Is Hunting Ever Defensible?

Population Control Is One Thing, Trophy Hunting Quite Another

European Bison Project Seeks A Return To The Wild
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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. However, trophy hunting is a whole other issue that really cannot be defended. The issue of trophy hunting has been in the news quite a lot of late. It may have begun with the killing of Cecil the Lion by a Minnesota dentist, that caused ​worldwide outrage and who, a year later, is still under investigation.

Trophy hunting, the killing of wild animals so their bodies can be mutilated and put on display, is abhorred by the majority of the public. Often, the animal being hunted is a rare or endangered animal, such as the recent killing of a white rhino by the CEO Honeywell, David Cote, who then had the body butchered and made into trinkets. Trinkets. The white rhino, by the way, was on the endangered species list but is now listed as "threatened." Again. Trinkets.

Trophy hunters are not hunting out of necessity for food. The sometimes savage hunting of wolves and bears, as well as deer, elk, moose, coyotes, and many more species is unpalatable to many people. When the media broadcasts news of yet another animal killing for sport, people in America and around the world express their outrage. In fact, according to Mother Jones more Americans prefer bird watching to hunting. In 1955, roughly 10 percent of Americans hunted.

Today, that number has dropped to just 6 percent.

Methods used to kill the animals are rarely humane. While a bullet straight to the heart or between the eyes may kill an animal instantly, not many hunters are that skilled and often the animal is tracked down because of the blood trail they leave. The terrified animal is running and fighting for his or her life.

 Those who choose to employ bows and arrows seldom kill the animal outright. They inflict mortal wounds that cause much suffering and agony but not a swift death.

The killing of wild animals for food is a different story. Though it was, at one time, a way of life so people could survive, today, hunting is a controversial issue because it is frequently regarded as a recreational activity, residents are concerned about safety issues, and society’s attitudes towards animals are changing. At the heart of the non-trophy hunting debate in the United States is one species: white-tailed deer.

In many areas of the United States, 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 For

  • 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 and prevent 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 for free. 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. Some hunters also oppose certain practices they consider unethical, such as baiting, canned hunting, trophy hunting, and hunting of stocked animals.

Arguments Against

  • Hunting opponents argue that hunting is unsafe, ineffective, unnecessary and unfair to taxpayers.
  • Opponents point out that compared to other forms of recreation, hunting injuries are far more likely to be fatalities. Approximately 100 people die in hunting accidents in the United States every year, and unlike other forms of recreation, hunting endangers the entire community and not just the willing participants.
  • 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 does not address Lyme disease because the ticks are usually spread to humans by mice, not deer. 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. Opponents also argue that hunting does not reduce the deer population because removing some individuals from the population results in more food per deer, which leads to the births of more twins and triplets. This also means that hunting is unnecessary because the deer will self-regulate and give birth to fewer fawns when food is scarce. If the deer population needs to be further reduced, immunocontraception can be used.
  • 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 95% 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 strong members of the species leaves a permanent consequence for the species as a whole.

Hunting opponents also find hunting unethical on a number of grounds. From a pure animal rights standpoint, killing any animal for food is morally objectionable, whether that animal is a deer, a cow or a chicken. Many find hunting to be unethical because the killing is recreational. Also, many argue that human/deer conflicts are not the fault of the deer, but are the fault of humans who take habitat from the deer. Some hunting opponents also believe that modern technology has erased any chance of fairness in hunting. Certain practices are also considered especially objectionable, such as canned hunting, trophy hunting, baiting, and hunting of stocked animals.


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, trophies or recreation.

Doris Lin, Esq. is an animal rights attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the Animal Protection League of NJ.

Updated and re-written in part by Michelle A. Rivera

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Lin, Doris. "Is Hunting Ever Defensible?" ThoughtCo, Jun. 10, 2017, Lin, Doris. (2017, June 10). Is Hunting Ever Defensible? Retrieved from Lin, Doris. "Is Hunting Ever Defensible?" ThoughtCo. (accessed February 24, 2018).