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Canned hunts: sports afoul

By Walt Brasch - posted Thursday, 21 September 2006

Ralph A. Saggiomo is an affable sort of fellow, one you probably wouldn’t mind having a couple of beers with, swap a few tales, and discuss just about anything.

He grew up in one of the most rural and remote parts of the country, and considers himself to have the same values as the colonials who lived in Pennsylvania more than two centuries earlier. But, he’s also lived in urban America. He was a Philadelphia firefighter for 33 years, the last few in command positions.

After retirement, he moved back to his 75-acre family farm in Sayre, Pa., and continued his work in local civic organisations, becoming president of both the Greater Valley Emergency Medical Services and the Sayre Business Association. He’s a member of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing & Conservation; and was president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, an association that claims about 20,000 members.


For 60 years, Ralph A. Saggiomo has proudly been killing fish and game, both small and large. Name a domestic species, and he’s probably shot at it, wounded it, or killed it.

He says he was told one of his more recent kills was a Dall Sheep: more likely, it was a Texas Dall ram, a lucrative target because of its thick curly horns. The rams, a hybrid of Corsican and Mouflon sheep, are primarily bred to look like the Dall Sheep, native to the mountainous regions of Alaska and the northwest part of Canada. Dall sheep are a challenge to hunters because of their adept ability to escape into the steep mountainous slopes. Domesticated Texas Dall rams pose no such problems.

Whatever he killed - “dispatched” and “harvested” are the terms hunters euphemistically prefer - Saggiomo didn’t have to go more than 3,000 miles to the subarctic mountains, he only had to go about 50 miles from his home to the Tioga Boar Hunting Preserve. Saggiomo’s day of killing, a gift from his family, was in a fenced-in area.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Saggiomo told the Pennsylvania House Game and Fisheries Committee, which was holding a hearing in equally remote Towanda, an hour’s drive east of Tioga, away from the major media and in an area not likely to bring many protestors.

The committee was in Towanda to hear testimony about a bill to ban what has become known as a “canned hunt”. For a few thousand dollars, Great White Hunters - complete with rented guides, dogs, and guns or bows - can go into a fenced-in area and shoot an exotic species.

In most canned hunts, the animals have been bred to be killed, have little fear of humans, and are often lured to a feeding station or herded toward the hunter to allow a close-range kill. In some of the preserves - Tioga denies it ever used these techniques - animals are drugged or tied to stakes. Some of the “big cats,” recorded in investigative undercover videos by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Fund for Animals were declawed, placed in cages, and then released; the terrified and non-aggressive animals were then killed within a few yards of their prisons; some were killed while in their cages.


Canned hunts attract not only ethics-challenged pretend-hunters, but ethics-challenged celebrities as well. Among celebrities who have participated in canned hunts, and who mistakenly believe they are hunters and not cold-blooded killers, are Vice-President Dick Cheney, who has been on several hunts in which the kill was assured; and Troy Gentry of the country-rock duo, Montgomery Gentry.

In December 2003, Cheney and nine of his friends - including former Naval Academy and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, US Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), and some Texas high-roller Republican party donors - went to the exclusive Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, Pa., about an hour’s drive east of Pittsburgh.

The owners of the country club, being the good hosts they were, released 500 domesticated and penned-up ring-necked pheasants in the morning. Bird Dog and Retriever News reports that about 40 per cent of all domesticated pheasants, if not shot by pretend-hunters, either starve or are killed by predators within the first week of their release; about 75 per cent die within a month.

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About the Author

Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and author of 16 books. Dr. Brasch's current books are Unacceptable: The Federal Government’s Response to Hurricane Katrina; Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture; and Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (Nov. 2007) You may contact him at

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