Man the hunter in the 21st century

As a hunter, what is your reason and moral justification for killing a feral or game animal? You would have to be living as a hermit in a cave not to have heard this or a similar question asked by those who actively oppose our chosen recreation, or by those who just don’t understand why we hunt.

The standard ‘politically correct’ response given by most of us, myself included, for a long time has been, that we are culling feral animals to protect the native species and the environment. ‘Environmental warriors’ we may well be, but never wanting to offend our critics, less we draw heat our way, we have persisted with that singular line, as it seemed the most acceptable reason we could possibly offer. There’s not one hunter that I know, who is not concerned about our native species or our environment, it’s just that there are some other equally legitimate reasons why we hunt.

No mention of our sincere interest and enjoyment of firearms or indeed bows, no mention that we love being in the outdoors and no mention of the main reason, just that we gain enormous satisfaction and enjoyment from the ‘hunt’ and our communion with nature in the most natural and basic way. Heaven forbid that we admit that we actually enjoy what we do, but we do. If we didn’t enjoy the whole process of the ‘hunt’, who among us would bother to invest small fortunes (or large fortunes for some of us) for the ‘sole reason’ of protecting the environment? Few of us I suspect, but seriously, if we didn’t thoroughly enjoy the whole process of hunting for the sake of hunting, we would probably just go and play golf – no disrespect to golfers intended!

I love to hunt. I gain a perfectly natural, deep-seated satisfaction from hunting all kinds of animals, from the humble little bunny right up to the huge Asian water-buffalo and almost every other feral or game animal in between, not to even mention my overseas hunting trips. However, to qualify my last statement, I do love to hunt, but that doesn’t necessarily mean killing. Sometimes, I kill and sometimes I don’t. But on every occasion, the main aspect that I enjoy is the hunt itself. To sneak in on an unsuspecting wild animal, in its own environment, on its terms, is what it’s all about, whether we then make the decision to take that animal or not. In that regard, hunting an animal is exactly the same as ‘catch and release’ fishing. Bearing in mind that fishing is nothing more than ‘hunting fish’, whether the fish is released or taken and eaten. Fishing, as we all know, is a perfectly acceptable pastime to the majority of the community as witnessed by the myriad of fishing shows on television.

To stalk in and check out a roaring stag or a mob of goats, and then upon making my decision to not take an animal, quietly withdraw without alerting the animal, without them knowing that I was ever there, is an achievement on its own, from which the hunter should feel a deep sense of satisfaction.

As a boy, I started hunting with a sling shot, then a crude bow and arrow, before obtaining my first air rifle for sparrows and starlings. I later hunted with a rimfire rifle and then graduated to centrefire rifles. The passion to hunt is still there and it is still growing, even after more than 50 years of hunting. And the great thing about it is that I am able to share these experiences with my sons and nephew, as all of them have become proficient and ethical hunters in their own right. I have never really understood why I feel so passionate about hunting, but I believe the main contributing factor is in our genetic make-up. Ever since our ancestors all those aeons ago started to hunt prey species after acquiring a taste for meat (protein), man has been a hunter. And now, even after all that time, the urge to hunt continues to be thoroughly engrained in our DNA.

Anthropologists agree that the protein in our ancestors’ diets, derived mainly from animals they hunted for their meat, has played a major part in our evolution as a species, being the main factor how our brains continued to grow as we evolved as a species. Just imagine where the human race would be today if our ancestors had not climbed down from the trees on the African veld and killed other animals for food. My bet is that we would still be sitting up in that tree.

From all those ages ago, right up until only a few generations back, it was normal everyday behaviour for humans to hunt, mainly to feed their families, but also to satisfy a deep-seated need that could arguably be described as pleasure. There can be no argument that it is a pleasurable experience to do something you enjoy while providing for your family. “Experts in the field of anthropology from around the world anticipate that the instinct and urge to hunt will be with humans for at least the next 5000 years,” wrote Ian Lillico in 2000’s Boys and their schooling. Even though a great deal of ‘modern humans’ don’t actually hunt at all, and have not had to do so for many generations, we can expect hunting as an instinct to continue rising to the surface in modern humans for a long time to come.

In some instances, man appears to have gone from the once mighty hunter/gatherer, to little more than a scavenger and it could be argued that in some respects, modern humans have actually started to de-evolve. How many people do you know, who are happy to eat meat from the supermarket where they do their hunting and gathering, but who would give you and I a hard time for killing your own game meat? There are plenty of them out there, willing to scavenge their meat from someone else, someone that they contracted to do the killing for them, and that’s fine, as long as they respect our right to do it for ourselves.

That being said, I believe that within the context of sustainability, it’s morally right and totally acceptable for us to hunt for pleasure’s sake alone, even if you don’t butcher that animal and use the meat for human consumption or for dog tucker. I believe that it is okay and it is morally right to harvest that animal (most often a feral animal) for the reason that you chose to satisfy the natural instinct for a hunting experience. Let’s face it, not everyone likes to eat game meat and realistically, some of the animals we choose to hunt are far from palatable such as old boars and not everyone enjoys the butchering, or is sufficiently schooled in the finer aspects of it. Personally though, I do use most of the game meat that I harvest, but that’s my choice.

The fact is, as long as the animal was taken legally, and killed quickly and efficiently in a humane and ethical manner, with a minimum of suffering, there can be no moral argument against doing so. In Australia, most feral and game species are not native to this country and consequently need to be controlled. In some cases, this control is mandated by legislation, forcing property holders to control feral species on their land. Some of the legal methods available for use could be argued to be cruel in some respects, but hunting by shooting is one of the kindest and most humane ways to control feral animals.

It can be argued that poisoning feral animals by various methods is necessary and effective, but the lingering death that some toxins offer the animal is far from the kindest fate. Mother Nature can be cruel too, as anyone who has seen animals starve to death in a drought, drown in a flood or be torn apart by predators when they are very young, grow old, weak or sick, can attest to.

The facts speak for themselves and a hunter’s bullet or arrow, properly administered to the animal’s vital organs, is the kindest and quickest death that any animal can possibly have and much more humane than anything Mother Nature or a poisoning campaign can deal out. All animals will die at some point in time, it’s just a matter of when, where and how. Nothing lives forever.

As Warren McKay stated in his ‘Around the Campfire’ column about trophy hunting in the February 2008 Australian Shooter, nature does not allow any part of that dead animal to be wasted, regardless of how the animal died. If the carcass is not used or eaten by the predator who killed it (in our case, a hunter), the remains will be consumed by other scavengers such as animals, birds, insects and finally worms and bacteria. The circle of life, if you will. This process will occur regardless of how or why the animal died. As I have already stated, every living thing, every animal, will eventually at some point in time, for some reason, die. As the saying goes, death and taxes are probably the only two things we can count on in life. None of us are escaping out of this alive, as death is the end result of living for both animals and humans.

So good hunter, rejoice in the knowledge that what you do, hunting, is a normal and natural, biologically-correct human behaviour, whether you hunt animals on dry land, or if you hunt fish in the rivers or oceans. Whether you hunt for food, for pleasure or for environmental management, know that you are just reacting to a normal, natural and innate human instinct, that has been with mankind and our predecessors for hundreds of thousands of years and one that will be with us for at least the next five thousand.

The fact that you gain pleasure from hunting and fishing is not something that you ever need to apologise for. If anything, it’s something that we should all take pride in. As the noted Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset stated: “One does not hunt in order to kill, on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” Enjoy the hunt!

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