This article is about the hunting of prey by human society. For other uses of the word "hunting" see Hunting (disambiguation). For other meanings of the word "hunter" (which redirects here), see Hunter (disambiguation).
Hunting is, in its most general sense, the pursuit of a target.
It is most commonly applied to the practice of pursuing animals to capture or kill them for food, sport, or trade in their products. Animals so hunted are referred to as game animals. Hunting is also done to control varmint populations or as wildlife management to reduce animal populations which have exceeded the capacity of their range or when individual animals have become a danger to humans.
In ancient societies, before the widespread domestication of animals, hunting was generally vital for survival as part of the hunter-gatherer way of life. For most humans before the development of agriculture, hunting would have provided an important source of protein to augment the foraged plants and vegetables that made up the majority of their diet. Also, in chilly climates, the hides or furs of animals would be used as simple clothing (see trapping). The earliest hunting weapons would have included rocks, the Atlatl and bow and arrows.
Even when animal domestication became relatively widespread, hunting was usually a significant contributor to the food supply available to a population. In addition, animal parts such as hides and horns were utilized in clothing and tools, and not all of these products could be provided from the domestication of animals. The importance of hunting in ancient societies is represented by religious figures such as Cernunnos.
With domestication of the dog, birds of prey and the ferret, various forms of animal-aided hunting developed including venery (scent hound hunting, such as fox hunting), coursing (sight hound hunting), falconry and ferreting.
Specialization and Hunting for Sport
As hunting moved from a strictly necessary activity for survival to one of many staples of society, two trends emerged. One was that of the specialist hunter - a position previously held by just about every able-bodied male (usually) in the society. As domesticated farming and herding took hold, hunting became one of many trades to be pursued by those with the necessary training.
The other trend was the emergence of hunting as a sport. As game became more of a luxury than a necessity, the pursuit of it could equally well be considered a luxury pursuit.
Hunting in North America in the 1800s was done primarily as a way to supplement food supplies. The safari method of hunting was a development of sport hunting that saw elaborate travel in Africa, India and other places in pursuit of trophies. In modern times, trophy hunting persists, but is frowned upon when it involves rare or endangered species of animal. Other people also object to trophy hunting in general because it is seen as a senseless act of killing another living being for fun.
In the 1800s southern and central European hunters often pursued game only for a trophy, usually the head or pelt of an animal, to be displayed as a sign of prowess. The rest of the animal was often wasted. In contrast, in relatively scarcely populated northern Europe, hunting has remained the tradition of the common people, and still serves a purpose as a means of acquiring meat, although the standard of living does not require it; Eating game is generally considered a healthier and more ethical alternative to the exploitation of farmed animals. In the Nordic countries, hunting for trophies was, and still is frowned upon, but an impressive trophy is considered a bonus.
In medieval Europe, it was common for upper-class families to claim the sole rights to hunt in certain areas of territory. Game in these areas was certainly used as a source of food and furs, often provided via professional huntsmen; but it was also expected to provide a form of recreation for the aristocracy. Furthermore, hunting provided practice in the skills of warfare. The importance of this proprietary view of game can be seen in the Robin Hood legends, in which one of the primary charges against the outlaws is that they "hunt the King's deer".
In later times, this aristocratic type of hunting lost its roots as a source of food and supplies, while retaining its nature as a sport.
The practice of British fox hunting is a case in point; the fox is not eaten, and the skin is rarely preserved in any usable form. Fox hunting originally developed as a means of vermin control to protect livestock. In Victorian times it also became a popular sport of the upper classes. It now attracts followers from all walks of life. Mounted followers join in on horseback and foot-followers walk or cycle, others follow by car, stopping to view the hunt from suitable vantage points. Fox hunting attract strong feelings. Some animal right supporter feel it causes suffering to the fox and is both cruel and unnecessary. Some members of the farming and rural communities in which it takes place feel it is an integral and useful part of rural life, keeping down fox populations and providing an important contribution to social life for local people.
In 2002 the Scottish Parliament passed an act banning fox hunting and other forms of hunting with hounds. On September 15th 2004 the British Parliament followed Scotland's lead and passed a similar ban for England and Wales under the Hunting Act 2004, which takes effect from February 18 2005. The British Government forced the ban into law using the Parliament Act. Some hunting activists have declared their intention to break the law and continue hunting with hounds.
Hunting in the United States
In the United States, hunting is a sport not associated with any particular class or culture. Today's hunters come from a broad range of economic, social, and cultural backgrounds. In 2001, over 13 million hunters averaged eighteen days hunting and spent over $20.5 billion on their sport.
Hunters usually are in tune with nature and often see themselves as environmentalists or conservationists. Each year, nearly $200 million in hunters' federal excise taxes are distributed to State agencies to support wildlife management programs, the purchase of lands open to hunters, and hunter education and safety classes. Proceeds from the Federal Duck Stamp, a required purchase for migratory waterfowl hunters, have purchased more than five million acres of habitat for the refuge system lands that support waterfowl and many other wildlife species, and are often open to hunting. The $200 million is the federal portion only and does not include monies collected by the states for hunting licenses.
Local hunting clubs and national conservation organizations protect the future of wildlife by setting aside millions of acres of habitat and speaking up for conservation in Washington and State capitals .
Hunting of mammals such as deer, elk and small game is regulated by the states. Hunting of migratory waterfowl (duck, geese, and others) is regulated by the Federal government under treaties with Canada and Mexico since the birds do not recognize international political boundaries. The states usually adminster the federally-set regulations.
One task of Federal and state park rangers and game wardens is to enforce laws and regulations related to hunting, included species protection, hunting seasons, and hunting bans.
Hunting in the United States has been associated with the issues of Gun politics.
Hunting to be an important tool for wildlife management. Hunting gives resource managers a valuable tool to control populations of some species that might otherwise exceed the carrying capacity of their habitat and threaten the well-being of other wildlife species, and in some instances, that of human health and safety . Hunting reduces the annual crop of new animals and birds to allow the remaining animals sufficent feed and shelter to survive.
Many Native American hunters claim subsistence hunting rights as a traditional part of their culture. In certain cases (such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act), Federal law provides protection for Native Americans. This is particularly true in Alaska, where people still feed on sea and land mammals as well as fish and birds. It is common for rural Alaska Native communities to obtain 50-90% of their daily protein from hunting.
Varmint hunting is the killing of animals seen as a nuisance. It is not a sport but a method of pest control. Varmint species are often responsible for detrimental effects on crops, livestock, landscaping, infrastructure, and pets. Often no use is made of the carcass after killing. Which species are "varmints" depends on the circumstance and area. Common varmints include rats, rabbits, coyotes, crows, foxes, feral cats, and feral hogs. But species protection is important. Some animals once considered varmints are now protected, such as wolves. However, sone people engage in varmint hunting for recreation.
Animal management authorities sometimes rely on hunting to control certain animal populations. These hunts are sometimes carried out by professional hunters although other hunts include amateurs. Overpopulations of deer in urban parks and bears which have attacked humans might be hunted by animal management authorities.
Depiction in Popular Culture
While there are numerous hunting shows, television programs, magazines and merchandise, some popular entertainment also condemns sport hunting.
This is most obvious in animation which often depicts hunting from the hunted animal's point of view and furthermore has the audience's sympathy as the animal either usually escapes or successfully defends itself. This can range from the humorous such as Bugs Bunny fighting off Elmer Fudd to the dramatic as in Bambi. In contrast, filmed depictions of hunting by aboriginal cultures like Native American ones are treated with much more sympathy with the implied idea that they are hunting for what they need to survive and no more. Varmint hunting of prairie dogs is depicted in John Ross' novel "Unintended Consequences". A favorable depiction of hunting is found in L.Neil Smith's science fiction novel 'Pallas'.