In the Eyes of the Hunted, There’s No Such Thing as an “Ethical Hunter”

Enough of this championing one type of hunter over the other already! It just helps perpetuate the myth of the “ethical hunter.” You’re more likely to see a UFO land in the middle of a crop circle than to meet a hunter who is truly ethical to the animals he kills. How can tracking down an inoffensive creature and blasting it out of existence ever really be ethical anyway? No matter how a hunter may rationalize, or claim to give thanks to the animal’s spirit, the dying will never see their killer’s acts as the least bit honorable.

I’m sure Ted Nugent considers himself an ethical hunter. Hell, Ted Bundy likely thought himself an ethical serial killer. But to their victims they’re just murderous slobs. Likewise, Teddy Roosevelt—who, in his two-volume African Game Trails, lovingly muses over shooting elephants, hippos, buffaloes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hartebeest, impalas, pigs, the not-so-formidable 30-pound steenbok and even a mother ostrich on her nest—considered himself an exceedingly ethical hunter.

Copyright Jim Robertson

All hunters, whether they call it an act of sport or subsistence, eat what they kill (or at least give the meat away to others). Would Jeffrey Dahmer be considered ethical just because he ate those he murdered? Though some get more pleasure out of the dirty deed of killing than others, no hunter would even be out there doing it if they didn’t get some joy out of the act of stalking and “bagging” their prey. But there are less destructive ways to get your kicks and healthier, less costly sources of nourishment than cholesterol-laden, carcinogenic rotting flesh.

Though they may not take trophies or photographs of themselves with their kill, nearly everyone who hunts gets some kind of a thrill when boasting about their conquest or sharing the spoils at the neighborhood barbeque.

In the book, Exposing the Big Game, I quote Farley Mowat, the sagacious naturalist and author of the 1963 trendsetter, Never Cry Wolf, whose firsthand insight into the hunter mindset should lay to rest the myth of the “ethical hunter:”

“Almost all young children have a natural affinity for other animals…When I was a boy growing up on the Saskatchewan prairies, that feeling of affinity persisted—but it became perverted. Under my father’s tutelage I was taught to be a hunter; taught that ‘communion with nature’ could be achieved over the barrel of a gun; taught that killing wild animals for sport establishes a mystic bond, ‘an ancient pact’ between them and us.

“I learned first how to handle a BB gun, then a .22 rifle and finally a shotgun. With these I killed ‘vermin’—sparrows, gophers, crows and hawks. Having served that bloody apprenticeship, I began killing ‘game’—prairie chicken, ruffed grouse, and ducks. By the time I was fourteen, I had been fully indoctrinated with the sportsman’s view of wildlife as objects to be exploited for pleasure.

“Then I experienced a revelation…” 

Farley Mowat, is his eloquent and sometimes verbose way, goes on to tell of wounding a goose who yearns to join her fast disappearing flock. You can read the entire piece in my book or in his foreword to Captain Paul Watson’s Ocean Warrior, but to make a long, sad story short, he ends with:

“Driving home to Saskatoon that night I felt a sick repugnance for what we had done…I never hunted again.”

Now that’s what I call an ethical hunter.

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29 thoughts on “In the Eyes of the Hunted, There’s No Such Thing as an “Ethical Hunter”

  1. “Ethical hunter” sounds a little like “ethical hacker”. Someone who exposes weaknesses in their clients computer security, and while that is an entirely legitimate use of the term, l simply cannot imagine an “ethical” application for killing.

  2. I came from a family of hunters. They considered themselves ethical hunters for these reasons:

    1) Unlike farmers and ranchers, they did not force animals into a miserable existence before slaughter.

    2) They did not trophy hunt. Size didn’t matter, nor did antlers, etc.

    3) If they were not 100% positive that they could get a one shot, clean kill, they would not shoot.

    4) They never hunted an animal they did not wish to eat, like cougar or bear.

    5) They used all of the animals. They honestly believed that they were doing so to feed their family. My husband used to hunt (he went vegan with me 16 years ago) and often said that he hated having to pull the trigger because that’s when the work started.

    Now, before you freak, understand that I am a longtime vegan, have raised orphaned animals such as fawns and ducklings, and am not in any way advocating for any type of hunting. But when I was a kid, people used to ask how I could eat hunted meat if I loved animals. Actually, I never did like meat and pretty much stayed away from all of it, but I used to say that I thought it more humane than what happens on farms.

    All I’m saying is, let’s be accurate with our terms.

    The word, “ethical” pertains to the subject. In other words, an ethical doctor is one who adheres to the morals of the profession. And although I personally do not believe that hunting is in and of itself, ethical within my own mores, I do believe that a hunter who goes beyond the rules such as those listed above, is more ethical than one who trophy hunts, shoots bear sows with cubs, kills any animal even though he/she has no intention of eating it and so on. Ethics, like most of life, is not black and white.

    Since 99% of the population eats animal products, I’d like to see some type of ethics in every aspect of that. At least it’s a beginning of people seeing all animals in a different light.

    • It sounds like your family was pretty exceptional, the cream of the crop, as far as conscientious hunters go (not to be confused with conscientious objecters, of course), if they always followed your points spelled out above, especially 2) through 5). I do have to question the increasingly popular notion that the animals hunters kill are treated to a peaceful existence before they are shot and slaughtered (As in your point 1). Scientific studies have shown that animals like deer go through tremendous stress from being stalked during hunting season.

      I know it’s hard not to want to stick up for everything our parents did. My grandfather hunted, as did my wife’s father and stepfather, who also ran the town meat locker, where each fall deer carcasses were hung up like pressed shirts at a dry cleaners. We’ve both went vegan 14 years ago. Over the years of living in a “sportsmen’s paradise,” we’ve seen more than enough appalling behavior by hunters who think of themselves as “ethical” to swear off any fantasy that hunting can be a justifiable cruelty.

      After all, if Bundy or Dahmer would have used chloroform before killing their victims, would their higher principles have made those killings “ethical?”

    • Oh I hear the same repetitious excuse from hunter and I am not going to even bother. I did a video called “ethical hunter let the deer layup and die” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zw4MyyM1utc. Go vegan, killing is not a necessity anymore. You and your “stuff the freezer” BS as you go into 7-11 get your egg and sausage sandwich and coffee. You are NO Vegan, this is another ploy from hunters with their “I am a vegan”;.HAH! what a balony. You being a Vegan then killing a sentient being is no different then you being a human and killing another human. Sicko, that is what you are so spare us all your garbage.

      Do you realize how many deer are left wounded and crippled??. There is never any peace for them. And in the forest the hunters can do whatever they wish and get away with it. There is no “anti cruelty” law. That is why with dozens and dozens of video I have watched these people laugh in expense of animals suffering in agony. In 2009 68,000 deer were left not recovered by hunters. Talk about plenty of suffering. There are 150 billion pounds of food wasted in America each year, salvage the food and live life of compassion and mercy plus we can prevent pollution from landfill.

      • Thank you, Christian, for always being a voice for the animals wounded and left stuck arrows in them by hunters. For most people these days, hunting is not just about a few animals being shot and killed for food, it’s a sport that involves crueler and crueler methods to make it more “challenging.”

    • If you really claim veganism you would be totally against hunting and make no excuses unless the hunting was for pure sustenance. You don’t eat any animals product? If you don’t then I apoligize but I get many hunters saying they are “vegetarian” or girl friend a “vegan” and find killing to be fine.

      • I accept your apology, Christian.

        My husband (an ex-hunter) and I have not eaten any animal products for 17 years. And I have rescued animals my whole, rather long, life.

        The people in my family were not horrible. They truly believed at the time, that meat was important in their families’ diets and hunting provided that at a much reduced cost (which they needed). They enjoyed hunting– but not the killing. (I know, I know, some do and brag about it. We had a gunsmithing shop for 20 years– we heard all the gross stories of those who seemed to enjoy the kill itself.) They had no time for trophy hunters, bear hunters, cougar hunters, varmint hunters and and so on, and did all that that they could to make certain their prey was killed quickly and as cleanly as possible. In my mind, it was far better than what went on at farms and I suspect your family bought farmed animals as vegans were few and far between then. And since few of us have been vegan from birth, I suspect you too, were involved in that.

        Trying to understand why people do things and what is their intent, in no way condones the action. It is what intelligent, reasonable people do within society. When we demonize people, even those who shoot children, we allow ourselves to compartmentalize them as non-human and when we do that, we set up the “them and us” scenario. Unless we understand the reasons that people do things, we have no way of changing their behaviour.

  3. Good post. “Ethical hunter” is every bit the oxymoron “ethical slaughter” is — these are labels meant to remove guilt associated with the dirty business of killing, and let us feel good about exploiting animal victims (kind of like “harvest” or “take” and other such euphemisms). I have to mention point #3 of the prior post — only shooting if a 100% instant kill shot was available. I seem to hear this a lot — in fact, every hunter to whom I’ve ever spoken (even bowhunters, ridiculously) has claimed that each animal they’ve shot never knew what hit him. I’m sorry — but this is just not possible. Everybody has a learning curve, everybody makes mistakes, and everybody misses — even when he thinks it’s a “sure shot”. Period. There is simply no way that ANYONE gets a perfect shot even MOST of the time (I did once work with a guy who actually WAS a sharpshooter on the U.S. shooting team, but he did not go around shooting defenseless animals). Most of the YouTube videos I’ve seen show animals screaming, running, and flailing pathetically on the ground — I have to think this IS representative. And as far as black and white go, to me, it’s the difference between “bad” and “worse”. Just because some hunters are worse than others doesn’t mean the better ones are ethical. Do we call a wife beater a pretty decent guy because he hasn’t raped and killed her? I have no beef with people who hunt because they HAVE to to survive (i.e. true aboriginal peoples, the desperately poor). That said, their victims suffer just as much as any other, and don’t care that they are “not going to waste” or that they are “respected”. Nature and necessity are cruel, but the rest of us need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, knowing what we know about suffering. If we cause pain and / or death when we do not ABSOLUTELY have to, and we know it, then we are indeed NOT ethical (and pretending there’s no suffering doesn’t change this). As someone who’s been around animals my entire life, I can say one would have to be pretty blind to not see that their central nervous system works the same way ours does. I agree that a truly ethical hunter would look at what he is doing (and in fairness, many are brainwashed into this violence at an early age, and it may take some time to question it) and decide he wants no part of it (and “sick repugnance”, per your Farley Mowat quote, is indeed the only thing a truly aware and compassionate person would feel).

    • Thanks and you’re right–one would have to be blind (or willfully ignorant) not to know the animals can feel fear and pain the same way we humans do. I worked with an avid hunter in Montana who told me of shooting an arrow at a deer from a tree stand. The arrow went clear through and the deer ran off and died somewhere so far away that couldn’t find it. To think that there are people who bowhunt moose and polar bears! Talk about sick repugnance–that’s what I have for them!

      • You can bet your buns, if that was a 10 pointer he will get all his buddies to find the deer after leaving him to die overnight. I watched one particular video, this bowhunter made a bad shot and he didn’t find him next day it was a week later and half eaten. Who knows if the deer was still alive as the carnivore ripped him to shreds. He couldn’t even defend himself as he was dying. Maybe better off for the buck as the slow suffering would have come to an end. The bowhunter found his kill with those big racks half the body gone and dragged the deer to his car. I often read in the comment section when there is a bad shot deer video the word “ethical” start spouting from other hunters mouth, then another would say “hey how about if those ‘anti’s’ sees this” but most is the “us ethical hunters would never do this blahblahblah” just to save the bad rep that hunting is getting already/

  4. Hunting is often called the “sport” of cowards; it is never an even playing field and the “hunted” is not a willing participant, as in most sports where there are opposing sides. The innocent animal stalked and/or targeted in a hunt, is the object of subterfuge: human predators hiding in blinds, in disguise, using every means possible to deceive and “disarm” their prey.
    This is somewhat like the sexual predator who preys on children, deceiving them and entrapping them for their own perverse needs.

  5. Hunters and ethics?? Never!! I have had so many conversations with hunters over the years and Ive yet to find an Ethical one..Hunters are poison pure and simple..

    Thanks again for a great update on your Blog,Jim.

    • There’s a section about teddy Roosevelt in the Cleveland armory book “mankind – our incredible war on wildlife. There were references that said that Roosevelt was ” psychopathic” when he hunted. One of his favorite hobbies was watching greyhounds and wolves fight to the death. When asked about hunting buffalo from RR cars – Roosevelt was sad that he didn’t have the opportunity to participate. An original SLOB Hunter

  6. As an animal rights activist for more decades than I care to admit, I’m wondering if we are moving forward at all. The shelters are still full, fur coats abound, meat eaters outnumber us, circuses & rodeos still sell tickets, and the hunters, trappers continue to murder. Is our species doomed to be vile? I’m worried.

      • That why everyone can come to my sight to learn how to sabotage a deer hunt and bear.. We can’t do it like they do in the UK but there are other more discreet ways I have learned. In urban deer it’s harder for they are so used to humans but warm female urine fermented for a good 2 weeks or more will do wonders. I found out it smells like a predatory animals territorial marking. Also a strong cheap perfume. We gotta do something instead of sitting around waiting for hunting to end.

  7. Pingback: Sleeping With the Enemy | Exposing the Big Game

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