FAQs Index

Hunting and Fishing

 63. Humans are natural hunter/gatherers; aren't you trying to repress natural human behavior?

 64. The world is made up of predators and prey; aren't we just another predator?

 65. Doesn't hunting control wildlife populations that would otherwise get out of hand?

 66. Aren't hunting fees the major source of revenue for wildlife management and habitat restoration?

 67. Isn't hunting OK as long as we eat what we kill?

 68. Fish are dumb like insects; what's wrong with fishing?

          Additional topics:  Hunting Morals

#63 Humans are natural hunter/gatherers; aren't you trying to repress natural human behavior?

Yes. Failing to repress certain "natural behaviors" would create an uncivilized society. Consider this: It would be an expression of natural behavior to hunt anything that moves (e.g., my neighbor's dogs or horses) and to gather anything I desire (e.g., my employer's money or furniture). It would even be natural behavior to indulge in unrestrained sexual appetites or to injure a person in a fit of rage or jealousy.

In a civilized society, we restrain our natural impulses by two codes: the written law of the land, and the unwritten law of morality. And this also applies to hunting. It is unlawful in many places and at many times, and the majority of Americans regard sport hunting as immoral. --DVH

Many would question the supposition that humans are natural hunters. In many societies, the people live quite happily without hunting. In our own society, the majority do not hunt, not because they are repressing their nature--they simply have no desire to do so. Those that do hunt often show internal conflicts about it, as evidenced by the myths and rituals that serve to legitimize hunting, cleanse the hunter, etc. This suggests that hunting is not natural, but actually goes against a deeper part of our nature, a desire not to do harm. --BL
"The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest." --Henry David Thoreau (essayist and poet)

SEE ALSO: #37, #64-#67

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#64 The world is made up of predators and prey; aren't we just another predator?

No. Our behavior is far worse than that of "just another predator". We kill others not just for nourishment but also for sport (recreation!), for the satisfaction of our curiosity, for fashion, for entertainment, for comfort, and for convenience. We also kill each other by the millions for territory, wealth, and power. We often torture and torment others before killing them. We conduct wholesale slaughter of vast proportions, on land and in the oceans. No other species behaves in a comparable manner, and only humans are destroying the balance of nature.

At the same time, our killing of nonhuman animals is unnecessary, whereas nonhuman predators kill and consume only what is necessary for their survival. They have no choice: kill or starve.

The one thing that really separates us from the other animals is our moral capacity, and that has the potential to elevate us above the status of "just another predator". Nonhumans lack this capacity, so we shouldn't look to them for moral inspiration and guidance. --DVH

SEE ALSO: #37, #63, #67

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#65 Doesn't hunting control wildlife populations that would otherwise get out of hand?

Starvation and disease are unfortunate, but they are nature's way of ensuring that the strong survive. Natural predators help keep prey species strong by killing only the sick and weak. Hunters, however, kill any animal they come across or any animal they think would look good mounted above the fireplace--often the large, healthy animals needed to keep the population strong. In fact, hunting creates the ideal conditions for accelerated reproduction. The abrupt drop in population leads to less competition among survivors, resulting in a higher birth rate. If we were really concerned about keeping animals from starving, we would not hunt, but, rather, take steps to reduce the animals' fertility. We would also preserve wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, and other natural predators. In actuality, many predator species are killed in order to produce more and more "game"; animals for hunters to kill.

Hunters often assert that their practices benefit their victims. A variation on the theme is their common assertion that their actions keep populations in check so that animals do not die of starvation ("a clean bullet in the brain is preferable to a slow death by starvation"). Following are some facts and questions about hunting and "wildlife management" that reveal what is really happening.

Game animals, such as deer, are physiologically adapted to cope with seasonal food shortages. It is the young that bear the brunt of starvation. Among adults, elderly and sick animals also starve. But the hunters do not seek out and kill only these animals at risk of starvation; rather, they seek the strongest and most beautiful animals (for maximum meat or trophy potential). The hunters thus recruit the forces of natural selection against the species that they claim to be defending.

The hunters restrict their activities to only those species that are attractive for their meat or trophy potential. If the hunters were truly concerned with protecting species from starvation, why do they not perform their "service" for the skunk, or the field mouse? And why is hunting not limited to times when starvation occurs, if hunting has as a goal the prevention of starvation? (The reason that deer aren't hunted in early spring or late winter--when starvation occurs--is that the carcasses would contain less fat, and hence, be far less desirable to meat consumers. Also, hunting then would be unpopular to hunters due to the snow, mud, and insects.)

So-called "game management" policies are actually programs designed to eliminate predators of the game species and to artificially provide additional habitat and resources for the game species. Why are these predator species eliminated when they would provide a natural and ecologically sound mechanism for controlling the population of game species? Why are such activities as burning, clear-cutting, chemical defoliation, flooding, and bulldozing employed to increase the populations of game animals, if hunting has as its goal the reduction of populations to prevent starvation? The truth is that the management agencies actually try to attain a maximum sustainable yield, or harvest, of game animals.

The wildlife managers and hunters preferentially kill male animals, a policy designed to keep populations high. If overpopulation were really a concern, they would preferentially kill females.

Another common practice that belies the claim that wildlife management has as a goal the reduction of populations to prevent starvation is the practice of game stocking. For example, in the state of New York the Department of Environmental Conservation obtains pheasants raised in captivity and then releases them in areas frequented by hunters.

For every animal killed by a hunter, two are seriously injured and left to die a slow death. Given these statistics, it is clear that hunting fails even in its proclaimed goal--the reduction of suffering.

The species targeted by hunters, both the game animals and their predators, have survived in balance for millions of years, yet now wildlife managers and hunters insist they need to be "managed". The legitimate task of wildlife management should be to preserve viable, natural wildlife populations and ecosystems.

In addition to the animal toll, hunters kill hundreds of human beings every year.

Finally, there is an ethical argument to consider. Thousands of human beings die from starvation each and every day. Should we assume that the reader will one day be one of them, and dispatch him straight away? Definitely not. AR ethics asserts that this same consideration should be accorded to the deer. --DG

Unless hunting is part of a controlled culling process, it is unlikely to be of benefit in any population maintenance. The number and distribution of animals slaughtered is unrelated to any perceived maldistribution of species, but is more closely related to the predilections of the hunters.

Indeed, hunting, whether for "pleasure" or profit, has a history more closely associated with bringing animals close to, or into, extinction, rather than protecting from overpopulation. Examples include the buffalo and the passenger pigeon. With the advent of modern "wildlife management", we see a transition to systems designed to artificially increase the populations of certain species to sustain a yield or harvest for hunters.

The need for population control of animals generally arises either from the introduction of species that have become pests or from indigenous animals that are competing for resources (such as the kangaroo, which competes with sheep and cattle). These imbalances usually have a human base. It is more appropriate to examine our resource uses and requirements, and to act more responsibly in our relationship with the environment, than to seek a "solution" to self-created problems through the morally dubious practice of hunting. --JK

"...the American public is footing the bill for predator-control programs that cause the systematic slaughter of refuge animals. Raccoons and red fox, squirrel and skunks are but a few of the many egg-eating predators trapped and destroyed in the name of "wildlife management programs". Sea gulls are shot, fox pups poisoned, and coyotes killed by aerial gunners in low-flying aircraft. This wholesale destruction is taking place on the only Federal lands set aside to protect America's wildlife!" --Humane Society of the United States
"The creed of maximum sustainable yield unmasks the rhetoric about "humane service" to animals. It must be a perverse distortion of the ideal of humane service to accept or engage in practices the explicit goal of which is to insure that there will be a larger, rather than a smaller, number of animals to kill! With "humane friends" like that, wild animals certainly do not need any enemies." --Tom Regan (philosopher and AR activist)

"The real cure for our environmental problems is to understand that our job is to salvage Mother Nature...We are facing a formidable enemy in this field. It is the hunters...and to convince them to leave their guns on the wall is going to be very difficult." --Jacques Cousteau (oceanographer)


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#66 Aren't hunting fees the major source of revenue for wildlife management and habitat restoration?

We have seen in question #65 that practices described as "wildlife management" are actually designed to increase the populations of game species desirable to hunters. Viewed in this light, the connection between hunting fees and the wildlife agencies looks more like an incestuous relationship than a constructive one designed to protect the general public's interests. Following are some more facts of interest in this regard.

Only 7 percent of the population hunt, yet all pay via taxation for hunting programs and services. Licenses account for only a fraction of the cost of hunting programs at the national level. For example, the US Fish and Wildlife Service programs get up to 90 percent of their revenues from general tax revenues. At the state level, hunting fees make up the largest part, and a significant part is obtained from Federal funds obtained from excise taxes on guns and ammunition. These funds are distributed to the states based on the number of hunters in the state! It is easy to see, then, how the programs are designed to appease and satisfy hunters.

It is important to remember that state game officials are appointed, not elected, and their salaries are paid through the purchase of hunting fees. This ensures that these officials regard the hunters as their constituents. David Favre, Professor of Wildlife Law at the Detroit College of Law, describes the situation as follows:

The primary question asked by many within these special [state] agencies would be something like, "How do we provide the best hunting experience for the hunters of our state?" The literature is replete with surveys of hunter desires and preferences in an attempt to serve these constituents.

Three factors support the status quo within the agency. First, as with most bureaucracies, individuals are hesitant to question their own on-going programs...Second, besides the normal bureaucratics, most state game agencies have a substantial group of individuals who are strong advocates for the hunters of the state. They are not neutral but very supportive of the hunting ethic and would not be expected to raise broader questions. Finally, and in many ways most importantly, is the funding mechanism...Since a large proportion of the funds which run the department and pay the salaries are from hunters and fishermen, there is a strong tendency for the agency to consider itself not as representing and working for the general public but that they need only serve their financial sponsors, the hunters and fishermen of the state. If your financial support is dependent on the activity of hunting, obviously very few are going to question the ecological or ethical problems therewith.

Many would argue that these funding arrangements constitute a prostitution of the public lands for the benefit of the few. We can envision possible alternatives to these arrangements. Other users of parks and natural resources, such as hikers, bird watchers, wildlife enthusiasts, eco-tourists, etc., can provide access to funds necessary for real habitat restoration and wildlife management, not the perverted brand that caters to the desires of hunters. As far as acquisition and protection of land is concerned, organizations such as the Nature Conservancy play an important role. They can do much more with even a fraction of the funding currently earmarked to subsidize hunting ($500 million per year). --DG/JK


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#67 Isn't hunting OK as long as we eat what we kill?

Did the fact that Jeffrey Dahmer ate his victims justify his crimes? What is done with a corpse after its murder doesn't lessen the victim's suffering. Furthermore, hunters are harming animals other than the ones they kill and take home. It is estimated that for every animal a hunter kills and recovers, at least two wounded but unrecovered animals die slowly and painfully of blood loss, infection, or starvation. Those who don't die outright often suffer disabling injuries. The stress that hunting inflicts on animals--the noise, the fear, and the constant chase--severely restricts their ability to eat adequately and store the fat and energy they need to survive the winter. Hunting also disrupts migration and hibernation. For animals like wolves who mate for life and have close-knit family units, hunting can severely harm entire communities.

Some vegetarians accept that where farmers or small landholders breed, maintain, and then kill their own livestock there is an argument for their eating that meat. There would need, at all stages, to be a humane life and death involved. Hunting seems not to fit within this argument because the kill is often not "clean", and the hunter has not had any involvement in the birth and growth of the animal.

As the arguments in the FAQ demonstrate, however, there is a wider context in which these actions have to be considered. Animals are sentient creatures who share many of our characteristics. The question is not only whether it is acceptable to eat an animal (which we perhaps hunted and killed), but if it is an appropriate action to take--stalking and murdering another animal, or eating the product of someone else's killing. Is it a proper action for a supposedly rational and ethical man or woman? --JK

This question reminds one of question #12, where it is suggested that killing and eating an animal is justified because the animal is raised for that purpose. The process leading up to the eating is used to justify the eating. In this question, the eating is used to justify the process leading up to it. Both attempts are totally illogical. Imagine telling the police not to worry that you have just stalked and killed a person because you ate the person! --DG

SEE ALSO: #12, #21, #63-#64

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#68 Fish are dumb like insects; what's wrong with fishing?

Fish are not "dumb" except in the sense that they are unable to speak. They have a complex nervous system based around a brain and spinal cord similar to other vertebrates. They are not as intelligent as humans in terms of functioning in our social and physical environment, but they are very successful and effective in their own environment. Behavioral studies indicate that they exhibit complex forms of learning, such as operant conditioning, serial reversal learning, probability learning, and avoidance learning. Many authorities doubt that there is a significant qualitative difference between learning in fishes and that in rats.

Many people who fish talk about the challenge of fishing, and the contest between themselves and the fish (on a one-to-one basis, not in relation to trawling or other net fishing). This implies an awareness and intelligence in the hunted of a level at least sufficient to challenge the hunter.

The death inflicted by fishing--a slow asphyxiation either in a net or after an extended period fighting against a barbed hook wedged somewhere in their head--is painful and distressing to a sentient animal. Those that doubt that fish feel pain must explain why it is that their brains contain endogenous opiates and receptors for them; these are accepted as mechanisms for the attenuation of pain in other vertebrates. --JK

Some people believe that it is OK to catch fish as long as they are returned to the water. But, when you think about it, it's as if one is playing with the fish. Also, handling the fish wipes off an important disease-fighting coating on their scales. The hook can be swallowed, leading to serious complications, and even if it isn't, pulling it out of their mouth leaves a lesion that is open to infection. --JSD

SEE ALSO: #22, #39

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