On Hunting

I am trying to understand an ethical/psychological perspective. The perspective is hunting for sport, and I am finding it troubling and challenging to comprehend.

Hunting for practical reasons, such as food acquisition, profit, or population control is not what I’m interested in discussing here, as this is not my argument, and these are fairly solid stances.  What I find troubling, and what I want to discuss, is hunting for enjoyment.

I did not grow up in the atmosphere of hunting, either. My family doesn’t hunt, and I have somehow managed to eschew a good portion of the culture I’ve been around. However, in the area where I come from, hunting is a very acceptable pastime. Many families own guns, and kids learn to use them relatively early in life. Many people go on hunting trips, or even shoot around in their back yard. Having pictures of oneself posing with dead deer is pretty standard, as is coming to school wearing camouflage. There is nearly no stigma involved. There is some slight disdain for such actions from the slightly less backwoods residents of the town, but no real dialogue about it. When I was younger (in my extreme animal-loving phase around fifth grade that every little girl seems to go through), I was very strongly against it, but since then my opinion had waned to uneasy disregard.

However, I have been aware of its presence, especially since I’ve been considering the ethics of killing animals (another subject I’m pondering, but this is not the topic of discussion currently at table). I do eat meat, which I had grudgingly accepted as a moral equivalent, but for some reason my gut feeling on hunting was different. Surely it was hypocritical of me to eat animals, but condemn killing them?

However, as I’ve said, the topic is not the actual act of killing them. What I’ve come to elucidate is that it is not so much the actual killing of animals that so perturbs me. It’s the enjoyment of it.

I asked a friend if she could try to explain it to me. Her father hunts for sport, and though she herself does not, she is far less instinctively critical of it than I am. I asked her, what is so enjoyable about hunting? Her response was, paraphrased of course, that it has a lot to do with the thrill of the chase and the hunt, and using your cunning to outwit the animal and triumph.

Part of me wants to reply, “Oh, yes, so much fun. What a real challenge that is, you with your superior intellect, technology, and deer stand. Yeah, it was a struggle to outsmart that deer, because everyone knows how intelligent deer are. What cunning you have.” Which, though sarcastic, is a valid point. Of course you’ll get the freaking deer. Yes, I know, there is a degree of challenge to it, but at the end of the day, you’re still the one with the range weapon and the prefrontal cortex.

On the other hand, though, I do see how that could be enjoyable. It’s a little survival fantasy. You get a shot of adrenaline and a sense of power and wit, and you’re catching something that has evolved a multitude of defenses to prevent you from doing exactly what you’re doing – killing it. I can see how that might be enjoyable. In some ways, it reminds me of laser tag. There’s an air of danger, of hunting, of outsmarting your opponent through tactics and vantage, combining with an elevated heart rate and darkness.

I also don’t like laser tag.

I think the part that I really find perturbing is that both of these activities require a certain distancing from empathy. Laser tag requires you, for a few minutes, to not to see your friends as friends, but as opponents, as the enemy in a war. Hunting requires you, for a few hours, to see the deer not as a deer, not as an animal that is not so different from the dog at your side, but as game, as a target on legs. It is precisely this desensitization that disturbs me so, because to enjoy it, you have to push your empathy aside.

I obviously have no moral issue with laser tag, because it is a game that is mutually agreed upon by the participants and no one is getting hurt, though I may choose not to partake in playing. The morals of hunting are less evident, because entities are being hurt and killed – and stuffed and hung on the wall. The other day I remarked on Facebook that it was funny how it was okay to hang a deer skull on the wall, but very weird and morbid to mount a human skull. It was mostly a joke, but I was turning over this issue then, too, and I think it is actually a distinction worth examining. Why is hanging a deer on the wall so much less of a problem? You’re still crowing over dead things, showing off your manliness as a function of things you’ve killed.

A frequently cited story (of uncertain historical origin) is that of how some Native Americans used to say a prayer or apology or thanks over every animal they killed, thanking it for its gift of life that would help them survive. I like this idea. Not because the deer can hear the thanks, or because it cares. It’s dead, and doesn’t speak English. However, I think this is a wise tradition for the sake of the hunter. So they do not forget that what they are getting a thrill from has a cost, and so they do not take the desensitization of hunting into other areas of their lives.


These are my thoughts on the topic. If anyone has an explanation, a defense, a justification, or even just a comment or reaction, I am very interested in hearing more on the subject. I do not think I have researched and examined the topic quite thoroughly enough to have too solid of a stance (and I avoid being uncompromising in the face of valid evidence). And at any rate, I am interested in hearing what people think.

[Note: I am also trying very hard not to make moral judgments based upon whether or not one enjoys hunting. I am merely trying to explain my feelings on the subject, and that maybe people have not thoroughly examined their own mind and actions enough. I am certainly not calling hunters bad people. ]


One comment on “On Hunting

  1. stevegalea6953 says:

    This is a good question that all good hunters ask themselves. First, thanks for trying not to judge, although you actually did so when you said “slightly less backwards residents in town disdained it.”
    But I take no offense to that.
    Obviously, you have a bias against hunting and that’s OK since you don’t understand it.
    Hunting is a complex thing.
    First, in my mind, it is natural for us as humans. We are all descendants of successful hunters.
    I can only speak for myself when I say that it is not the killing I enjoy, it is the whole experience. It is proving to yourself that you still fit in and understand the natural world. It is being outside and seeing things non-hunters rarely see. It is in proving that you have relevant skills.
    You alluded to the fact that, of course you are going to get a deer. That’s not actually true. I’ve known people who have gone years without getting one. It is not nearly as easy as you imagine it.
    When you hunt, if you do it correctly, you are immersed in nature. After you take the meat and add it to your diet, it seems wholly natural and right. You actually know where your food came from.
    .Hunting is real. The artificial world, this one of Internet and Iphones, seems phony, very much like a fragile house of cards by comparison. As you alluded, it is part of a culture. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it wrong.
    The people in this culture also have legitimate questions and concerns about the artificial world most humans now live in. Is all this distancing form nature making us better?

    Thanks for you thoughts. I hope you’ll consider mine..

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