|Texas or Pakistan?|
The headline jumped out: Hunter pays $148k to kill rare 'screw-horned' goat.
Fewer than 6,000 exist in the wild but for $148,000 a US hunter has killed a Himalayan "screw-horned" goat.
Officials in Pakistan's northern-most territory of Gilgit-Baltistan gave paying hunters the opportunity to kill four of the rare goats, also known as Markhors, despite their low numbers, the Independent reported.
As well as the goats, authorities offered the sale of permits for the hunting of a range of rare animals.
Officials defended the practice, saying most of the money raised was returned to the community where the animals were hunted, with the rest given to local government, the Independent reported.
Not said in the article is the fact that the population of this "rare" goat has grown 20 percent, that it is the national animal of Pakistan, and that it is on the logo of Pakistan's version of the secret police (ISI).
Also not said is that this American was not paying $150,000 to shoot a goat, but for the experience of shooting a truly wild goat in the mountains of Pakistan.
You see there are a LOT of Markhors to be shot on game farms in the US. For example, for $16,500 you can shoot a Markhor in the US, with horns in the 35-38" range, and this price includes bed, breakfast, and three meals, unlimited varmint hunting, guides, transportation of the animal to a taxidermist or meat processor, and a stocked bar.
And, as the web site notes, "there are no seasonal restrictions on hunting the Markhor in Texas, which makes it a suitable trophy year round."
Why is that? Simple: this is a ranched animal in a high fence canned hunt facility. These Markhor are being raised as a cash crop and because they have an economic value, their numbers in the US are growing. There's no shortage of places offering Markhor hunting in Texas!
I wrote about the ethics of this kind of thing some years back:
I think most people would agree that shooting a large, rare, exotic or tame animal in a small enclosure is several time zones removed from true hunting.
But what if the animal is less rare -- such as a Russian Boar -- and the enclosure is quite a bit bigger -- a few hundred acres?
Where do we draw the line?
Is it OK to shoot an exotic animal, such as a Fallow or Axis deer, in a very large fenced parcel of ground provided the countryside is more-or-less natural, and the animal actually runs when stalked? Is it OK to shoot it when it is pressed against the fence?
Does it matter if the animals are not exotics, but are native elk, moose, whitetail or mule deer? Is that better or worse?
What if the animals are not fenced in, but are fed every day from an automatic corn-dispensing bait station set on a timer?
Does it matter if the person shooting the animal over such a feeder is hunting for meat or hunting for trophy or sport?
If you decide it's OK to shoot wild whitetail deer on an open farm over a broadcast corn feeder, why is it not OK (as a matter of law) to do the same thing with birds?
If a mechanical caller is OK for fox and coyote, why is it illegal to use it on ducks and elk?
A lot of people will find some of these questions easy to answer, but will pause at others.
The brain dead Vegan and the knuckle-dragging slob-hunter will find all of these questions easy to answer.
So too will the older, thoughtful, skilled hunter who hunts only wild lands and who only fishes wild waters. He knows what he chooses and why.
This last point needs to be stressed.
The types of questions and dilemmas I have posed here are relatively new. Our grandfathers did not have canned hunts and potted bird shoots. This is not part of the American hunting tradition most of us grew up with.
So what has changed?
To some extent, population growth is part of the problem. Though the percentage of hunters may be less than it was in years past, the absolute number is higher than it was 50 years ago due to rapid U.S. population growth. With increasing population density and suburban sprawl has come greater distance to suitably large farms, forests and fields.
More important than suburban sprawl and hunter density, however, is the fact that America has become a land of rapidly rising expectations and a rapidly declining ability to delay gratification.
The American public wants everything it can imagine, and it wants it NOW, and it wants it “super-sized.” We want fast food, fast cars, and instant communication. We want bigger houses, more money and early retirement.
In short, we have become a nation of spoiled, rich and demanding children. The rise of commercial shooting preserves is simply an outgrowth of that phenomenon. Canned hunt operators are, in effect, telling their client base:
"We know you have zero knowledge of field craft or wildlife and that everything has to be easy for you or you will pout. So, just like your Daddy did when you were 6 years old, we are going to rig every game you play so you will always win. And when you do manage to kill some brain-addled, food dependent, hand-tamed creature, we will slap you on the back and say, 'Look what a BIG boy you are!'"
This type of canned shoot is to real hunting what peroxide-blonde hookers are to marriage: a sad charade that debases the individual and jeopardizes the institution.
Just as we have the Playboy channel and Hustler magazine selling the fantasy that every woman is a lesbian-curious nymphomaniac waiting to be unbound, so we have TV hunting shows and magazines selling the idea that every foray into the field should result in a trophy buck, a monster bear, and a bucket-mouth bass. In this sense, "Rack "Em Up" and "Antler King" feed supplements are to the game farm industry what silicone implants are to porn producers.
Just as "sexual service" ads an be found at the back of girly magazines, so too can ads for canned hunts be found at the back of hunting magazines.
It's not an accident that every episode of ESPN's "Hunting the Country" closes with a nod to the outfitter on whose land the “monster buck” was shot.
An “outfitter? What the hell is an an "outfitter"? And how can these people hunt bull elk while trailing a camera crew and talking?
The answer is that you are watching a canned hunt. In the context of television hunting shows, an "outfitter" is a fellow who trains ranch-raised elk to come to a corn-spewing time-released bait station.
"Start feeding them in the spring, and shoot 'em dead in the fall." That’s the business plan, and it’s one that hunting show producers, who need to film a new trophy kill every week, are loathe to criticize.
There are about 1,000 "canned" or potted hunts in the U.S. catering to about 500,000 hunters a year.
That may sound like a lot to folks at the Humane Society, but in fact this represents less than three percent of the 20,000,000 Americans that hunt in this country every year.
For better or worse, you can find an "idiot three percent" in almost every endeavor.
So, to bring it back to these Pakistani goats: Was hunting them wrong? Why?
Here we have a hunter operating within the law, hunting a truly wild animal, who will work hard to find and shoot an animal, whose population is growing in the wild thanks to conservation hunting.
We may resent the rich (always!), but is what he is doing unethical?
Isn't he, in fact, checking all the right boxes?
And yet, there is something distasteful here; the hyper-rich traveling to the edge of the world to shoot a magnificent beast while rolling past millions of raggedy rural poor who are selling their natural birthright to the highest bidder (and who may, or may not, be compensated for their putative loss).
But is what is going on in Texas better or worse? Or is it just different?
And if we ban hunting Markhor in the wild, and prohibit hunting Markhor on Texas ranches, will the fate of the Markhor be improved, or will it be sealed?
Chinese horn markets will still pay for poached horn, but who will pay for the protection and breeding of these animals? The government? The poor rural taxpayers? The "humane" organizations and green groups now collecting billions in direct mail and spending none of it on habitat protection?
None of these questions are asked or answered in a headline that says: "Hunter pays $148k to kill rare 'screw-horned' goat."
Isn't that the real crime; that the press corps is not asking the tough questions or asking us to choose among the competing answers?