Desire to hunt nothing more than an inbuilt instinct

David Hughes

We of the hunting fraternity are acutely aware of the antagonistic trend in some parts of modern society towards our chosen recreation. We hear that hunting’s an unnecessary anachronism or that we’re a mob of moral misfits, we feel unfairly treated and are put on the defensive. So are we really getting the rough end of the pineapple or are we actually weirdos?

My case argues the urge to hunt arises from deep-seated natural instincts and, according to this premise, the desire to hunt, fish and gather our own food represents the ‘norm’, while the burgeoning proportion of urban dwellers – more than ever removed from the forces of nature – are the ones with the ‘unnatural’ perspective.

According to the current view of anthropologists, our tribe (modern Homo sapiens) originated in Africa and started spreading across the globe something like 100,000 years ago – people then were totally hunter-gatherers. The transition to more a sedentary lifestyle based on agriculture and animal husbandry arrived around 10,000 years ago in the ‘fertile crescent’ between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (in what we now call the Middle East). The first cities, built on the productivity of agriculture, emerged and gradually spread, yet some hunter-gatherer societies persisted until the modern era. The salient point here is that humanity has been dependent on hunting for more than 90 per cent of its history since the diaspora from Africa.

The process of evolution favours attributes which enhance survival. Given our history was one of a successful meat-eating predator, it logically follows our instincts and associated genetics were continuously fine-tuned by evolution to support that role. The more deeply embedded the hunting instinct, the more effective men would’ve been in securing their core food source. Of course other attributes would’ve been synergistic and critical, particularly the ability to work cooperatively to hunt prey much larger than humans.

If 100,000 years of evolution of the hunting instinct doesn’t sound convincing enough, we can reach much further back in time to reinforce the hypothesis. The hunting forebears of modern man left ample records in rocks dating back millions of years. Homo erectus was likely a direct ancestor of modern humans and learned to use fire for cooking prey secured with the help of finely-made stone tools. Thanks to the story told by fossils, we can readily confirm an existence based on hunting has been in our DNA for millennia beyond imagination. If there really is an innate drive to hunt, it should be still fairly evident in the population – despite 10,000 years or so of a non-hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

So where’s the evidence for the persistence of such an urge? A quick look on the web yields reports from reputable sources showing there were about 800,000 licensed shooters Australia-wide in 2016, representing roughly 6.2 per cent of households, while in 2017 it was estimated three million people engaged annually in recreational fishing in this country. In rough and ready terms this means at any given time, around four million Aussies may feel inclined to head outdoors to pursue animals for food.

On any reckoning that represents a fair reinforcement of the proposition an innate hunter-gatherer drive is alive and well – a quiet and unassuming bunch perhaps, but a big one. Compare that with a scant 54,000-odd members of the Australian Labor Party and 80,000 for their Liberal counterparts and imagine if the power of hunter-gatherers could be aligned for political purposes – it would be irrepressible.

But even if we prevail with the arguments outlined above regarding validity of the hunting instinct, we haven’t necessarily won the day. Critics may then run the line that while understandable, this primeval urge to connect with nature is irrelevant and unnecessary in modern society and a mere indulgence which should be quelled and ultimately discarded. This couldn’t be further from the truth as the reality’s there for all to see. If we look around us, many problems besetting the world stem from people being ‘apart from nature’ rather than ‘a part of nature’. Instincts which keep modern humankind closer to their roots should be preserved and nurtured for future generations – respect for the environment is a central tenet for those who derive their sustenance from the land.

Evidence that being divorced from nature leads to bad outcomes is staring us in the face. Unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and contamination of the environment with man-made substances are probably the biggest challenges facing us as a species. Commercial overfishing depletes the stocks of the sea, pest species introduced by humans ruin the balance of ecosystems and the very air we breathe is changing because of the excessive man-made generation of carbon dioxide.

Another argument trotted out by critics of hunting (beyond it being irrelevant and unnecessary) is our recreation is cruel and contrary to the ‘rights’ of animals. This ‘reasoning’ doesn’t stand up to logical analysis, rather such thinking stems from emotional, not rational roots. The term ‘anthropomorphism’ means attributing human emotions and characteristics to non-human things. We all feel and understand this tendency but having been endowed with the intellectual power to distinguish between feelings and facts, it’s depressing to see how many people fail to do so.

We seem to live in an ever-more-crazy world in which the worthiness of an animal is determined by how cute (appealing to human emotion) it looks. Hence we see great outpourings of angst at the plight of pangolins, pandas and koalas yet nary a blip at the disappearance of some worm, bird, bat or lizard. Emotional thinking is not a platform for practical conservation. Hunting and conservation can work together because if you remove emotional overtones, the lives of pests such as rabbits, deer, camels, donkeys and foxes don’t matter as much as those of the native species whose very existence is threatened by these pests.

Another emotionally-driven criticism of hunters you’ll hear is ‘I don’t understand how a hunter can say something is beautiful then kill it’. The inference in such judgmental statements is hunters are infected by a warped psychology, yet if you consider that killing animals is part of our DNA and that emotionalism about the act of killing is misplaced, it becomes clear the problem is with the utterer of the claim rather than the hunter.

Ecologists have for years used the principle of ‘sustainable crop’ in setting viable harvest levels for fish, kangaroos, abalone and ducks. The concept recognises that nature produces many more offspring than can be supported by the environment, and removal of the excess by humans causes no harm to long-term survival of the species. The excess is doomed by nature to face a painful death by predation, disease or starvation, yet the anti-hunting brigade, pumped full of unrecognised anthropomorphic zeal, claims any killing is wrong and the cuter an animal is, the more worthy it is of preservation.

People set their own boundaries around when killing is acceptable and when it’s not. Slaughtering domestic stock for food is acceptable to many, spraying mosquitoes or flies is fine by most and killing bacteria with antibiotics to stop sickness is okay for practically everyone. The point is, all these complex organisms are the sophisticated product of hundreds of millions of years of evolution and all have the same intrinsic ‘right to exist’. Yet many people seem unwilling to examine the basis of their own belief set and being prepared to acknowledge that others seeing the world differently are not ‘wrong’ – just different. And what’s more, responsible hunters are simply minding their own perfectly legal business.

The hunting fraternity should stand tall, confident in the legitimacy of their recreation as it’s abundantly clear the majority of humankind has been dependent on hunting from time immemorial. It’s a logical and understandable proposition that hunter-gatherer instincts are embedded in our history and character. The ever-increasing proportion of society who live in cloistered urban environments, isolated from nature and their own instincts, represent a real challenge to evidence-based conservation and sustainable harvest by hunters. Educating the non-hunting public on the core issues and basic facts is something we can all strive for because increasingly, the viability of our recreation may depend on it.

All News