Hunting's Ethics

This page was last updated on: December 3, 2007

By: Jonathan Detwiler
Written: February 6, 2001
(Copyright 2001)

Can I Kill an Animal Ethically?

          The topic of mankind hunting in today's day and age is an interesting subject and it is one that there are many opinions on. Yet, 100 years ago hardly anyone would have had a bias against hunting. What has changed? Why are Americans split in the way they view hunters and hunting? Has our culture come to some new knowledge that has illuminated them to the wrongs of hunting? To begin to answer this question one must look at the history of hunting. Hunting has been a vital part of mans life since the beginning of their existence. For the past thousands of years mankind has depended on the harvesting of game to live. Ancient manuscripts and even cave paintings have shown that hunting played an intricate part in the life of the ancients. During those times no one questioned the correctness of hunting because it was so essential to their life and part of their nature. Around 1650 the "new world" was being colonized and people lived off the land. Deer, turkey, squirrels, rabbits, doves, and pheasants were all hunted and killed for food. In fact, without the existence of hunting the colonist would not have survived.  However, things began to change shortly after the westward spread of America.

At the time of America's westward expansion America was a growing and prosperous nation. In order to support such large numbers of people game hunters slaughtered hundreds of animals and sold their meat for food. This type of hunting is what brought the demise of the buffalo in many western states. One such state was Kansas, whose entire buffalo population was wiped out. Also, around this time is when the first questions regarding hunting came up. The questions were not whether hunting was right but, they were questions on how hunting should be done. By 1870, one hundred years after the revolutionary war, sportsmen like Theodore Roosevelt started pushing legislation to set guidelines for hunting. In the 1870s, another change happened in America. This change was a lessening dependency on hunting for food. The change was brought on by various inventions that benefited ranchers and farmers and allowed more food to be supplied to the population. One of the most notable inventions was the railroad. In 1860, about forty years after the railroad was invented, there were 30,000 miles of track. Having so much railroad allowed for more cattle to be shipped and sold to far away states. Ever since then the United States has become less and less dependent on hunting as a food source. Today, very few hunters are hunting out of a need to survive. Instead, hunting has become more of a "sport." As a result of the decline of the commonness of hunting many of the objections come from people who are just not used to hunting being around. Is hunting wrong, now that we don't need the meat? Furthermore, is hunting permissible if the animal is killed for the sport and the challenge? Or is it only permissible if the meat is to be eaten? The rest of this essay will examine different viewpoints whether extreme or commonplace.
The first argument to be examined is one presented by the animal rights groups. Around 1970 people began to these groups began to form. One of the first groups was formed in 1967 and is now called "The Fund for Animals." The animal rights groups are a very small minority in the world, but they have a powerful presence because of their vigorous stand for their beliefs. The argument of these groups is that it is wrong to kill animals in any circumstances. In a quote from the PETA web site, "Animal rights means that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration of what is in their own best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans or an endangered species and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all." The animal rights groups believe that animals are equal to humans and therefore that animals should never be harmed to benefit humans.

          Another main argument against hunting is that hunting promotes violence and that it is a bad influence on kids. Even within this segment there are various levels of belief. A radical view that is mostly promoted by the animal rights groups is that hunting is linked with crime. One man named Merrit Clifton, who founded the group Animal People said, "the high proportion of serial killers also hunt animals." Clifton in another place, also links hunting with child molestation, rape, prostitution, and wife beating. His proposition is based on an extreme statistical study done by another animal rights person, Stephen Kellert. A more commonplace view however, is that hunting is a bad influence on children. Recently society has viewed hunting as a sport whose only intention is to kill. Some parents are concerned that allowing their kids to hunt or to play hunting games will only corrupt their minds further.

          An alternative argument presented against hunting is based on the way some hunters do things. Some concerns are how some hunters trespass, litter, dispose of killed animals inappropriately, and how hunters behave in public. The land available to hunters has been decreasing for just those reasons. Land owners feel like they can't trust the hunters. They are concerned hunters will leave gates open, destruct property, poach, and be unsafe. Anti-hunting people will also point out things hunters do in public. Among those things are, sticking bloody deer on top of vans, leaving the tailgate down so that everyone can see the deer, and even the image that most hunters are dumb rednecks. The concerned people just feel that people who hunt tend to be jerks and they do not won't to have bums out handling guns and killing things.

          The final major argument against hunting and the most popular is that hunting is just too dangerous. This argument is inspired by the many stories the media presents about hunting accidents. One example of a gun accident comes from Oregon. Ironically, the example involves two brothers that survived the Oregon High School shooting in 1998. Richard Peek Junior, 19, who had is arm shot in the school shootings was hunting with his 17 year old brother Robert. Thinking they heard a deer the boys cocked their guns and knelt down. Then, either by his hand slipping on the hammer or his gun getting caught on his clothes, Robert's gun went off. The bullet went directly through his brother's head killing him instantly. Terrible stories like that provoke thought. Many view hunting as just too dangerous. They believe people are just not responsible enough to hunt safely.

          Completely opposite of these views are the views pro hunting people hold. These too, vary in their extremes and some are more widely accepted than others. The first argument often used by hunters is that the deer meat can be used for food. Deer meat is very healthy to eat and it is low in fat.  Hunters would point out that about 45% of them hunt just for the meat. Of the remaining 55% the majority hunt for the meat and for the fun. The meat harvested by hunting still provides a lot of food. Also, homeless people have benefited from hunting. Often when hunters don't care to use the meat themselves they will donate it to a food bank.

          Another argument in support of hunting is that it is a great management tool for the animal population. Since humans populate most geographical areas, they have eliminated many of the predators that lessen the animal population. These are predators like coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, panthers, and even birds of prey. Nature's balance has been adjusted by humans. Now, without the natural prey or hunting the animal population grows way out of hand. This is a disadvantage to humans and to the animals. Overpopulation causes numerous inconveniences to humans. One particular example that affects many individuals every day is that of deer getting run over by vehicles. In 1999 NY DOT had more than 60,000 reported incidences of deer being hit. A study done by Cornell University in 1990 estimated that deer cause around $50 million dollars in vehicle damage, and that deer also cause 2 deaths and 1,000 injuries. Worse those figures are just for New York. Deer occasionally being hit by vehicles is unavoidable but if the deer population is not as plentiful the costly accidents will happen much less frequently. A further way that keeping the animal population under control helps humans is that it makes it less likely animals will destroy the yards and gardens of people. Take Monroeville, PA which is a suburb of Pittsburgh for example. The area is not heavily developed but there are several old neighborhoods. For many years, hunting has not been allowed in the area and it is causing many problems. Local residents are complaining because they can't grow gardens or have nice lawns. The deer are so desperate for food that they will come right up to the residents houses and eat from their bushes. Also, many people in that area like to grow gardens. To accomplish that they have to stick up fences that are 8 feet high or else the deer with devour everything. There are people, whom my Grandma knows in Monroeville, that are normally against hunting but since they are so fed up with the deer they have changed their mind and are desirous and open to professional hunters coming in to help control the population. However, not only does keeping the animal population under control help humans but it also helps the animals. Looking at Monroeville, experts have said that the reason deer come up to the houses is because they are starving. The deer can't sustain themselves in the woods so they must venture around to find food. The hunting crowd believes that hunting will limit the deer population and in so doing make the people happy and the deer healthy.

          A third argument for hunting is that it is essential to our livelihood. Some believe that hunting is as important as sleep or sex. An example of this is shown by a well known environmental psychologist names James A. Swan. He has written, "Whenever we deny our instincts, we create problems for ourselves, those around us, and the world. In our inner nature we are all animals. As long as our psyches do not change, we will never be able to give up our hunting heritage. The hunting instinct is bred into the bone and blood of at least most of us and is one of the fundamental elements of human nature. Our challenge as humans is to find the best ways to express our instinctual nature." Part of this belief is that humans can't remove themselves from the natural way of things. Proponents say that it is important for us to learn to deal with the deepest issues of life and death.

          The last of the mainline hunting arguments is that hunting is good for the nation's economy. During an interview with a man from the South Dakota Fish and Game Department some interesting statistics were provided. According to him sportsmen contribute $3 million dollars a day to wildlife conservation funds. Over the period of a year this adds up to 1.5 billion dollars. He also said that the South Dakota Fish and Game Departed estimated that sportsmen contribute14 billion dollars to the American economy. That $14 billion supports more than 300,000 jobs. Some hunter's think that people don't need to judge what they are doing especially since it benefits everyone.

          To conclude, it must be said that people's concern about the irresponsibility of hunters is a valid thing to question. However, I believe that most hunters are misrepresented by a small minority. Too often, what is being done wrongly sticks out and gains attention, but when things are being done properly, it goes unnoticed. I know that for me and most hunters we are just as, if not more outraged at the actions of some hunters then non hunters. The majority of hunters love nature and just being outdoors enjoying the earth is worth the hunting experience. The true hunters that are seeing people litter and kill without respect and thought, tears at their hearts. In this day and age there are some problems with renegade hunters, but overall I think hunting provides more wonderful things than bad. Hunting is a great thing that brings people closer to nature, and it would be a shame to lose such a wonderful pastime because of misunderstandings, or a few bad guys.

1. Greensboro News Company    Kip Kinkle (Oct. 7, 1999)
2. Derek's Hunting Ethics Page (http://php.indiana.edu/~drlarson/hunt.html)
3. New York Department of Transportation
4. Deer on the run    by: Kelly Stong
5. Nature Notebook Issue 9    by: Linda M. Watson   (www.naturely.com)
6. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (www.peta.com)
7. In Defense of Hunting    by: James A. Swan

Here is an essay I wrote a long time ago. I realize that it is not the most well written or professional piece and that it has some errors but since I've had it on my site for a long time, I will leave it up.