Hunting Exotics: The Cruel Reality Behind the Sport

Hunting Exotics: The Cruel Reality Behind the Sport

The Dark Underbelly of Canned Hunting

My heart was pounding as I slowly crept up the steep trail, my eyes scanning the horizon for any sign of movement. The Jeep crunched quietly over the gravel, and I gripped the edge of the bench, hyper-focused on catching a glimpse of my quarry. Suddenly, I spotted them – a herd of sleek, spotted deer bounding effortlessly up the hillside. But just as quickly, they vanished into the brush, leaving me frustrated and wondering if I’d ever get a clear shot.

This wasn’t my first rodeo, though. I’d been on hunts before, back home in East Texas, where I’d stalk mallards and wood ducks or take down the occasional feral hog. But this… this was different. I was at the Ox Ranch, one of the most notorious “canned hunting” facilities in the state, and the adrenaline coursing through my veins was a far cry from the quiet contemplation I usually felt in the duck blind.

You see, the Ox Ranch – sprawling across 18,000 acres in the Texas Hill Country – is a sort of Disneyland for trophy hunters. Here, the wealthy and well-connected can pay exorbitant fees to hunt rare, exotic animals that have been imported from around the world and kept in large, fenced enclosures. It’s a far cry from the traditional hunting I grew up with, where the real thrill came from pitting your wits against a wary, free-roaming animal. At the Ox Ranch, the “hunt” is little more than a glorified slaughter – the animals haven’t a prayer of escaping their captors.

The Exotic Animal Trade

The exotic animal trade in Texas is a booming business, with an estimated 2 million non-native animals spread across 5,000 ranches statewide. And canned hunting facilities like the Ox Ranch are a big part of that. Owners acquire these animals – everything from axis deer and blackbuck antelope to giraffes and zebras – through a shadowy network of breeders, dealers, and even surplus stock from zoos.

Many of these creatures are hand-raised, having lost all fear of humans, and are then corralled into enclosures where trophy hunters can take them out with a single shot. It’s a far cry from the traditional notion of “fair chase” that ethical hunters hold dear. As Jim Posewitz, the Executive Director of Orion The Hunters Institute, puts it: “Fair chase is the balance that allows hunters to occasionally succeed while animals generally avoid being taken.” But at canned hunting operations, the animals never stand a chance.

One such facility, the Ox Ranch, is the brainchild of Brent Oxley, the founder of web hosting company HostGator. Oxley purchased the 28-square-mile spread – previously a fishing camp owned by a former Texas governor – and stocked it with all manner of exotic species. Now, for a hefty price tag, he invites wealthy clients to come and hunt these animals, providing guides and high-tech equipment to ensure a guaranteed kill.

The Allure of the “Big Kill”

The draw of canned hunting operations like the Ox Ranch is obvious – it offers the thrill of the hunt without any of the actual challenge. For a price tag that can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars, trophy hunters can walk away with the ultimate prize: the head, horns, or hide of a rare, exotic animal.

But the reality behind these “hunts” is far from glamorous. Many of the animals are kept in deplorable conditions, crammed into small enclosures and deprived of their natural behaviors. And the “hunt” itself is little more than a shameful display of human excess and cruelty. As the Humane Society’s Lauren Loney puts it, “These animals are essentially raised in captivity and have lost their natural fear of people. Even if a hunting ranch is huge with thousands of acres, these animals will come to the same place the same time every day to be fed so a shooter can be there waiting and ready.”

“Canned hunts don’t involve traditional hunting practices. Rather, they are an alternative form of slaughter and should be regulated accordingly.”

It’s a far cry from the rugged, self-reliant image of the hunter that many of us grew up with. These trophy hunters aren’t using their wits and skills to outsmart a wily, free-roaming animal – they’re simply pulling the trigger on a defenseless creature that’s been set up for them. And they’re willing to pay a steep price for the privilege.

The Ethical Dilemma

Of course, not everyone sees canned hunting as an ethical issue. Brent Oxley, the owner of the Ox Ranch, has argued that his operation is actually a boon for conservation, providing a revenue stream that helps support the care and breeding of these exotic species. And he has a point – many of the animals at the Ox Ranch, like the addax and dama gazelle, are critically endangered in their native habitats.

But the reality is that canned hunting facilities like Oxley’s are, at best, a band-aid solution. They do nothing to address the root causes of habitat loss and poaching that threaten these species in the wild. And the money generated from these hunts often stays within the industry, with little or no contribution to genuine conservation efforts.

Moreover, the argument that canned hunting is a form of “humane slaughter” simply doesn’t hold up. As PETA points out, the animals in these facilities are often shot in the abdomen rather than the head or neck, leading to a slow and agonizing death. And the entire premise of the “hunt” – luring defenseless animals to feeding stations where they can be easily picked off – is the antithesis of the fair chase ethos that ethical hunters hold dear.

The Ethical Alternative

Ultimately, the practice of canned hunting is a complex issue that pits the interests of trophy hunters, conservation advocates, and animal welfare activists against one another. But for those of us who grew up with a more traditional, ethical approach to hunting, the canned hunt industry is a bitter pill to swallow.

As someone who has hunted to put food on the table, I understand the allure of the hunt. There’s an undeniable thrill in pitting your wits against a wild animal, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with a successful hunt is hard to match. But the canned hunts at places like the Ox Ranch are a far cry from that. They’re not about sustenance or conservation – they’re about ego and excess, plain and simple.

That’s why I was so hesitant to participate in the hunt at the Ox Ranch, even though the Texas Monthly editors had agreed to foot the bill. In the end, I took the shot, and I was able to bring home some delicious axis venison. But the experience left me feeling conflicted and unsettled. I couldn’t shake the sense that I’d been complicit in something unethical, something that stood in stark contrast to the hunting traditions I’d grown up with.

Perhaps the ethical alternative lies in a different approach to conservation and wildlife management – one that focuses on protecting habitats, limiting poaching, and ensuring that native species can thrive in the wild. Organizations like Golden Exotic Pets are leading the way, providing a home for rescue animals and educating the public on responsible exotic pet ownership.

At the end of the day, the canned hunt industry is a blight on the true spirit of hunting. It’s a perversion of a tradition that, when practiced ethically, can be a powerful tool for conservation and sustainable resource management. But as long as there are deep-pocketed trophy hunters willing to pay for the “guaranteed kill,” the cruel reality of canned hunting will continue to cast a shadow over the sport. It’s up to all of us to stand up and say enough is enough.

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