This post is part of an ongoing series called Most Common Justifications for Eating Animals where we seek to provide answers and resources to better address these justifications.
We not infrequently hear from hunters who make the case that while factory farming is wrong, there is nothing unethical about eating animals who have been hunted in the wild. After all, the reasoning goes, the animals live a completely natural life just as nature intended, and, according to hunters, generally die more quickly, and with less fear and pain, than they would experience with other predators.
But all of this begs the question of necessity. Most North Americans and Europeans (and many others) who hunt do not do so because they have to in order to survive. Most of these hunters shop at grocery stores for at least some portion of their food, stores where they have access to dried beans, nuts, grains, produce and other nutritious plant proteins. In such cases, hunting animals for food is unnecessary, and, like farming animals, constitutes the infliction of violence and death on animals we have no need to harm at all.
As Brian Luke writes in Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals, “North American men do not hunt out of necessity; they typically do not hunt to protect people or animals, nor to keep themselves or their families from going hungry. Rather, they pursue hunting for its own sake, as a sport. This point is obscured by the fact that many hunters consume the flesh of their kills with their families, thus giving the appearance that hunting is a subsistence tactic. A close reading of the hunting literature, however, reveals that hunters eat the flesh of their kills as an ex post facto attempt at morally legitimating an activity they pursue for its own sake. The hunter often portrays himself as providing for his family through a successful kill and ‘harvest.’ This posture seeks to ritually reestablish a stereotypical masculine provider role less available now than may once have been. In reality hunting today is typically not a source of provision but actually drains family resources. Deer hunters, for example, spend on average twenty dollars per pound of venison, once all the costs of equipment, licenses,transportation, unsuccessful hunts, and so forth are calculated.”
Then there is the defense that hunting animals is necessary to wildlife “population control.” This argument is especially common as a justification for hunting deer. But as Doris Lin writes in, What Will Happen to Animals If Everyone Goes Vegan?
“Hunters sometimes argue that if they were to stop hunting, the deer population would explode. This is a false argument, because if hunting were to stop, we would also stop the practices that increase the deer population. State wildlife management agencies artificially boost the deer population in order to increase recreational hunting opportunities for hunters. By clearcutting forests, planting deer-preferred plants and requiring tenant farmers to leave a certain amount of their crops unharvested in order to feed the deer, the agencies are creating the edge habitat that is preferred by deer and also feeding the deer. If we stop hunting, we would also stop these tactics that increase the deer population.
If we stopped hunting, we would also stop breeding animals in captivity for hunters. Many nonhunters are unaware of state and private programs that breed quail, partridges and pheasants in captivity, for the purpose of releasing them in the wild, to be hunted.”
And in Scientific Arguments Against Hunting, Lin writes,
“Big “game” animals like white-tailed deer and black bears rarely exceed their biological carrying capacity – the maximum number of individuals the ecosystem will support without threatening other species. If they exceed that number, a lack of food will kill the weakest individuals, and will also cause the pregnant females to resorb embryos and have fewer offspring. The strongest will survive and the population will become healthier.
Unlike nature, hunters select the small and the weak to survive — reverse evolution. Instead of targeting the young, old, or sick individuals, hunters kill the largest, strongest males. Because hunters prefer large males with big horns, bighorn sheep in Alberta, Canada are now smaller, with smaller horns, compared to thirty years ago. And because hunters prefer to kill elephants with tusks, the African and Asian elephants that have a genetic mutation that leaves them tuskless are now dominating those populations.”
See more common justifications for eating animals.