Congressional sportsmen shoot wide of fair game

ROGER SIMON

September 01, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- The Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus is made up of 159 Representatives and 33 Senators, some of whom are Republicans and some of whom are Democrats, but all of whom agree on one thing:

Killing animals is a pleasure.

This is not exactly the way the caucus defines itself. Members like to talk about what great "conservationists" they are. But their definition of "conservation" is a broad one.

One of the things members like to brag about, for example, is how "through Congressional Sportmen's Caucus action an amendment to prohibit deer hunting on an eastern wildlife refuge was defeated."

You might think a wildlife refuge was a place wildlife was safe from hunters, but the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus (CSC) doesn't see it that way at all.

And in July, the CSC sent a letter to the secretary of commerce suggesting that the United States might want to reverse its stand and support the resumption of the commercial hunting of Minke whales.

Which is one reason why Wayne Pacelle, national director of The Fund for Animals, says: "These folks in the CSC are the leading anti-environmentalists in Congress."

And Ted Williams, an outdoor writer who is also a hunter and fisherman, wrote in the April issue of Fly Rod & Reel magazine that the CSC is "a front for politicians pushing the agenda of air and water polluters, clearcutters, oil and gas extractors, agribusiness habitat wreckers and wetlands developers."

The CSC sees it differently.

"The hunters and fishermen are the true conservationists," said Richard Schulze, the former House chairman of the CSC who retired from Congress last year.

He also said the CSC had been formed in 1989 "to see that hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports are not overwhelmed by some of the animal rightist people."

And the CSC seems to be in no danger of being overwhelmed itself.

"We are the second- or third-largest caucus in Congress," Dallas Miner, the president of CSC's non-profit foundation told me yesterday.

(The Maryland members of the CSC are Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-6th, and Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, though Miner said that "Barbara Mikulski votes with us.")

Regardless of their causes, however, the caucuses themselves are an interesting phenomenon.

In an article about them last year, Common Cause magazine said: "Congress, never shy about asking for money, prods special interests to make life pleasant on Capitol Hill."

The CSC does this through its foundation, a tax-exempt entity that solicits money from groups including weapons makers, breweries, tobacco interests and the National Rifle Association.

Common Cause said such solicitation "is yet another way special interest money is woven into the fabric of congressional life. Lobbyists are encouraged to buy access by picking up the tab, (( creating a cocoon of comfort for lawmakers."

One such cocoon of comfort is going to be created by the CSC's foundation on Nov. 1 in Kearneysville, W. Va., where corporate bigwigs will be allowed to pay $600 -- one quarter of which is tax deductible -- to go hunting with a member of Congress.

Though "hunting" might be somewhat of a misnomer.

Hunting often implies tramping around in the cold and damp and actively searching for an animal.

But that is too uncomfortable for some in Congress. So this "hunt" will take place at a private shooting preserve, where pheasants are raised domestically and then released near the hunters so the birds can be shot much more easily.

"Sometimes what these preserves will do is 'dizzy' the bird," Wayne Pacelle said. "Before they release the pheasant, they will shake its head so it is too disoriented to fly away."

Animal rights people hate such preserves, especially since there are often no legal limits on the number of animals that can be killed in a single day.

"If you want to kill 400 birds or 4,000, you can," Pacelle said. "There is no 'sport' involved. The birds are accustomed to a non-threatening human presence. They are hand fed by people and food is set out for them.

"These preserves are for people too lazy to hunt on their own. It is simply pre-meditated slaughter."

Slaughter, maybe. But there is an element of risk involved.

I'd say anybody dopey enough to stand around a congressman who is carrying a gun is taking a big risk.

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