Tennessee is among a growing number of states that offer the nation's more than 10 million hunters a controversial way to pursue and kill trophy animals. The practice is known as "canned hunting" and has recently drawn a barrage of opposition from animal protection groups as well as the public.
Here's how canned hunts work: After paying fees that can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000, a hunter at a canned-hunt facility is allowed to kill animals, such as deer or pheasants, in an enclosed hunting area. The method, which animal advocates say often targets exotic animals, is practiced at six facilities in Tennessee and more than 1,000 facilities in 24 other states, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
The practice has drawn criticism at state and national levels. In 2002, the Maryland-based animal protection group the Fund for Animals issued a report scolding Tennessee, among other states, for what it termed were "overly-cruel" canned-hunt facilities. The hunting practice was also the subject of national media attention late last year after Vice President Dick Cheney visited a canned-hunt facility in Pennsylvania. According to a report by MSNBC, Cheney visited the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township, Pennsylvania, where he and nine companions shot at 500 ringneck pheasants and killed 417 of them.
"Until things like this happen, most people usually remain unaware of the existence of canned hunts," said Heidi Prescott, national director of the Fund for Animals.
The group's 2002 report, which Prescott said would be updated soon, is a list of the top 10 states with "cruel" canned-hunt facilities. Prescott said that states on the group's list have "the most number of canned hunts on the smallest acreage, and allow hunters to pursue exotic animals."
In addition to Tennessee, states on the list are Texas, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, Maine, Missouri, and Louisiana.
There are six canned-hunt facilities in Tennessee, according to the report, and two of them operate in the Mid-South: the Arrowhead Hunt Club in Whiteville and the Crockett Hunting Preserve in Gadsden. Phone calls to both facilities were not returned.
However, an employee at a Nashville-area canned-hunt facility described the operation there in detail. Jerry Pistole, who works at the Cumberland Mountain Hunting Lodge, explained that hunters can buy a number of packages, one of which costs $1,080 and includes three nights' lodging and two days of guided hunting of Russian wild boars. The lodge's hunting area is enclosed by nearly eight miles of 8-foot-tall fence, Pistole said.
Facilities such as his typically shy away from identifying themselves as canned hunts, Prescott explained, adding that they usually prefer to advertise themselves as "hunting preserves" or "hunt clubs."
Pistole defended the lodge's fenced-in hunting ground and attempted to distance the lodge from comparisons with other canned-hunt facilities. "This is not like shooting fish in a barrel," he said.
When asked to defend the lodge's operation against criticism from the Fund for Animals, including charges that canned hunts are "inhumane," Pistole replied, "It might seem that way if you had never been here and were an animal-rights person."
Walter Cook, captive wildlife coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, also stopped short of comparing hunting preserves in Tennessee to canned-hunt facilities.
Unlike canned-hunt facilities in other states, Cook said, a typical hunting preserve in Tennessee includes up to 1,800 acres. At true canned-hunt facilities, Cook said hunting areas are more constricted and captive animals are usually killed in cages or immediately outside a cage.
"That just does not happen in Tennessee," he said.
Cook did concede, however, that some animal advocates and hunters might interpret an unspecified number of the state's hunting preserves as canned-hunt operations.
Kathy Simonetti, director of the Memphis Humane Society, said she has received multiple inquiries about the operation and legality of canned-hunt facilities. Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, blasted the practice in a New York Times op-ed last month.
"Canned hunting belongs in the same category as other forms of animal abuse, like cockfighting and bullfighting," he wrote. "It's hard on animals and easy on people -- and it should be against the law."