08 June 2011

An investigation into hunting: Why do people hunt animals?

Why do people hunt animals if there is no need compelling them to do so? After a fairly extensive search through the internet, I've pulled together some answers I found to this question, along with my responses.

Russ Chanstein of about.com writes in his piece "Why Do Hunters Hunt?": "The urge to kill lies within us all, especially as children. Without proper channeling of these instincts, children often grow into physically abusive and/or murderous adults."

Putting aside the fact that there's no source for this claim, the basic idea seems to be that if we don't teach our children how to hunt, they will grow up to be murderers. However, hunting is murder, minus the legality; by definition, the only difference between "killing" and "murder" is that murder is unlawfully taking life, while killing can be associated with the legal conversion of the taken life into some kind of food.

If we're concerned about our children growing up to be murderers, wouldn't "proper channeling" be something along the lines of teaching respect for life, and only taking it when absolutely necessary? Granted, many hunters may live in places where it makes sense to hunt; however, there are many who do not, yet hunt regardless.

Going back to the aforementioned theory of "properly channeling our killer instincts" or else we grow up to become murderers, there is research worth mentioning in response to this; for example,
Blair Sadler of The San Diego Union-Tribune, writes:

"Children who are maltreated are far more likely to run away from home, fall into drug problems, have difficulty in school, get pregnant as adolescents and commit crimes. They are 50 percent more likely to be arrested for juvenile crimes and 40 percent more likely to be arrested for violent crimes when they become adults."

In his book, "Serial Murderers and Their Victims,"Eric Hickey writes that the three main causes of violent behavior later in life are sexual abuse, mental abuse, and/or family problems.

The closest research on "proper channeling" that I could find comes from psychologist Albert Bandura's "Bobo Doll Experiment"; however, this experiment actually works against the argument presented by Chanstein as it shows how children will imitate violent behavior they see an adult taking part in. If there is any merit to Bandura's research, it would show that children who hunt will develop less respect for the animals they are killing, not more, and possibly even become more violent.

Russ Chanstein continues: "Think of what it takes to be alert and ready, and to make an honest, clean shot on an animal that always believes there's danger behind every tree!"

The specialization being described here is not unique to hunting. There are plenty of alternative avenues to explore, in the sports world for example, where one must be "alert and ready," prepared to make a "clean shot,"all without ever taking a life in the process.

Russ adds: "Without the kill, you aren't hunting. That doesn't mean that you have to kill every legal animal you see, but hunting is not hunting if you're not there to kill. Hunting is freedom, a tie to our ancestors, peace, contentment, happiness, joy, sweat, close calls, exploring, hiking, stealth, boring, exhilarating, tiring, satisfying, challenging, and a thousand other things."

All of those adjectives can be experienced doing things which do not require taking the life of another living creature. For example:

"peace (medication, yoga), contentment (love), happiness (love, friendship), joy (friendship, love), sweat (sports), close calls (sports), exploring (hiking/camping), hiking, stealth (paintball), boring (staring at a wall), exhilarating (biking/paintball), tiring (sports), satisfying (friendship, love, sports), challenging (sports), and a thousand other things."

"Hunting is freedom, a tie to our ancestors" - our ancestors didn't use toilet paper, but I'm not going to go through such an archaic experience willingly just to feel connected to them. They lived out in the wilderness, so why not camp? They cooked over fires, so why not cook over a fire? They hiked, they survived in the woods, they lived without television, radio, and video games -- they did many things we can still do today which do not require unnecessarily taking a life.

According to the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA), "[h]unting has nothing to do with violence or aggression. Almost every hunter will tell you they love animals. Yet, hunters kill animals. How do you explain that? It's a little like farming or gardening. People protect and care for their chickens and their vegetable plants, only to end up using them for food."

"It's a little like" is an understatement. Killing animals and killing plants are entirely different.

Plants do not feel pain. Animals do.

"Almost every hunter will tell you they love animals."

One definition of love explains it as a "profoundly tender, passionate affection." I have a very difficult time comprehending how one can have a "passionate affection" for another living creature while simultaneously aiming a gun at it and pulling the trigger.

The only partially rational argument I've come across to answer my question is that hunting helps balance animal populations. However, it seems unlikely that the majority of hunters (around 5-7% of the US population) are heading out into the woods with their high-powered rifles to help the environment; and, while animal overpopulation is definitely a problem in many areas, why not choose alternative methods to address this problem, such as sterilization?

The goal of this short critique is not to further involve the government in regulation and conservation, nor is it an attempt to strip away your "right" to hunt. If anything, my primary focus here has been to achieve a rational answer to the question "Why Hunt?"

After researching the subject, I remain thoroughly convinced that taking part in this activity is cruel and unnecessary, and I see no reasonable, ethical answer to my question beyond hunting for purposes of survival.

Jonathan Reynolds
Jonathan is a freelance writer and blogger residing in upstate New York.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/lancefisher