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The Fallacy of Sport Hunting
Every year, hunters kill more than 130 million animals in the United
States. Except for a few aboriginal cultures that still hunt for food,
most hunters in the U.S. hunt for "recreation" -- for the apparent
pleasure of stalking and killing. Sport hunters kill animals for trophies
in the form of pelts, heads, antlers, and other body parts. Commonly
hunted species include deer, bears, mountain lions, wolves, foxes,
coyotes, raccoons, opossums, badgers, skunks, boar, moose, pronghorn
antelopes, bobcats, ducks, turkeys, woodcocks, mourning doves, geese,
grouse, swans, rabbits, hares, and squirrels. Below are some of the myths
and common arguments used to justify sport hunting.
Myth: Americans consider sport hunting to be an acceptable "use" of
A growing number of Americans believe sport hunting is unethical,
wasteful, and unnecessary. When the Press asked in a December
1985 poll, "Do you think there are circumstances where it is perfectly
O.K. to hunt an animal for sport?", 51% responded that it was always
wrong. In a 1994 statewide poll, 73% of Arizona voters said they
disapproved of hunting animals for recreational reasons.
The success of recent hunting-related state ballot initiatives across
the country also highlights the growing opposition to unethical hunting
practices. Since 1990, voters in six states have banned bear-baiting; the
use of hounds to hunt bears, cougars, and lynxes; hunting wolves from
airplanes; and spring bear hunts. These successes demonstrate that
Americans clearly and resoundingly oppose cruel and unethical hunting
Myth: Hunting is an increasingly popular "sport."
Despite claims made by hunting proponents that sport hunting is a
popular, widely accepted traditional American pastime, the number of
hunters in the U.S. has declined over the past 20 years. In 1996, only
5.1% of Americans purchased hunting licenses, compared to 7.4% in 1991 and
9.9% in 1975, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In response to declining hunter numbers and growing opposition to sport
hunting, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies
have joined with private pro-hunting organizations to try and boost hunter
numbers. To improve the public image of hunting, wildlife managers refer
to hunting as "regulated" as opposed to "sport," "trophy," or
"recreational." Additionally, hunters downplay their desire for a big rack
(antlers) and emphasize the "need" for meat to feed their families, and
state wildlife agencies actively recruit women and children to increase
hunter license sales.
Studies have shown that if a young person has not started hunting
before age 18, it is unlikely they will ever hunt. With that in mind, the
$21-billion-a-year hunting industry works with state wildlife agencies to
recruit young men and women before they graduate from high school. A 1995
Fund for Animals survey revealed that three out of four states offered
"hunter education" classes in public schools. These classes, which teach
children how to kill animals in the name of so-called "sport," are often
funded by the very state agencies mandated to conserve and protect our
wildlife. Funding also comes from hunting groups such as the National
Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Safari Club
International, and Ducks Unlimited. On the federal level, the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service has joined state wildlife agencies to sponsor regular
Youth Hunts and "Becoming an Outdoors Woman" programs across the nation.
Moreover, such programs work directly against efforts to decrease youth
violence by desensitizing children to animal suffering, and by extolling
killing as entertainment.
Myth: Hunting provides a primary source of food.
A popular argument made by sport hunting groups is that hunters "live
by their wits" and put food on the table through hard work, skill, and
intelligence. A very small percentage of indigenous and rural hunters do
kill animals as their main source of food. However, the vast majority of
hunters do not. Licensed hunters spend $1.8 billion on hunting-related
equipment in the U.S. and it is estimated that after license fees,
equipment, and travel expenses, it costs an average of $20 per pound for a
deer hunter to put venison on the table.
Most hunting today is done for "recreational" purposes -- for the pure
pleasure of pursuing and killing an animal. Hunters generally target
trophy animals; i.e. those with the largest racks (antlers), the biggest
horns, etc. Often the prized parts are removed, while the rest of the body
is left to rot in the field.
Myth: Hunting involves fair chase.
Hunters often claim that hunting is a sport involving fair chase.
However, a fair sport involves two individuals on equal grounds who have a
mutual agreement to engage in the activity. It is hard to argue that an
animal pursued by a hunter riding a snowmobile or off-road vehicle and
equipped with high-powered firearms and electronic calling devices is on
equal footing. Moreover, since hunting involves deliberate death, no
mutual consent, and no outside judges, hunting can never be considered a
Here are just a few of the devices and particularly unethical practices
employed by hunters today:
Predator Calling: Electronic calling devices, which emulate
distress calls of predator young, are used by many hunters to lure
foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and wolves into point-blank range. With such
devices, hunters can literally wait for their prey to appear, and simply
blast away when the distressed and confused animal comes into view.
Hounding: Radio-collared hounds are used to track and tree
black bears, cougars, raccoons, foxes, lynx, bobcats, and other animals.
Using a portable receiver, the hunter can determine when the pursued
animal is trapped in a tree and ready to be shot at point-blank range.
Hounded animals are sometimes maimed by the hounds during the pursuit.
Baiting: The practice of bear and deer "baiting" -- where
hunters bait at specific sites and await their quarry with readied guns
-- is considered to be one of the most unethical hunting practices
allowed in the U.S. today. Although baiting is still allowed in many
areas of the country, a number of states have banned this practice
through legislation or citizen initiatives.
Bowhunting: Bowhunting (the use of bows and arrows) causes
more injuries to wildlife than any other hunting practice. Scientific
studies indicate that for every animal killed and retrieved by a
bowhunter, another is left to die a slow and painful death from
When educated about such unethical hunting practices, few Americans
believe the claim that hunting involves "subsistence survival skills,"
"intelligence," and a "fair chase." The facts disprove such arguments.
Myth: Hunting is a necessary management tool that controls "surplus"
animals and prevents overpopulation and starvation.
State wildlife agencies often argue that our cities and rural lands
would be overrun with wild animals if hunting were disallowed. However,
the biological truth is that animals regulate their own populations, based
upon available food and habitat. In nature, unaltered by humans, there is
no such thing as a "surplus" animal.
It is indisputable that humans have not only disrupted ecosystems
across the globe, but have also altered the natural controls that maintain
wildlife populations. Sometimes this disruption is a result of development
or human encroachment into wildlife habitat. Other times, the alteration
is more deliberate, as when state wildlife agencies kill predators in an
attempt to boost the numbers of "game" species for hunters.
One example of mismanagement is the manipulation of white-tailed deer
populations. Hunters most often seek out the largest buck (male deer) with
the biggest rack, though many hunters shoot the first deer they see. This
practice weakens the gene pool by removing the healthiest animals from the
population and skewing the population's sex ratio, leaving more does
(female deer) to reproduce. Natural predators are opportunistic hunters
and usually take the youngest, weakest and/or sickest animals, keeping the
deer population healthy and balanced. The practice of hunting more bucks
than does increases the number of deer available to hunters. Our state and
federal wildlife agencies purport they aim to maintain healthy deer
populations and to reduce deer overpopulation. If this were true they
would direct hunters to seek out and shoot the weakest does.
Myth: Sport hunting of predators is needed to protect the
Some state wildlife agencies promote trophy hunting of mountain lions
and bears on the grounds that such culling is necessary to prevent
overpopulation of these species and thereby minimize interactions with
people. Yet sport hunting does not result in an overall population
decrease, as demonstrated by an eight-year study of mountain lions in
Canada. The mountain lion population recovered from hunting and stabilized
at an optimum density for its habitat range. The researchers argued
further population growth would likely be curtailed at a level regulated
"by social interactions and/or prey densities," not by
hunting.2 In another study, an area in Utah was closed to
mountain lion hunting for 9 years while researchers monitored the mountain
lion population. During the same period, despite heavy hunting, the deer
population increased, yet the number of resident adult mountain lions
"generally remained stable through this period." The increases in the deer
herds did not appear to affect the number of adult mountain lions
Myth: State wildlife agencies work to protect wildlife and their
Though our state wildlife agencies are mandated to protect wildlife and
their habitats, their policies and regulations generally reflect a
different agenda. The active promotion of sport hunting and the
perpetuation of "game species" over the interests of non-hunters and
"non-game species" clearly indicates whose interests these agencies serve.
Most state wildlife agencies are monitored by a non-elected commission (or
council or board) whose members are usually appointed by the state
governor. These commissions, vested with ultimate authority over wildlife
management, are often comprised of hunters and trappers eager to ensure
the perpetuation of their "sports."
Instead of protecting wildlife and their habitats, these
hunter-dominated commissions manage and manipulate wildlife populations to
provide ample targets for hunters and trappers. Predators such as foxes,
coyotes, and wolves are frequently killed so that more game animals, such
as moose, deer, caribou, and birds, are available for hunters. The results
of such mismanagement of wildlife can be disastrous, causing irreparable
damage to the balance of local ecosystems.
As more and more people see through the "we have to shoot them or
they'll overpopulate and starve to death" smokescreen perpetuated by many
wildlife agencies, an increasingly vocal and informed public will
challenge these policies at the ballot box, in the courtroom, and in the
Myth: Hunters pay for wildlife conservation through fees and taxes
on guns, so it's their right to control wildlife management
There is no refuting that wildlife management in our country is
controlled primarily by "consumptive wildlife interests" -- those who view
wildlife as a resource to be "stocked," "harvested," and "managed."
"Non-consumptive wildlife users" -- those who enjoy viewing,
photographing, and observing wildlife in nature -- have had very little
say in policies and regulations concerning our nation's wildlife and their
One reason for this disparity is the source of funding for state
wildlife agency budgets. In 1937, Congress passed the Federal Aid in
Wildlife Restoration Act (formally called the Pittman-Robertson Act) to
help finance state wildlife agencies by establishing an excise tax on
guns, ammunition, and fishing gear. These funds are then distributed to
state wildlife agencies based upon the state's land area and the number of
hunters in the state. The more hunting licenses sold, the more funds a
state receives from this act. States therefore have an incentive to cater
to hunters over non-consumptive wildlife users because they will receive a
larger slice of the federal funding pie.
The "we pay for wildlife conservation" argument made by hunters is
refuted by the fact that the majority of gun purchasers do not hunt. Of
the 60 million gun owners in the U.S., only a quarter of these are
hunters, and yet every gun owner must pay the congressionally mandated
excise tax when they purchase a gun that then goes to help fund state
hunting education programs. Consequently, gun owners who do not hunt are
unknowingly supporting and perpetuating hunting and the mismanagement of
our nation's wildlife.
Hunters are not the only source of funding for state wildlife agency
budgets. Many states receive funding from the Endangered Species Act, from
state general funds, penalties paid by poachers, the sale of environmental
license plates, and from voluntary contributions made by individuals
through income tax check-offs and similar voluntary contribution programs.
Moreover, while the funds generated from gun and ammunition taxes have
purchased ~10 million acres of land, over 600 million acres have been
funded by general tax dollars. Many of these taxpayer-funded lands,
including our National Wildlife Refuges, are open to hunters, thereby
subsidizing their activities.
Non-consumptive wildlife users do contribute to wildlife conservation,
but have been given little opportunity to increase funding of non-game
programs and have been essentially excluded from state wildlife management
What to Do
Wildlife advocates must work to change the focus of our wildlife
management agencies and their funding sources. Only then will the
interests of non-game wildlife and non-consumptive users be equitably
represented within state wildlife agencies.
Some inroads have been made, as evidenced by the recent passage of
legislation and state initiatives banning unethical wildlife management
practices. In November 1996, five states banned or maintained bans on bear
baiting, bear and cougar hounding, hunting wolves from airplanes, and/or
trapping of wildlife. Increased public participation and public outcry
against the mismanagement of wildlife and misuse of public funds will lead
to changes in the system and force wildlife agencies to carry out their
mandate of humane stewardship and true wildlife protection.
For more information about hunting and wildlife management in the
United States, please visit the Wildlife Page or contact
For additional reading on hunting, API recommends the following books:
Baker, Ron. The American Hunting Myth. New York: Vantage
Cartmill, Matt. A View to a Death in the Morning: Hunting and
Nature Through History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.
Livingston, John A. The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation.
Toronto: McClelland & Steward, 1981.
Mighetto, Lisa. Wild Animals and American Environmental
Ethics. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1991.
Petersen, David. A Hunter's Heart: Honest Essays on Blood
Sports. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996.
Reisner, Marc P. Game Wars: The Undercover Pursuit of Wildlife
Poachers. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
Count: The Death Toll in America's War on Wildlife. New York:
The Fund for Animals, January 2000.
Numbers of Birds and Other Animals
Killed by Hunters Each Season
|Each year hunters
kill more than 100 million animals. The following statistics are
selected species from state wildlife agency reports from the 1996/97
hunting season (courtesy of the Fund for Animals). These figures do
not include the hundreds of thousands animals killed by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's "Wildlife Services" agency each
1. Benke, Adrian. The Bowhunting Alternative. San
Antonio: B. Todd Press, 1989.
2. P. Ian Ross & Martin G. Jalkotzy. "Characteristics
of a Hunted Population of Mountain Lions in Southwestern Alberta."
Journal of Wildlife Management, Volume 56 (1992), No. 3.
3. Frederick G. Lindzey, et al. "Mountain Lion
Population Dynamics in Southern Utah." Journal of Wildlife
Management, Volume 58 (1994), No. 4.