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Published November 10 2010

Forum editorial: High-fence shooting wins, but ...

It’s curious that North Dakotans said “no” to a high-fence hunting ban during the fall hunting season. Given what most hunters think about so-called canned hunting, proponents of the measure probably assumed a “yes” vote on Measure 2 was assured.

It wasn’t, for several reasons.

First, the high-fence shooting (it’s not hunting) business is nothing new in the state. About a dozen operations raise game animals inside enclosures and charge people fees to shoot the animals. They have been in existence for years. There is no compelling evidence that this sort of activity has diminished or threatened traditional fair-chase hunting in the state.

Second, North Dakotans – whether hunters or not – are sensitive to property rights. A “yes” on Measure 2 was aimed specifically at a narrowly defined use of private property; it was not a broad assault on property rights. Nevertheless, that element of the debate carried some weight among voters.

Third, supporters of the measure made a critical mistake. Some of the television advertising was clearly the work of the Humane Society of the United States, even as in-state sponsors of the measure emphasized they were not funded by outside money. But guilt by association hurt the “yes” vote because the Humane Society has been linked – fairly or not – to anti-hunting organizations.

Fourth – the argument against the measure that made the most sense – it had the potential to be a legal nightmare that could result in court decisions that would make a bad situation worse.

Rejection of the measure was almost universal across the state. The “yes” vote prevailed slightly in only three counties: Cass, Grand Forks and Sioux. It’s probably true that most North Dakotans think shooting antlered livestock in a pen is repugnant. For serious, ethical hunters, it certainly is. But voters were unwilling to use the power of the state to shut down businesses that have been operating for years, right alongside the state’s fair-chase hunting tradition. That seems like a fair compromise for now.

That being said, operators of the shooting pens should not assume the “no” vote gives them license to be irresponsible. Some of the allegations aired during the campaign – risk of diseases in farm-raised “game” animals; illegal transport and handling of animals; rounding up wild game animals to stock high-fence pens – are based on credible anecdotal evidence. A couple of missteps by high-fence operators or their customers would bring the issue back to the ballot.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.