The debate over high-fence hunting operations in general, and the upcoming vote to ban them in North Dakota in particular, is getting some national attention with a big write-up in the Wall Street Journal.
After hours of scouting the bone-colored badlands at Cedar Ridge Elk Ranch here, hunter David Regal took aim and fired twice from his .300 Winchester Magnum rifle. One shot killed a bull elk that weighed 700 pounds, wore a 12-point set of antlers, and cost the shooter $8,500. “I like to get the best there is,” says Mr. Regal, 72 years old, who owns an excavating business in Michigan. He drove 1,100 miles here with his brother in a motor home, towing his black Hummer behind. Cedar Ridge is one of North Dakota’s dozen or so private hunting ranches, enclosed by high fences and stocked with farm-raised elk and deer. Here, well-to-do hunters like Mr. Regal pay for a guaranteed shot at some of the most majestic prey in the West.
_On Nov. 2, North Dakota voters will decide on a ballot initiative that would do away with these ranches. What’s surprising is that the battle over Ballot Measure 2 doesn’t pit hunters against their natural adversaries, animal-rights activists, who have long opposed the ultimate blood sport. Rather, the debate is dividing hunters themselves.
As private hunting ranches proliferate nationwide, hunters are grappling with what it means to participate in one of the oldest American sports. Fights like the one in North Dakota have broken out elsewhere, and national hunting groups are piling into the debate. On one side are hunters who say fencing in wildlife for profit is unethical and shifts hunting from its populist American roots. They say the reserves are creating an elitist model reminiscent of “King’s hunting” for the European gentry long ago. Leading the effort to ban the ranches in North Dakota is Roger Kaseman, a lifelong hunter who once lived off the land for two years in a remote Wyoming cabin. Private ranches are “handicapping the deer,” says the 64-year-old, looking the quintessential mountain man with his full gray beard and thick hands. “We’re selling off our hunting heritage.” Opposing the ban are hunters who contend the ranches offer a first-class hunting experience to outdoor enthusiasts while pumping money into rural economies. The measure is “an attack on hunting,” says Shawn Schafer, who’s executive director of the North American Deer Farmers Association, representing U.S. deer farmers and hunting ranches. Ban opponents also say the proposal threatens North Dakotans’ property rights because the ranches are on private land._