Animal Rights Zone

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Is Trophy Hunting a Sport and a Harvest?

There is no doubt that the gun culture is replete with euphemisms. Terms such as “sport”, “harvest”, “game”, and “livestock” grace the rhetoric of those who want to subdue animals and gather trophies of victory and dominance with impunity. 

To ask if hunting is analogous to either a sport or a harvest is often to evoke passionate debate between animal lovers and “arms-bearing” traditionalists. Certainly, an argument can be made for the taking of “livestock” in the wild by hunters whose survival depends on meat as their primary food source (although predation is an avoidable option for most humans). But much of the terminology applied to modern “recreational” or “trophy” hunting suggests that many who are reared in this “sport” are merely perpetuating the view that animals are either commodities for our convenience, or trophies of our victory and dominance. 

Anyone who watches a hunting documentary on television will discover that hunters have adopted the current euphemism of speaking of their activity as “harvesting” rather than “killing.” In July 1999, following the tragic Littleton high school shootings in Colorado, A&E televised a special series of reports on “Guns In America.” One of the reports looked at the Texas Youth Hunting Association, which admirably teaches kids how to use guns safely. When interviewed about his involvement in hunting, one young boy justified the practice by referring to his prey as “game animals.” He seemed oblivious to the peculiar manner by which certain animals (and not others) became so labeled. When asked what he was going to do that day, the boy replied, “Harvest a deer.” I could not help wondering whether his instructors had coached him on what to say to the media interviewers, and whether this young man actually believed that his killing a 400-pound mammal was morally equivalent to harvesting crops.

To describe the target of hunters generically as “game” tends to mask the offensiveness of a lethal activity. In reality, the killing of wild animals is neither a “game” played voluntarily by two “contestants,” nor are the odds of “winning” quite evenly stacked between shooter and victim. The “Outdoor” channel on cable television, supported primarily by advertisers of rifles and other hunting gear, typically features men in camouflaged fatigues sitting in a blind waiting for a ten-point buck to wander into the meadow so they can shoot it with a high-power rifle fitted with a high-power scope—or a crossbow or compound bow. After killing their “game,” they gleefully congratulate their fellow hunter and rave about what a fine job they did—as if this “victory” was a glorious event comparable to winning the Super Bowl—then pose proudly for a snapshot next to their “prize.” A disinterested viewer can’t help asking, Where’s the glory in that? If done for “sport” or a “trophy,” then it is taking superfluous pleasure in another creature’s death. If done for food, then it is crass avoidance of the civilized option of growing food rather than killing it. Either way, the motive is suspect and the killing unnecessary. Hunting safari companies, which exist in nearly every state, typically feature TV docu-dramas that describe their hosting services as “outdoor adventures.” One such advertiser boasts, “We support old-fashioned values, like hunting.” To associate killing with the rhetoric of positive ‘values’ seems paradoxical indeed. Strictly speaking, hunting is an activity, not a value. Somewhere I recall hearing the advice of another old-fashioned value: “live and let live.”

Many men defend hunting with the added proviso, “I always eat what I kill”—as if to say that consuming one’s prey justifies killing it. They don’t have any inordinate desire to be cruel to animals—they simply do not respect the animal’s right to live in its natural habitat free from human predators. I would argue that killing prey is not justifiable by the mere fact that you eat it, but only on the condition that your survival can be assured by no other means. 


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