Practical Issues > Action Items > Politics

Cheney's Canned Kill, and Other Hunting Excesses
 of the Bush Administration
By Wayne Pacelle, President of the HSUS

Vice President Dick Cheney went pheasant shooting in Pennsylvania in December 2003, but unlike most of his fellow hunters across America, he didn't have to spend hours or even days tramping the fields and hedgerows in hopes of bagging a brace of birds for the dinner table.

Upon his arrival at the exclusive Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township, gamekeepers released 500 pen-raised pheasants from nets for the benefit of him and his party. In a blaze of gunfire, the group - which included legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), along with major fundraisers for Republican candidates - killed at least 417 of the birds. According to one gamekeeper who spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cheney was credited with shooting more than 70 of the pen-reared fowl.

After lunch, the group shot flocks of mallard ducks, also reared in pens and shot like so many live skeet. There's been no report on the number of mallards the hunting party killed, but it's likely that hundreds fell.

Rolling Rock is an exclusive private club for the wealthy with a world-class golf course and a closed membership list. It is also a "canned hunting" operation - a place where fee-paying hunters blast away at released animals, whether birds or mammals, who often have no reasonable chance to escape. Most are "no kill, no pay" operations where patrons only shells out funds for the animals they kill.

Bird-shooting operations offer pheasants, quail, partridges, and mallard ducks, often dizzying the birds and planting them in front of hunters or tossing them from towers toward waiting shotguns. There are, perhaps, more than 3,000 such operations in the United States, according to outdoor writer Ted Williams.

For canned hunts involving mammals, hunters can shoot animals native to given continents - everything from Addax to Zebra - within the confines of a fenced area, assuring the animals have no opportunity to escape. Time magazine estimates that 2,000 facilities offer native or exotic mammals for shooting within fenced enclosures.

The HSUS worked hard to expose Cheney's shooting spree, and we were fortunate in persuading The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Dallas Morning News, and other media outlets to cover the events of that day and our subsequent criticism.

Our criticism is simple to understand: Farm-raised pheasants are about as wary as urban pigeons and shooting them is nothing more than live target practice, especially when they are released from a hill in front of 10 gunners hidden below in blinds - as Cheney and his party were. Such hunting makes a mockery of basic principles of fair play and humane treatment, and the vice president should not associate himself with such conduct.

The private excesses of Cheney are bad enough, and worthy of The HSUS's rebuke. But it's the public policy excesses that are of even greater concern to me. Cheney's hunting trip strikes me as emblematic of the Bush Administration's callousness towards the earth's animals.

The administration's most outrageous proposal is its plan to allow trophy hunters to shoot endangered species in other countries and import the trophies and hides into the United States. The administration first floated the proposal a few months ago, with formal proposals subsequently published in the Federal Register, and President Bush is expected to make a final decision soon on the plan, which originated with his U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For 30 years, the Endangered Species Act has provided critical protections for species near extinction in the United States. The act also protects species in foreign nations, by barring pet traders, circuses, trophy hunters, and others from importing live or dead endangered species. While we can't prevent the shooting or capture of endangered species overseas, we can prevent imports - thus eliminating the incentive for American hunters and others to shoot or trap the animals in the first place.

But with this plan the administration is seeking to punch gaping holes in the prohibitions, under the assumption that generating revenue through the sale of hunting licenses will aid on-the-ground conservation in foreign lands.

The plan is transparent on its face. It's not aimed to help species, but to aid special interests who want to profit from the exploitation of wildlife. No group is more centrally involved in this miserable plan than Safari Club International, the world's leading trophy hunting organization and an entity with close ties to the Bush Administration.

The 40,000 member organization of rich trophy collectors has doled out close to $600,000 in campaign contributions among GOP candidates in the past six years. President Bush appointed a former top lobbyist of the Safari Club to be the deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - again, the very agency promoting the plan to allow the selling off of endangered species to private interests.

The HSUS is not a pro-hunting organization. That said, we view certain types of hunting as worse than others. It crosses any reasonable line to support the shooting of some of the rarest and most endangered animals in the world. And it is beyond the pale to advocate for or participate in the shooting of animals in canned hunts - for birds or mammals.

President Bush met with leaders of 19 hunting organizations on December 12. While we expect him to endorse certain forms of hunting, he should in no way countenance the shooting of endangered species or the hunting of captive or pen-reared animals. If that's where these hunting groups want to lead him, he needs to resist their entreaties. He needs to stand up to these special interest groups and draw a bright line between certain types of hunting conduct.

Americans don't support this nonsense, and the president shouldn't either.