High fences in Texas are nothing new but the debate on ethics and how ranchers who run high fence operations, whether it be for hunting, breeding, or any other purpose, is continuing to be a highly debated topic.
As the legend goes, the way I understand it at least, high fences originated in Texas in the mid-1950s or possibly even earlier as a way to keep deer from obstructing roads being built through or near ranching areas hosting a lots of whitetail deer. The way the story goes, they were later discovered as beneficial for breeding deer and controlling genetics only after they served their first purpose of keeping drivers on the road safe from deer crossing fence lines.
I knew when I embarked on writing this article I was going to get mixed opinions as high fence hunting in Texas as well as other states and countries is a hot button issue where pros and cons are concerned. The side that is against high fences says that it keeps native wildlife from interacting in their natural environment as one of many issues. The side that is for high fences says that having the higher fences keeps unwanted people, predators and native game you don’t want in an enclosed area out and keeps in the game you want to protect inside the enclosure for breeding and hunting purposes. I have heard the argument for and against high fence go back and forth until there is no clear winner of the discussion. The truth is, both side have a good point.
When I started hunting on my own in my early 20’s all I had was government land at Fort Hood to hunt on as part of the hunt program that base conducted every deer season. For me, this mean sleeping in my Nissan Pathfinder at the Killeen area Wal-Mart parking lot as my wake up time was about 3:30am to get on the base and pick a good spot. Back in 2004, the one and only year I hunted deer there, I wen hunting virtually every weekend and struck out every time. I saw deer and turkey but all at the wrong times when getting a safe and ethical shot off counted the most.
Fast forward to 2006 when I met Danny Barry through a mutual friend. Danny is the owner of DB Hunting Ranch (www.dbhunting.com) in located in Oatmeal, Texas in Burnet County. Through the course of our relationship I watched this low fenced operation become a high fenced after a flood washed out some of the ranches’ fencing in the spring and summer of 2007. As a low fenced operation there were numerous predator issues, even feral dogs at once time, and all the ranch could stock were trophy sized rams, goats, and feral hogs. In other words, they couldn’t stock exotic deer or other game that could potentially jump the fence and never be seen again. The way Danny put it, high fencing protected his investment of game he was stocking for hunters on the ranch and kept poachers and predators at bay. Although animals and people can still break into a high fenced operation, it is still less likely than in a low fenced scenario. For the case of exotic game species such a Fallow, Axis, Sika deer and Blackbuck Antelope as well as other exotic species that call Texas their home, we wouldn’t have all of the abundant species to hunt year round without high fences to keep them all on a given ranch.
Now the anti-high fence hunting crowd will often times call high fence hunting “canned hunting”. While many “canned” or “penned” hunts exist in ranches with small high fenced areas and open terrain, and I know of many such ranches, a vast number of ranches have heavy cover and wary game which leads to a challenging hunt. Just because you are hunting an animal that can’t get out of a high fenced enclosed area doesn’t necessarily garner it as an easy hunt. For instance, every single exotic I have harvested off of DB Hunting Ranch was a challenging hunt for me. I now have shoulder mounts of a Texas Dall Ram, Coriscan Ram, Red Stag, and Catalina Goat on my wall in my office but can recount the challenge of every hunt vividly due to the ranches’ heavy cover of cedar and oak trees. These were all spot and stalk hunts after all.
Recently, I recorded a podcast with a friend of mine named Blake Marshall owner of King of Eights Outfitters. High fenced hunting is one of the many subjects we tackle. If you have never listened to one of our TF&G podcasts titled The Best of the Outdoors, here is the most recent one you can listen to right here in an embedded player:
What Blake and I discuss in the podcast and seem to agree on is that high fence hunting is not necessarily unethical if it is done in the right way. For trophy whitetail deer and exotic game breeders, for instance, we all know that many thousands of dollars go into the select breeding and development of trophy animals with desired antlers and horns. Without high fences, breeding desired genetics and keeping predators and other unwanted visitors out would not be possible. Sure there are many free ranging whitetail deer and exotics in Texas but high fences are a part of successful breeding and hunting that make our state the envy of many other states and even other countries in our world. We have an abundance of hunting opportunities in our great state and, like it or not, high fences are a part of that equation. So whatever side of the proverbial fence you are on, I hope this article has been helpful this discussion. Seeing that we have much bigger fish to fry with anti-hunters and other parties that threaten our sporting traditions, my main goal is to help us to unite together more as a hunting community. Thanks for reading, watching and listening.
Story by Dustin Vaughn Warncke