On a recent Saturday, Frank Noel and his 14-year-old son, Josh, wove through nature’s cage of thicket and fallen trees in search of a hulking animal with razor-sharp tusks — the Russian boar. Noel followed a few paces behind Josh as the unusually warm afternoon faded into a late-day chill. The falling temperature would bring the boars out of their beds of uprooted trees.
“Do you see him?” whispered Noel as he halted and pointed down the ravine to a brown, hairy beast.
Josh nodded and crept down the ravine with his rifle in hand.
“I can’t pick a shot,” Josh said.
“Then make your shot,” Noel said.
“He’s not too big, Dad,” Josh said. “I want a big one.”
Noel laughed and for the first time in an hour raised his voice above a whisper: “That’s my boy. He just doesn’t shoot at anything ’cause he wants his first boar to be a big one.”
You pay for what you kill
Josh and Frank Noel are among about 400 hunters who, each year, for a $100 deposit and the cost of lodging, come to Cedar Ridge Farms to hunt Russian boars. Cedar Ridge co-owner Seth Belstle said there are about 150 boars on the preserve, which is in Howard County between New Franklin and Fayette.
“We get hunters from all over the United States,” he said. “They come for the adrenaline rush and the challenge, since boars are some of the hardest animals to kill.”
They are also expensive animals to kill. A dead boar costs $480 for an adult hunter and $430 for children under 16 years old. Belstle said about 80 percent of hunters leave Cedar Ridge having bagged a boar.
Belstle has been operating Cedar Ridge without a permit since 2002 because of confusion over Missouri Department of Conservation guidelines. For one thing, conservation officials weren’t sure whether Russian boars, which are brought in from Canada, fell under the state agency’s jurisdiction. Also, until recently, the farm failed to meet the 320-acre minimum for a hunting preserve. The farm is being expanded to exceed that minimum, Belstle said.
“It is probably just as much our fault as anyone’s,” Mid-Missouri Conservation Regional Supervisor Tom Strother said.
Canned hunt or fair chase?
Cedar Ridge is surrounded by four miles of fence with strands of barbed wire and electric hot wire, Belstle said.
“They are big animals, so the electric wire convinces them to stay inside,” he said.
But fenced preserves like Cedar Ridge, where hunters are charged a fee to track and kill animals, have drawn opposition from environmentalists and some hunters, who refer to them as “canned hunts.” The practice has become a primary target for the Humane Society of the United States, said Heidi Prescott, senior vice president of campaigns for the organization.
“Canned hunts are a disgrace and an area that even hunters see as the weak underbelly of hunting,” Prescott said.
“Canned hunting is hunting within a certain border in which an animal can’t escape and hunters pay for what they kill — that’s not hunting,” said Jim Posewitz, director of the Orion Hunter’s Institute, which promotes ethical hunting through educational programs and books written by Posewitz.
He says such canned hunts cheapen the cultural value of hunting by “allowing people to go out and buy a dead animal and somehow assume there is an honor gained.”
Outdoor writer and author Ted Kerasote said canned hunts have nothing to do with hunting’s traditional role in the cycle of life. In his book, “Blood Ties: Nature, Culture and the Hunt,” he writes, “No matter where one stands on hunting — vehemently opposed to it or seeing it as yet another way to live sustainable on Earth — one ought to decry shooting animals behind fences.”
Belstle argues that Cedar Ridge is not a canned hunt. He said there is still the element of “fair chase” despite the animals’ being contained within fencing. He said Cedar Ridge doesn’t have any feeders in which hunters can shoot animals while the animals eat.
“We try to make it as natural as possible,” Belstle said.
Belstle said he does leave out corn for the boars, but they rarely eat it. Preserve owners have to provide food, water and shelter for the boars under Missouri Department of Conservation guidelines.
The animals are not baited, and the act of charging hunters for what they kill doesn’t make it a “canned hunt,” Belstle said.
“I charged hunters for hunting whitetail deer, and they aren’t in any fenced enclosure,” he said.
Belstle said he only fences the boars in because of regulations and because he doesn’t want them going into neighbors’ property where they could cause damage.
He said some hunters come thinking Cedar Ridge has “canned hunting,” but they never leave believing it. To those who would claim Cedar Ridge is a canned hunt, Belstle said they have no right to judge unless they have hunted at Cedar Ridge.
“We get the best hunters in the world, and they have hunted all over the world,” Belstle said. “They enjoy this place as much as other places, sometimes even more.”
A family that hunts together …
The Noels have been hunting for three years together, but this is the first time they have gone boar hunting together, Frank Noel said
“It’s not typical but it should be,” he said. “Quality time is quality time.”
Josh, who shot his first deer when he was 11 years old, said he had been excited about the hunt since his father told him.
“All my friends said I need to practice climbing trees because that is the only safe place if a boar charges you,” Josh said.
Hunting is a family ritual for the Noel family. Even 7-year-old Jeana brings her crayons to color while her father and two brothers spy out of goose blinds. Noel jokes he even got her a pink .22-caliber rifle.
“She’ll be out there with us soon enough,” he said.
Noel insists the hunting itself is not the only appeal.
“When you are sitting out there you see things you wouldn’t normally see,” Noel said.
His son nodded in agreement as Noel described the peace of the woods and the small wonders of its living occupants.
“It can be a good day just watching squirrels and birds,” Noel said.
With this respect for nature comes a responsibility to eat everything you kill, Noel said.
He said Russian boars taste like lean pork and have a redder meat than domestic hogs. Cedar Ridge skins and cleans hogs for customers for tips, Belstle said
Noel said he still had a great time last year despite not killing any boars.
“There was a rush seeing my buddy get chased up a tree by one of them and seeing two of the boars fight,” Noel said.
Josh didn’t end up killing a boar, but Noel said they still had a good time.
“He never got a good shot, and my boy wouldn’t take it unless it was a clean shot,” Noel said.
Next year Noel said he will return to Cedar Ridge with his sons, Josh and 12-year-old Jeffrey.
“They are already looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s going to be a real family affair.”