand exactly what takes place at these preserves and ranches. True, years ago there were fenced operations which literally offered and utilized unethical “boxed” hunts. But these places are, and have been gone for many years, and today’s hunting preserves offer a truly realistic and ethical hunt. And in this article that I will attempt to explain to the hunter, not the unreasonable anti-hunter, just what goes on “behind the fence” and how these hunting preserves serve a very important purpose, not only to the hunter; but the future of our hunting tradition as well.
I think Ted Nugent summed it up perfectly in a recent Field & Stream interview when asked if high fence hunting degrades the heritage of American hunting and the rules of fair chase. Here is a recap of his answers. This is the Motor City Madman at his very best.
There will always be whiners and small-minded squawkers who overreact base on assumption and other unidentifiable presumptuous notions. To their way of thinking in-line muzzleloaders, scopes, treestands, compound and crossbows, deer drives, etc. degrade our American hunting heritage and our reputation. They are so divisive and unsophisticated and I pray that they become educated.
And when asked if he prefers to hunt in enclosures or in the wild he said, “I prefer to hunt, period, and shall more and more each year everyplace I possibly can. I am a hunter.”
Now let’s look at some the truths about hunting these enclosures; first from my own experiences.
Part of my job as an outdoor writer is to test, evaluate and report to the sportsmen/women on the latest new firearms, bows and even crossbows. These tests include extensive on the range accuracy and performance reviews and comparisons which I like to followed up by an actual hunting situation.
Hunting with these new firearms and bows are usually not a problem in NYS but it is with the crossbow due to strict disable-only hunter regulations. However these regulations do not apply to hunting preserves in NYS and therefore I am able to hunt with the Horton Crossbow at a preserve just a short distance from my home.
Actually my first harvest with a crossbow took place on a preserve. My choice of game - a 1700 pound bison that took me that I think covered almost every inch of the preserve and two full days of hunting before I was able to get clean kill shot. It was one of my greatest hunts that included some very anxious moments and a VERY dramatic and dangerous face to face encounter with a one ton herd bull who was not happy with my continued pursuit of him and his herd that I will never forget.
It was at this same preserve that I met two hunters who were both hunting their first Russian wild boar. And it was from these average hunters that I really learned what these preserves really offered the everyday hunter.
During dinner that evening at the lodge I asked them “why they chose a preserve to hunt.” Their answer was short and simple: time and money. “We just do not have the time nor the money to go out of state to hunt boar. We priced the wild boar hunts in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and the average costs would have been close to $2000; and that did not include transportation and taking a week off from work. Here it is just $500, we don’t need a license, we can pick our own season and it was just a 31/2 hour ride from our house.” Economics, convenience and the thrill of a good hunt - this is what any reputable preserve will offer you.
Now I would like to ask one questions for those of you hunters who look down upon those who hunt behind the fence: “Who gets hurt ?” If a man or woman has the desire to shoot a trophy or exotic animal not native to the area, but cannot ever hope to afford it, should he/she be denied the opportunity or right to do it, as long as it is done legally, ethically and within the confines of a preserve? I agree that it may not be for everyone, but you should not judge the intentions of those that do.
Fair chase is another term that often arises in conversations involving enclosure or behind the fence hunting. Boone and Crockett defines fair chase as the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit and taking an any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals. Doesn’t hunting legally over bait, using a ground blind or treestand, using a rifle scope, etc. also give the hunter an advantage?
In the past twenty years I have hunted in a number of preserves and do not consider myself any less of a hunter. I know that I would have probably never been able to afford or experience the thrills and excitement of hunting 9 wild boar, 2 fallow and sika deer, stags, bison, rams and 2 wild crossbow turkeys. And I can honestly say that my most memorable hunt took place last year behind a fence where I shot a magnificent bull elk. Let me share this elk hunt with you.
It was well before sunup when I met Dan Jennings, the manager of the Easton View Outfitters, a private preserve located in the Washington County town of Easton, New York. Dan was going to be my guide for my elk hunt and I must admit I was pumped. Joining me was Tim Blodgett, host of the local All Outdoors radio show, who would be taping the play-by-play of the hunt. He would also be doubling as my camera man.
The game plan was to circle the preserve and come in through the heavily wooded topside of the mountain and work our way down. Dan expected the elk would be bedded down in the valley, fields and swamp below us.
I remember standing on a ledge whispering how excited I was about the hunt and describing how pretty the sun was as it started to peek through the pines into Tim’s tape recorder when we heard our first unsolicited bugle. A bull elk bugling in New York State - it gave me the chills followed shortly thereafter by a real adrenaline rush. I don’t think I have felt this way since the first time I sighted in on a whitetail buck.
Quickly Dan had us moving down the steep slopes to a blow down about 200 yards below us. Once in place Dan hadn’t even finished his first call when the bull responded. And each call he made the bull answered; but he didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Then out of nowhere, there about 100 yards below was a young spike bull headed right for us. At one point he was less than 10 yards from where I was sitting.
For the next hour I had no less that four other bull elk in my scope at distances from 10 to 100yards; one of which was a beautiful 5 by 5 that had Dan given me the word, I would have ended my hunt right then. But he said, “Not that one; we can do better.” Easy for him to say, but I trusted his judgement and relaxed.
Another hour and a half of calling got distance responses but they just didn’t seem to get any closer to us. Perhaps the bull already had his harem of cows and did not want to leave them. And when he stopped responding to the calls and we sat in silence for another 45 minutes I was beginning to get that, “I should have taken the 5 by 5 feeling.” But that ill-feeling quickly departed when Dan nudge me and smilingly whispered: “There’s your bull; get ready.”
There just 200 yards below was a beautiful 6 by 6 bull elk raking his huge rack on several small scrub pines. Now he was talking again and each call Dan made was answered with a spine chilling response and he was coming closer. It was awesome to watch the bull as he lowered his head and responded to Dan’s love-sick cow calls.
It took several deep breaths to settle my nerves and at about 75 yards I slowly raised the old Marlin 336SC towards him and placed the crosshairs of my scope on his massive body, following him as he moved through the heavy cover.
Each step brought him closer but there was really only one opening between two pines where I could get a clear shot; hopefully he would walk through it. He was about 50 yards slightly quartering away when I place the crosshairs just behind his front shoulder and unleashed the 200 grain Hornady LEVERevolution 200 grain FTX bullet.
Immediately I saw the fur fly through my scope and watched him stumble and fall; and all I could think of was “what a bull.” I guess I must have repeated it out loud because both Dan and Tim echoed their agreement. I just sat there staring at him when I heard Dan say we may have a little problem. About 100 yards below my fallen trophy was a huge 7 by 7 and he was headed towards the downed bull at a very quick pace.
He ignored our shouts and charged right in, head down and rammed my bull actually moving him along the ground several yards. Obviously these two must have had previous confrontations. It wasn’t really until Dan continued to shout and threw a few rocks and branches at him that he finally backed off. There was one moment however when he turned and faced us shaking his head from side to side, that I thought he was going to charge, but he didn’t, and finally we watched him disappear into the edge of the swamp.
High - 5s and photos were all a part of the after the hunt celebration as was the interview Tim taped of my feelings.
Absolutely the best hunt that I have ever had and it all occurred within 30 miles of my home.
But it wasn’t really until I stood over my bull that I fully appreciated what I had just accomplished - he was huge. The tale of the tape and scale revealed just how magnificent he really was. He tipped the scale at 807 pounds and his antlers measured: 40 inch wide spread, 41 inch main beams, with 9 inch bases. In terms of record book score I never did get an official score but I do know that he scored “number one” in my book; and always will.
For information on Easton View Outfitters go to: eastonviewoutfitters.com or check out their ad in this issue of Outdoors Magazine. And by the way, that 7 by 7 is still there and a year older.