PA legislation targets canned hunts

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Saturday, August 12, 2006
By Dennis B. Roddy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At Big Mike’s Game Hunting Preserve in Cambria County, sportsmen can roam 300 fenced acres stocked with white-tailed deer and boar and be assured they’ll bag something.

If you want a buffalo, they can truck one in, release it and you can hunt that.

As owner Mike Comisac sees it, he runs a place where fathers can teach sons to hunt without the dangers of an opening day crowd, “and see deer in their natural habitat.”

He wonders how anyone could object.

“The objection is that they call it hunting. It’s not hunting,” said Jim Posewitz, a lifelong hunter who helped to stem the rise of pay-for-kill hunting in his home state of Montana and who agrees the same thing ought to be done here in Pennsylvania. This year, as has happened for the past decade, the state Legislature is considering a bill to ban paid hunts such as the ones offered at Big Mike’s and at least 13 other preserves in Pennsylvania.

“It’s like killing animals in a petting zoo, basically,” said Heidi Prescott, senior vice president in the campaigns department of the Humane Society of the United States. Ms. Prescott testified last week at hearings on House Bill 2289, introduced by State Rep. Thomas C. Corrigan, D-Bucks. The society, which opposes all forms of hunting but has campaigned to outlaw only certain types, supports the bill to end what she calls “canned hunts.”

“I go to a lot of the hunting conferences and one of the things the hunters recognize is that it gives a bad image to hunting,” Ms. Prescott said. “Shooting a semi-tame animal inside a fenced enclosure violates a hunter’s fundamental principle of fair chase.”

Not all hunters agree.

“Many of those animals are destined to the slaughterhouse anyway. It isn’t like they’re putting them through a lot of pain and suffering as you might be led to believe,” said Bill Miller, president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania. Mr. Miller says he polled members and found no objections to paid hunts.

“I don’t think the argument has anything to do with whether it’s sporting or not,” Mr. Miller said. “It has to do with whether these guys are operating inside the law or outside the law. Are they running an operation that is clean and neat, or are they operating a pig pen?”

Guaranteed hunts on grounds stocked with animals got fresh attention this year when Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a companion on a hunt at a private ranch in Texas. Three years ago, Mr. Cheney bagged about 50 pheasants during a private hunt at the Rolling Rock Club in Westmoreland County.

“It’s a classic example of the hunt being degraded. There was sure no fair-chase conservation ethic there,” said Mr. Posewitz, who heads Orion: The Hunter’s Institute in his home in Helena, Mont.

Mr. Posewitz said hunters in Montana organized to put a halt to the development of any new paid preserves and the expansion of existing ones.

“Our objection to game farms is that restoration of wildlife was done because people valued the game animals, they valued the hunt and they valued the proposition that the achievement of hunters was gained by obtaining honor through effort,” he said.

The same day Ms. Prescott testified for the bill, one of the major targets of the bill also took the microphone to defend himself.

Mike Gee, whose father founded the 1,500-acre Tioga Hunting Preserve in Tioga County 40 years ago, says his business is misunderstood by its enemies.

“We’re just a way of alternative farming,” he said. “These animal rights people — it’s just not right. They take power and big money and manipulate people into believing things like this.”


(Dennis Roddy can be reached at or 412-263-1965. )

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