Arguments for and Against Hunting

White Tail Deer at the Center of the Debate

Deer hunter aiming with a gun

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Legitimate arguments abound for and against hunting for the control of the population of deer and other “nuisance” wildlife; or for sustenance for people who kill animals so they can eat them. For many people, the issue is complex, particularly for those who are (and intend to remain) meat-eaters. After reading the arguments pro and con, you may find yourself leaning strongly to one side — or you may find that you're still on the fence.

What Is Meant by 'Hunting?'

Most people who argue in favor of hunting are not arguing in favor of trophy hunting, the practice of killing an animal simply to show off its head and pelt. Trophy hunting is, in fact, abhorred by the majority of the public with a recent survey showing 69% of Americans are against it. Often, the animal being hunted is a rare or endangered animal, but even trophy hunting for wolves and bears is unpalatable to many people. 

The killing of wild animals for food is a different story. Though it was, at one time, a way of life and necessary for survival, today, hunting is a controversial topic because it is frequently regarded as a recreational activity. Many people are concerned about safety issues, and society’s attitudes towards animals are changing. Some hunters oppose certain practices they consider unethical, such as baiting, canned hunting (in fenced areas), and hunting of stocked animals.

At the heart of the non-trophy hunting debate in the United States is one species: white-tailed deer. In many areas in the U.S., white-tailed deer flourish because of the lack of natural predators and the abundance of deer-friendly habitat. As pockets of green space shrink and disappear in our suburbs, the species has become the center of the debate over hunting, and many who consider themselves neither hunters nor animal activists find themselves drawn into the debate. The debate centers on practical and ethical issues including deer management, human/deer conflicts, non-lethal solutions, and safety.

Arguments in Favor of Hunting

  • Hunting proponents argue that hunting is safe, effective, necessary, and inexpensive to taxpayers.
  • The injury rate for hunting is lower than that of some other forms of physical recreation, such as football and bicycling.
  • Proponents argue that hunting is an effective form of deer management because it will remove a number of individual deer from a population, preventing those individuals from reproducing.
  • Since natural deer predators have been eliminated in many areas, hunters argue that hunting is necessary to perform the function of wolves or cougars in keeping the deer population in check.
  • Hunting proponents also argue that reducing the deer population will reduce human/deer conflicts, such as car/deer collisions, Lyme disease, and landscaping damage.
  • Compared to sharpshooters and immunocontraception, hunting is inexpensive to taxpayers because hunters will kill the deer at no cost. Also, hunting permits are sold by state wildlife management agencies, which are partially or fully supported by the sales of permits.
  • Hunters argue that killing the deer is better than letting them starve to death.
  • Hunters argue that hunting is a tradition, a ritual or a bonding experience.
  • Regarding ethics, hunting proponents argue that killing a deer for food cannot be worse than killing a cow or a chicken. Furthermore, unlike the cow or the chicken, the deer lived a free and wild life before being killed and had a chance to escape.
  • Hunters also argue that killing a number of deer benefits the ecosystem as a whole.

Arguments Against Hunting

  • Hunting opponents argue that hunting is unsafe, ineffective, unnecessary, and unfair to taxpayers.
  • Opponents point out that compared to some other forms of recreation, hunting injuries are far more likely to be fatalities. Based on data compiled by the International Hunter Education Association U.S.A., hundreds of people have died in hunting accidents in the US over the past decade.
  • Opponents also argue that hunting is ineffective for solving human/deer conflicts. Studies show that car/deer collisions increase during hunting season because hunters frighten the deer out of the woods and onto roads.
  • Contrary to popular belief, hunting is not the only way to address Lyme disease. The ticks humans encounter on grassy areas are often spread by mice, not deer. Additionally, hunters who dress deer or squirrels have a higher risk of tick bites.
  • And as long as suburban landscaping includes deer-preferred plants such as tulips and rhododendrons, that landscaping will attract hungry deer, no matter how many deer there are.
  • It may also be the case that hunting to reduce the number of deer is less effective than contraception. Hunting is ineffective because state wildlife management agencies intentionally keep the deer population high, for hunters.
  • Lands managed for hunting are sometimes purchased and maintained with tax dollars, even though about 90% of Americans do not hunt.
  • Hunters out for trophies, such as elk and deer with large racks, are killing the strongest and healthiest of the species, not the weak and starving they claim to be putting out of their misery. Killing the stronger members of the species leaves a permanent consequence for the species as a whole.

Resolution

The hunting debate may never be resolved. The two sides will continue to debate safety, effectiveness, and cost, but will probably never agree on the ethics of killing wild animals for food or recreation.

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