Meet Tarzan, a breeding buck who’s been kept in captivity for the past four years. For $9,400, you can hunt and kill him.
Anyone with $9,400, a gun and a desire to nab a trophy rack can do so in Vergas, Minn.
The rural northwestern Minnesota town is now known throughout the Midwest as the home of Tarzan, a breeding buck that for four years has been kept as a domesticated animal by a local hunting family — the same family that is now putting a price on his head.
While Tarzan is the most recent buck on the controversial market, the idea of putting a bid out for a canned hunt isn’t anything new for the U.S. Throughout the country, captive hunts are overwhelmingly legal.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), there are more than 1,000 game preserves in the U.S., a business that has become quite lucrative for those who raise the animals for canned hunts.
States are split throughout the U.S. in terms of the practice’s legality — with only a handful of states outlawing it and a lack of federal legislation, the industry is healthy. The Captive Exotic Animal Protection Act was targeted by those aiming to halt the practice, and Congress did consider an amendment that would outlaw the transportation breeding of exotic animals “for entertainment or the collection of a trophy,” yet that provision was stopped dead in its tracks.
Canned hunting, as it’s called, remains a longstanding tradition in America. According to the Safari Club International, the first trophy hunting arm in the U.S. popped up in Mountain Home, Texas in 1953. It began as a cattle ranch, which then turned into an antelope ranch — and then slowly shifted into a big game trophy hunting location and launched the trend Americans are still fighting over today.
It’s all about the rack
Mike and Joy Sommers of Vergas, Minn. are the proud owners of Tarzan, who resides in the Summers Game Farm, a 25-acre fenced-in plot of land used to raise and tend to deer, which they breed for canned hunting. In an interview with a local radio station, Joy Sommers described the does and fawns they raise as “like pets.”
In a recent Mint Press News visit to the farm, the buck was curious, positioning itself near the fence in the midst of human presence, indicating the buck had grown accustomed to human interaction and raising the question over whether a shot at Tarzan would be anything close to the sport of hunting.
The lure of the seemingly uncomplicated task of hunting down the domestic and penned-in buck isn’t one that’s attracting hunters who live for the lure of the chase. Instead, it’s tailored to those who are eyeing to mount a trophy rack, which for those in the sport is the ultimate trophy.
“The rack is what is selling the price, it’s not the deer itself. It’s the trophy rack,” Paul Pinke, the owner of the local hardware store, told Mint Press News.
In its advertisement, which appears through Craigslist, Tarzan is described as a buck that is over 20 points, capable of scoring 200 inches — language that, for hunters, indicates rack superiority.
“Great whitetail buck! Would make a beautiful mount for your home or office,” the ad reads.
That description may make game hunters throughout the U.S. drool, yet for animal rights advocates, it’s appalling.
“It’s a competition devoid of any kind of sportsmanship and conducted by people who stalk and kill animals with no option of escape,” PETA Senior Cruelty Care Worker Kristin Simon said in an interview with Mint Press News. “Anyone who wants to pay $9,000 to shoot a tame animal is completely cruel and heartless.”
Meanwhile, those living in the midst of the controversy say, in that part of the country, there isn’t much opposition to the practice. Pinke, who owns the local hardware store, also sells deer hunting permits. For those in the area, the practice is controversial only in the hunting community, largely between purists hunters who oppose caged games.
“The local hunter would just as soon just go out and hunt on his own and not have it given to him, but this is maybe in a 20-acre spot, so it’s not a ‘gimme’ but it’s probably going to happen,” Pinke told Mint Press News.
While differences in opinion exist, opposition among hunters is friendly, as state law allows the practice.
“I think he has every right to do what he’s doing. It’s a game farm, it’s just like [people] have a game farm for pheasants and so forth. It’s state regulated, so if the state doesn’t say there’s anything wrong with it, then…,” Pinke told Mint Press News.
Pinke’s correct — the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources allows caged hunting for deer in Minnesota.
Adhering to legal boundaries that are ethically challenged
Though the Sommers aren’t doing anything illegal by opening his fenced-in 25-acre plot to any willing participant who wants to pay to hunt down Tarzan, that’s not the case throughout the country. Wyoming, a state known for its Elk hunting, has banned the practice of captive hunting. Under state statute, it states there “shall be no private ownership of live animals classified in this act as big or trophy game animals.” That set of animals includes mountain goats, moose, elk, deer, bear, mountain lions and antelope.
Similar laws have been instituted in Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, although regulations relate only to big game hunts, not those relating to birds.
Under Minnesota law, deer raised for any purpose are classified by the state as “farmed cervidae.” The rule pertaining to farmed cervidae states they “are livestock and are not considered wild animals for purposes of game farm, hunting or wildlife laws.”
Therefore, just as livestock are the property of the owners, any deer raised by a private party can be dealt with as the owners wish, and at any time outside of the regulated hunting season. However, those in the business need to with Minnesota state law, which indicates the owner has to register with the Board of Animal Health and meet program requirements, including minimum fence height and other regulations.
Rallying against captive hunting
In the eyes of animal rights advocates, the idea of allowing a hunter carolling a tame animal into a corner for the purpose of ending its life is absurd.
From Simon’s standpoint, raising a deer in captivity puts it at a tremendous disadvantage, as even if it’s set free, it doesn’t have the tools to make it on its own. If the ultimate goal is to end the life of the animal, Miller said there are more humane ways to do that.
Those humane ways don’t pay, though — with a lucrative market in the U.S. still existing, auctioning off its rack for trophy rights is the most cost-effective for those in the industry.
“There’s always somebody out there with enough money to do this,” Pinke said.
That’s the worst-case-scenario for Simon, but it sits above the notion of captive hunting.
PETA and other rights organizations have long lobbied against the practice of captive hunting. The number one issue to be addressed in this scenario, Simon said, is a change in Minnesota state law to outlaw what her organization views as a cruel and inhumane game.
“Because these animals are usually kept in fenced enclosures (ranging in size from just a few yards to thousands of acres), they never stand a chance of escaping, fighting back, or surviving,” PETA states on its webpage. “Hunters kill these animals solely in order to hang their heads, horns, or antlers on the wall and eat their meat.”