Although it was a crucial part of humans’ survival 100,000 years ago, hunting is now nothing more than a violent form of recreation that the vast majority of hunters does not need for subsistence.(1) Hunting has contributed to the extinction of animal species all over the world, including the Tasmanian tiger and the great auk.(2,3)
Less than 5 percent of the U.S. population hunts, yet hunting is permitted in many wildlife refuges, national forests, state parks, and on other public lands.(4) Forty percent of hunters slaughter and maim millions of animals on public land every year, and by some estimates, poachers kill just as many animals illegally.(5,6)
Pain and Suffering
Many animals suffer prolonged, painful deaths when they are injured but not killed by hunters. A member of the Maine Bowhunters Alliance estimates that 50 percent of animals who are shot with crossbows are wounded but not killed.(7) A study of 80 radio-collared white-tailed deer found that of the 22 deer who had been shot with “traditional archery equipment,” 11 were wounded but not recovered by hunters.(8) Twenty percent of foxes who have been wounded by hunters are shot again; 10 percent manage to escape, but “starvation is a likely fate” for them, according to one veterinarian.(9) A South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks biologist estimates that more than 3 million wounded ducks go “unretrieved” every year.(10) A British study of deer hunting found that 11 percent of deer who’d been killed by hunters died only after being shot two or more times and that some wounded deer suffered for more than 15 minutes before dying.(11)
Hunting disrupts migration and hibernation patterns and destroys families. For animals like wolves, who mate for life and live in close-knit family units, hunting can devastate entire communities. The stress that hunted animals suffer—caused by fear and the inescapable loud noises and other commotion that hunters create—also severely compromises their normal eating habits, making it hard for them to store the fat and energy that they need in order to survive the winter.
Blood-Thirsty and Profit-Driven
To attract more hunters (and their money), federal and state agencies implement programs—often called “wildlife management” or “conservation” programs—that are designed to boost the number of “game” species. These programs help to ensure that there are plenty of animals for hunters to kill and, consequently, plenty of revenue from the sale of hunting licenses.
Duck hunters in Louisiana persuaded the state wildlife agency to direct $100,000 a year toward “reduced predator impact,” which involved trapping foxes and raccoons so that more duck eggs would hatch, giving hunters more birds to kill.(12) The Ohio Division of Wildlife teamed up with a hunter-organized society to push for clear-cutting (i.e., decimating large tracts of trees) in Wayne National Forest in order to “produce habitat needed by ruffed grouse.”(13)
In Alaska, the Department of Fish and Game is trying to increase the number of moose for hunters by “controlling” the wolf and bear populations. Grizzlies and black bears have been moved hundreds of miles away from their homes; two were shot by hunters within two weeks of their relocation, and others have simply returned to their homes.(14) Wolves have been slaughtered in order to “let the moose population rebound and provide a higher harvest for local hunters.”(15) In the early 1990s, a program designed to reduce the wolf population backfired when snares failed to kill victims quickly and photos of suffering wolves were seen by an outraged public.(16)
Nature Takes Care of Its Own
The delicate balance of ecosystems ensures their own survival—if they are left unaltered. Natural predators help maintain this balance by killing only the sickest and weakest individuals. Hunters, however, kill any animal whom they would like to hang over the fireplace—including large, healthy animals who are needed to keep the population strong. Elephant poaching is believed to have increased the number of tuskless animals in Africa, and in Canada, hunting has caused bighorn sheep’s horn size to fall by 25 percent in the last 40 years; Nature magazine reports that “the effect on the populations’ genetics is probably deeper.”(17)
Even when unusual natural occurrences cause overpopulation, natural processes work to stabilize the group. Starvation and disease can be tragic, but they are nature’s ways of ensuring that healthy, strong animals survive and maintain the strength level of the rest of their herd or group. Shooting an animal because he or she might starve or become sick is arbitrary and destructive.
“Sport” hunting not only jeopardizes nature’s balance, it also exacerbates other problems. For example, the transfer of captive-bred deer and elk between states for the purpose of hunting is believed to have contributed to the epidemic spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD). As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given state wildlife agencies millions of dollars to “manage” deer and elk populations.(18) The fatal neurological illness that affects these animals has been likened to mad cow disease, and while the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that CWD has no relationship to any similar diseases that affect humans or farmed animals, the slaughter of deer and elk continues.(19,20)
Another problem with hunting involves the introduction of exotic “game” animals who, if they’re able to escape and thrive, pose a threat to native wildlife and established ecosystems. After a group of nonnative wild boars escaped from a private ranch and moved into the forests of Cambria County, Pa., the state of Pennsylvania drafted a bill prohibiting the importation of all exotic species of animals.(21)
Most hunting occurs on private land, where laws that protect wildlife are often inapplicable or difficult to enforce. On private lands that are set up as for-profit hunting reserves or game ranches, hunters can pay to kill native and exotic species in “canned hunts.” These animals may be native to the area, raised elsewhere and brought in, or purchased from individuals who are trafficking in unwanted or surplus animals from zoos and circuses. They are hunted and killed for the sole purpose of providing hunters with a “trophy.”
Canned hunts are becoming big business—there are an estimated 1,000 game preserves in the U.S.(22) Ted Turner, who owns more land than any other landowner in the country, operates 20 ranches, where hunters pay thousands of dollars to kill bison, deer, African antelopes, and turkeys.(23)
Animals on canned-hunting ranches are often accustomed to humans and are usually unable to escape from the enclosures that they are confined to, which range in size from just a few yards to thousands of acres. Most of these ranches operate on a “no kill, no pay” policy, so it is in owners’ best interests to ensure that clients get what they came for. Owners do this by offering guides who are familiar with animals’ locations and habits, permitting the use of dogs, and supplying “feeding stations” that lure unsuspecting animals to food while hunters lie in wait.
Only a handful of states prohibit canned hunting, and there are no federal laws regulating the practice at this time.(24) Congress is considering an amendment to the Captive Exotic Animal Protection Act that would prohibit the transfer, transportation, or possession of exotic animals “for entertainment or the collection of a trophy.”(25)
Hunting “accidents” destroy property and injure or kill horses, cows, dogs, cats, hikers, and other hunters. In 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney famously shot a friend while hunting quail on a canned-hunting preserve.(26) According to the International Hunter Education Association, there are dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries attributed to hunting in the United States every year—and that number only includes incidents involving humans.(27) It is an ongoing problem, and one warden explained that “hunters seem unfamiliar with their firearms and do not have enough respect for the damage they can do.”(28)
A Humane Alternative
There are 30 million deer in the U.S., and because hunting has been an ineffective method to “control” populations (one Pennsylvania hunter “manages” the population and attracts deer by clearing his 600-acre plot of wooded land and planting corn), some wildlife agencies are considering other management techniques.(29,30) Several recent studies suggest that sterilization is an effective, long-term solution to overpopulation. A method called TNR (trap, neuter, and return) has been tried on deer in Ithaca, N.Y., and an experimental birth-control vaccine is being used on female deer in Princeton, N.J.(31,32) One Georgia study of 1,500 white-tailed deer on Cumberland Island concluded that “if females are captured, marked, and counted, sterilization reduces herd size, even at relatively low annual sterilization rates.”(33)
What You Can Do
Before you support a “wildlife” or “conservation” group, ask about its position on hunting. Groups such as the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League, the Wilderness Society, and the World Wildlife Fund are pro-sport-hunting or, at the very least, they do not oppose it.
To combat hunting in your area, post “no hunting” signs on your land, join or form an anti-hunting organization, protest organized hunts, and spread deer repellent or human hair (from barber shops) near hunting areas. Call 1-800-448-NPCA to report poachers in national parks to the National Parks and Conservation Association. Educate others about hunting. Encourage your legislators to enact or enforce wildlife-protection laws, and insist that nonhunters be equally represented on the staffs of wildlife agencies.
1) National Research Council, “Science and the Endangered Species Act” (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1995) 21.
2) Grant Holloway, “Cloning to Revive Extinct Species,” CNN.com, 28 May 2002.
3) Canadian Museum of Nature, “Great Auk,” 2003.
4) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife—Associated Recreation” (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2001) 5.
5) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 80.
6) Illinois Department of Natural Resources, “Poaching Is a Serious Crime,” May 2003.
7) Stephen S. Ditchkoff et al., “Wounding Rates of White-Tailed Deer With Traditional Archery Equipment,” Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (1998).
8) D.J. Renny, “Merits and Demerits of Different Methods of Culling British Wild Mammals: A Veterinary Surgeon’s Perspective,” Proceedings of a Symposium on the Welfare of British Wild Mammals (London: 2002).
9) Spencer Vaa, “Reducing Wounding Losses,” South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks, 2004.
10) E.L. Bradshaw and P. Bateson, “Welfare Implications of Culling Red Deer (Cervus Elaphus),” Animal Welfare 9 (2000): 3-24.
11) John Swinconeck, “Controlled Hunt May Be Solution to the Excess of ‘Deer at Our Doorstep,’” York County Coast Star 27 Jun. 2002.
12) Bob Marshall, “Is Predator Program Enough?” Times-Picayune 2 Mar. 2003.
13) Dave Golowenski, “Grouse Numbers Go Up if Trees Come Down,” The Columbus Dispatch 20 Feb. 2003.
14) “Hunters Shoot Two Relocated Bears,” Associated Press, 9 Jun. 2003.
15) Joel Gay, “McGrath Wolf Kills Fall Short,” Anchorage Daily News 25 Apr. 2003.
16) Joel Gay, “Governor Takes Heat From Hunters Expecting Aerial Wolf Control,” Anchorage Daily News 8 Apr. 2003.
17) John Whitfield, “Sheep Horns Downsized by Hunters’ Taste for Trophies,” Nature 426 (2003): 595.
18) U.S. Department of Agriculture, “USDA Makes $4 Million Available to State Wildlife Agencies for Strengthening Chronic Wasting Disease Management,” news release, 15 Apr. 2003.
19) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, “Chronic Wasting Disease,” Nov. 2002.
20) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Media Relations, “Fatal Degenerative Neurologic Illnesses in Men Who Participated in Wild Game Feasts—Wisconsin, 2002,” news release, Feb. 2003.
21) Judy Lin, “Pennsylvania Worried About Wild Boar Escape,” Associated Press, 17 Mar. 2002.
22) “Reps. Farr, Shays Introduce Bill to Can Canned Hunts,” U.S. Fed News 7 Oct. 2004.
23) Audrey Hudson, “Greens Cut Turner a Break; Critics Question His Stewardship of Western Land,” The Washington Times 20 Jan. 2002.
24) National Conference of State Legislatures, “Environment, Energy, and Transportation Program: Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife,” Apr. 2003.
25) U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 5242, Session 108, introduced 7 Oct. 2004.
26) Dana Bash, “Cheney Accidentally Shoots Fellow Hunter,” CNN.com, 12 Feb. 2006.
27) International Hunter Education Association, “Hunter Incident Clearinghouse,” 2006.
28) Tom Harelson, “1998 Deer Gun Season Report,” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 8 Dec. 1998.
29) “Deer Eating Away at Forests, Nationwide,” Associated Press, 18 Jan. 2005.
30) Andrew C. Revkin, “States Seek to Restore Deer Balance,” The New York Times 29 Dec. 2002.
31) Roger Segelken, “Surgical Sterilization Snips Away at Deer Population,” Cornell News 19 Mar. 2003.
32) “Princeton’s Deer Hunt Coming to a Premature End,” Associated Press, 21 Mar. 2003.
33) James L. Boone and Richard G. Wiegert, “Modeling Deer Herd Management: Sterilization Is a Viable Option,” Ecological Modeling 72 (1994): 175-86.