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EDITORIAL

Why debate over fenced hunting is important to have

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 - 12:01 am

Indiana is one of the few states that have banned the practice.

If you think hunters are always united, you must be thinking about gun rights or Second Amendment fights and not paying attention to the “canned hunting” debate. Some hunters like being able to shoot their prey in fenced-in deer preserves – enough to make such preserves profitable. But some hunters ally with environmental and animal advocacy groups in opposition to the practice. Not only do farm-raised deer have little chance to escape, but they have less fear of humans than wild deer. In a way, hunting them is little more than killing livestock.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources ruled in 2005 that fenced hunting was illegal, but four preserves that were already in operation have been allowed to continue while litigation against the ban is pending. A bill now making its way through the General Assembly would allow them to stay open, in essence grandfathered in.

It can be hard to see what all the fuss is about here. It’s not as if the deer are being chained to a stake in the parking lot and the hunters given a free shot from 20 paces. The preserves tend to be at least a couple of hundred acres, and they’re just as wooded as “real” forests. It’s only slightly less difficult to bag one than it is in, say, a state park. And at the end of the hunt, the result will still be the same: The deer dies.

But the preserves test our arguments – both pro and con – by stripping the issue to its essence. Is the “sport” of hunting merely the thrill of killing something, or is there something nobler involved? How close to “like shooting fish in a barrel” do we have to get before our sense of fair play kicks in? If the animals are just being shot for their antlers and not for food, what does that say?

No, animals do not have “rights” – we’re not going into that absurd territory. But how we treat animals – especially the most defenseless of them – says a lot about what kind of people we are. There are laws against animal-fight operations not just because of the animals’ welfare but also because certain human behavior is unacceptable.

Indiana is in an interesting position on this issue, one not many would have predicted. Only a handful of states have banned canned hunts, and the current disagreement about the ban gives Hoosiers a rare opportunity to look at the larger issues without the usual clutter. We should not waste it.