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Hunting: History and Moral Implications

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Today, the topic of hunting is one of the most interesting and controversial subjects as, on the one hand, hunting aims at providing humanity with the food, but, on the other hand, hunting has become a kind of entertainment having forgotten moral implications of killing animals for fun. For thousands of years hunting has been a vital part of human lives that depended on the harvest of the game. Even cave paintings and ancient manuscripts have illustrated that hunting played crucial role in lives of ancient people. In particular, hunting is defined as the practice of pursuing animals for food and trade, but in modern use, the term is used to define regulated hunting that prohibits killing animals contrary to law. Some researchers argue that hunting is essential component of modern wildlife management as it helps to control population of healthy animals. (Blain 2005)

History of Hunting

The history of hunting is extremely long and is dated to the rise of Homo sapiens species. Historians say that early Homo sapiens hunted large animals for subsistence and, thus, hunting was viewed as one of multiple factors that had led to replacement of large animals by smaller ones. The first humans were always depicted as hunters, and it is hunting that caused production of stone tools and control of fire. Establishment of language, first religion and culture raised importance of hunting that started to be used for animal sacrifice. In those times hunting was essential component of hunter-gatherer societies before livestock and domestication as animals remained the only source of food. (Blain 2005)

In Mesolithic period hunting became more diversified due to development of bow and domestication of the dog. Fossil evidence illustrates that hunting in Asia dated for more than 16,200 years ago. Interestingly, historians don’t argue that hunting has led to extinction of certain species, but, of course, it has played its role. The early people hunted many species of animals and, for example, wild deer may “well be the species of single greatest importance in the entire anthropological literature on hunting”. (Struna 1996) Hunter-gatherer societies remained dominant in Sub-Saharan Africa and the New World, but Incan agriculture and Aztec tribes were a notable exception. The European Age of discovery caused rapid decline in hunting as people became less dependent from animals as a source of food. Nonetheless, some tribes preserved hunting-gathering lifestyle and they can be found in Central and Southern Africa, New Guniea, Thailand, Shri Lanka and Laos.

In Antiquity, hunting remained significant source of food supply, despite animal domestication and development of agriculture. However, people managed to extract supplementary materials from hunting as, for example, bone for implements, protein, fur, leather, feathers and rawhide. Leather and fur were used in clothing. In Antiquity, the first hunting tools were arrows and bow, rocks, spears and atlatl. Ancient manuscripts show that Mesopotamian kings were often presented as skillful hunters of lions and another large animals as such people were considered brave, courageous and were highly respected. Thus, hunting was provided with psychological and cultural importance, as even gods and goddesses in classical antiquity were hunters. For example, Greek god Artemis was always related to hunting. Hunting was strongly associated with divinity and mythology, and one of the historical researches states that “mythological association of prey species with a divinity could be reflected in hunting restrictions such as a reserve surrounding a temple, Euripides’ tale of Artemis and Acteon, for example, may be seen as a caution against disrespect of prey or impudent boasting”. (Blain 2005)

Hunting remains vital in pastoral and agricultural societies, as well as in marginal climates. For example, peoples in Arctic still trap animals for clothing and they use skins of sea mammals for making kayaks and footwear. Historians say that domestication of dogs encouraged development of new forms pf animal-aided hinting as venery and coursing hunting, ferreting and falconry. In medieval times dog breeds were selected for hunting. As it is mentioned above, animal domestication and agriculture became prevalent, hunting was human culture driven by social and environmental conditions. In particular, hunting was used to extirpate animals considered competition for resources, as food or water shortage. Thus, hunting moved to social activity that required special equipment and extensive training. Moreover, hunting became some kind of sport for upper social class meaning that hunting was a luxurious activity for class elites. (Griffin 2007)

Hunting became more luxury having lost its original purpose of food supply. In Medieval Europe, hunting for lions and wild bears functioned as tournaments and sports activities. In the majority of European countries hunting was honorable pastime for aristocracy, during which they practiced war skills in peace times. Moreover, the rights for hunting were solely obtained by the upper class. Professional huntsmen provided feudal territories with food and furs, whereas aristocracy referred to hunting as a form of recreation. For example, in Robin Hood’s legends one person was charged for hunting the King’s deer.

Hunting played important role in America, especially in the Southern culture. As far as Southern states were slave-owning, their elites tended to follow the English aristocracy. They imposed hunting laws and created private games and tournaments, similar to England. Nonetheless, their efforts to make hunting elite activity failed due to poor capabilities of Southerners to hunt. Despite certain failures, in the early 19th century Southerners imported the idea of hunting as sport that gave an opportunity to construct cultural differences in approaching hunting. Hunting in the South focused on pursuit of chase meaning that their hunting methods focused on acquisition of fresh meat and skins. Various animals were used in hunting, but the dog remained the most important. Dog domestication created symbolic relationship, and the dog lost its evolutionary meaning of depending on men. Even today dogs are used to chase, to find and sometimes to kill animal. (Marks 1991)

Summing up, the rise of middle class and bourgeoisie shifted hunting as food supply to hunting as recreation and luxury. Today, hunting us seen primary as a means of pest control, entertainment and sports activity. And many people hunt simply to enjoy themselves. However, some recreation hunters are argued to contribute to environmental conservation movement. For example, Aldo Leopold and Theodore Roosevelt became the Founding Fathers of Conservation movement.  People have perfected hunting activity, and a wide range of weapons is available for hunters today. Archers have many types of bows, arrows are made of different materials and guns are of different types. Competitive hunting is greatly enjoyed by those, who prefer adrenaline to their hunting. Nevertheless, modern world stresses the importance of safety and skills for hunters who are obliged to obtain all necessary documents. Hunting regulations are developed to prevent rare species from extinction. As far as hunting remains very popular, modern world imposes more restrictions compared to that of other periods in the history of hunting. (Blain 2005)

Moral Implications of Hunting

Several hundreds years ago anyone would hardly think of moral implications of hunting. Today, animal rights are among the most debated. The issue of morality was caused by the fact that hunting shifted from being food supply to luxurious activity and entertainment. If hunting suggests killing animals for food, it may be justified, but, when it comes to entertainment, then researchers raise the question of morality. Is it morally right to kill animals for entertainment? In the end of 20th century animal right groups emerged to fight animal killing. They are small minorities in the world, but they vigorously stand for their values and beliefs that hunting may be allowed only for pest control management. Otherwise, killing animals shouldn’t be allowed in any circumstances. Animal right groups argue that “animals deserve certain kinds of consideration of what is in their own best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans or an endangered species and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all”. (Peta Site) Animals should never be hunted to benefit humans. Opponents of hunting argue that it actively promotes violence negatively affecting children’s psychological development and identity formation. They claim hunting is related to crime, wife beating, child molestation and rape. Hunting us viewed as a sport with a sole purpose to kill and allowing children to play hunt games corrupts their minds with idea that killing is ethical and moral. Moreover, hunting is claimed to be too dangerous, and people are not responsible for safe hunting. Media presents hundreds of stories about hunting incidents, in which accidentally killed their friends and relatives. In contrast to animal right groups, pro-hunters argue that meat positively affects human health. For example, deer meat is low in fat and, thus, very healthy. One more pro-argument is that hunting is effective pest control management tool to monitor animal population. Many predators that decrease animal population are eliminated. Finally, hunting is argued to contribute to the national economy. Therefore, there is no clear answer whether hunting is moral. (Peta Site)


Researchers argue that the history of hunting is more complicated and controversial than any other history because it dates so far into the past. For the early people hunting remained the only source of food supply and, thus, hunting played vital role in their lives. In Medieval Europe, the essence of hunting was reshaped, and hunting became pastime for elites and aristocracy. That was the turning point in the history of hunting as it lost its original purpose and became a mean of active entertainment. Even today hunting is popular sports activity. However, the positive shift is that certain restrictions are imposed on hunting. Morality of hunting remains one of the most controversial issues. Pro-hunters argue that hunting contributes economy and it is effective pest control management, whereas anti-hunters claim that hunting promotes actively violence and distorts children’s perception of morality.


Blain, Rebecca. (2005). The Evolution of Man: The History of Hunting. Retrieved December 4, 2008, from http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Evolution-of-Man—The-History-of-Hunting&id=25107

Griffin, E. (2007). Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain Since 1066. USA: Yale University Press.

Marks, Stuart. (1991). Southern Hunting in Black and White: Nature, History and Ritual in a Carolina Community. USA: Princeton University Press.

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. (2008). Retrieved December 4, 2008, from http://www.peta.com

Struna, Nancy. (1996). People of Prowess: Sport, Leisure, and Labor in Early-Anglo America. USA: University of Illinois Press.


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