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Canned-hunting bill an unsporting proposition


If Number 47 were human, he would probably be played by Harrison Ford, who did such a great job as Richard Kimble in “The Fugitive.”

But Number 47 is a buck with a yellow tag in his ear who escaped from an Indiana deer farm in 2012. The legend of Number 47 re-emerged Monday at a hearing on SJR 9, a bill to fully legitimize the dubious “sport” of canned hunting in Indiana.

The buck, you see, was shipped to Indiana from a breeder in Pennsylvania. After he and other deer arrived at the farm here, it was discovered that the Pennsylvania herd they had been taken from had been infected with chronic wasting disease, a dreaded disorder that spreads rapidly and could decimate the state’s deer population. The fugitive buck and several other deer escaped when a tree knocked down a fence around their farm. The others were recovered, but Number 47 has never been found. Thus it’s not known whether he was infected with CWD. But that he could have been is a perfect illustration of one of the two powerful arguments against this bill.

Gene Hopkins, president of the Indiana Sportsmen’s Roundtable, spoke of Number 47 Monday as he urged the members of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources to reject SJR 9. Indiana’s deer are still believed to be CWD-free. But by allowing canned-hunting facilities and thus encouraging the importation of deer from other states, Hopkins explained, the state will be increasing the odds that the dreaded disease will arrive here, spread among the closely quartered herds in canned-hunting “preserves,” and ultimately infect the wild deer population.

“You cannot eliminate it,” Hopkins said of CWD. “It is permanent. If it gets into the wild, we live with it forever.” If we had a chance to stop Asian carp or emerald ash borers from coming into Indiana, Hopkins asked, wouldn’t we have taken it?

Owners of canned-hunting facilities testified Monday that their “sport” can generate jobs and tax revenue.

But Barbara Simpson of the Indiana Wildlife Federation pointed out that the economic effect of confined hunts is dwarfed by wild deer hunting, which she said has an economic effect of $314 million yearly and sustains 1,600 jobs.

That the danger of disease transmission places their own sport at risk is one reason many sportsmen and -women oppose canned hunting.

But there is another, stronger reason to oppose putting deer and elk in confined spaces and letting individuals pay as much as $10,000 for the privilege of shooting one. It is simply not sporting or ethical.

The issue is not just that the animals have no chance of escape. Erin Huang, Indiana director of the Humane Society of the United States, told the committee that the deer being confined in these preserves, having been raised in captivity and in some instances bottle-fed, are not attuned to danger. “They’ve lost their natural fear of humans,” she said.

Yes, it is true, as committee chairman Sen. Carlin Yoder argued, that a sick deer might one day just walk over the Indiana border, sort of like Richard Kimble sneaking back into Chicago. And it is true, as committee members also argued, that we kill cows and pigs and chickens for food.

It is also true that the sky is blue on a clear day. But none of those things means the legislature should enact a bill that might imperil legitimate hunting in order to empower a cruel parody of the sport.