In any given argument, it is up to the proponent of the debate to support the argument and not pass the ‘burden of proof’ on to an opponent. In other words, you cannot claim an argument is valid by merely stating a premise and then challenging someone to refute it. There must be valid premises made that lead to a logical conclusion.
In the case of this article, hunting will be examined. Since hunting is currently legal in the United States, it must be considered, in some way, morally acceptable to hunt animals for sport or for pleasure. By ‘pleasure’ I mean eating their flesh. I define eating their flesh merely as pleasure and not say, necessity because it is not necessary, in current economic circumstances, to go out into the woods and kill an animal. One can simply go to the grocery store and purchase meat to cook and eat without killing an animal in the wild. Thus, if one kills a deer, it must be because they prefer the taste of deer flesh to the flesh of an animal that is readily available and at a local grocery store. It is up to the proponents of hunting to prove that hunting is morally permissible in a fashion beyond ‘it cannot be proven otherwise.’
The first argument put forth by ‘sportsmen’ is often some variation of ‘keeping the population under control’. It is not from a moral standpoint but a practical one, and is usually dressed up in some transparent ‘getting in touch with/respecting nature’ attitude that stands in sharp contrast with the brutality of the act itself. Whatever their intentions are (and I suspect that given the fact they are killing the animals, they care very little for their welfare) this argument falls short. First, it does nothing in the long run to control the deer population. In the short term the deer population is indeed reduced, but less deer simply means more food for other deer, and this in turn leads to a growth in population and the cycle starts anew. Dr. Thomas Everet writes that in an area where hunting has not occurred there is actually an increase in the deer population once hunting starts, and only then is hunting necessary to keep the population in check.1 Similarly Dr.William Robinson, a professor of biology at Northern Michigan University, writes:
“The general theory of harvesting animals is based on the premise that when animals are not harvested at all, growth and recruitment are balanced by natural mortality and that the average growth rate of a population at its carrying capacity is zero. Harvesting reduces the population size, but the reduction results in an increase in the growth rate of the population. This increase in growth rate is brought about because of higher birth rates and lower death rates resulting from decreased competition for resources. This increased growth rate provides a surplus of individuals above the number required to replace the population, and this surplus can be harvested.”2
A study entitled “Reproductive Dynamics and Disjunct White-tailed Deer Herds in Florida,” published in The Journal of Wildlife Management found that the “incidence of twinning was 38% on hunted herds and 14% on nonhunted sites.” In other words, if a deer population is being decreased by unnatural means (hunting) that population will respond by increasing birth rates. Hunting is a drastically ineffective way to keep the population in check, if any such need existed to begin with. Furthermore, hunters are not doing anything that nature itself cannot take care of. Anytime there is a population of an animal that grows too large for an area to support, the weaker members of that population will die off. Evolution favors the strong and culls off the weak. It is unfortunate, but it is fact. Some may at this point try and pick my argument apart by saying, ‘as a vegan aren’t you against the suffering of animals?’ Yes, I am against the unnecessary suffering of animals. Animals in the wild dying as a result of starvation or getting picked off by predators is what happens in nature when a population grows too large to be supported. Their suffering is part of a natural cycle. ‘But Justin,’ you may continue, ‘aren’t hunters helping out by putting the weak and sick deer out of their misery? Isn’t that part of nature?’ The problem with this statement is that hunters do not seek out sick or weak deer. They seek the largest, strongest deer, the ones who are obviously not having a hard time of surviving. By killing the most vital members of the species hunters are doing nothing to put anything out of its misery. Still you may say, ‘But JUSTIN why is it okay for wolves and bears and lions and cheetahs and crocodiles to kill an animal for food but we shouldn’t?’ Because a) animals are not rationally aware on the same level as humans are, of the consequences of their actions, and b) even if they were aware of the suffering they were causing, they have no other choice aside from killing another animal for food. For predators in the wild, it is indeed a matter of life or death.
To delve a bit further against the ‘compassionate sportsmen’ argument, let us take into account the mortality rates of deer that are hunted. First, it should be established that the deer are not simply alive one moment and dead the next. Death by arrow is not a painless and peaceful process. One need only to visit a local sporting good store to see broadheads labeled “Lungbusters” or “Blood Runners”. This clashes with the attitude of ‘respecting nature’ that many hunters want to put forth. Likewise, the kill is not always successful, or at least not immediately. Adrien Benke, in her book The Bowhunting Alternative, writes:
“A former bowhunter and author noted ‘the impossibility of accurately placing shots with archery equipment’ and concluded that ‘broadheads are absolutely inadequate’ for killing animals humanely.”3
Furthermore, between 1947 and 1989, studies indicate a cripple rate varying from 38 to 68 percent with an average of 50 percent. Some of the studies are as follows:
R.L. Croft, 1963 44 percent wounded 4
J.D. Cada, 1988: 51 percent wounded 5
L.E. Garland, 1972: 63 percent wounded 6
A.N. Moen, 1989: 68 percent wounded 7
G.A. Boydston & H.G. Gore, 1987: 50 percent wounded 8
L.P. Hansen & G.S. Olson, 1989: 52 percent wounded 9
M.K. Causey et al., 1978: 50 percent wounded 10
R.W. Aho, 1984: 58 percent wounded 11
Where is the compassion in this? Where is the quick kill and the mercy? Instead of the ‘respect’ for the animals there seems to be, at best, a blatant disregard for their welfare and at worst, an almost sociopathic bloodlust.
Another argument is this: that by killing their own food, hunters are actually gaining an appreciation of where that food comes from, rather than going to the store and purchasing a slab of meat. Unlike the prior argument, this actually is a moral issue, but like the prior argument, it is ludicrous; even moreso actually. There is no real moral justification for this, aside from some vague ‘back to nature’ type argument that doesn’t really explain or defend anything. Sure, by killing your own food you know where that food came from. But how is that morally permissible? What makes that acceptable? Therein lies the problem of this argument: it is entirely baseless. Just because you killed it yourself does not make it okay. It is still unnecessary because meat is already available at a local grocery store. No amount of ‘knowing where the meat came from’ can justify unnecessary killing. If anything, living in ignorance of where your food comes from is more acceptable than killing it yourself. Moral responsibility can only be assigned if one is aware of the consequences of their actions. By actually killing an animal you are assigning complete moral responsibility to yourself because you are entirely aware of the consequences. To reiterate in the bluntest possible language: there is absolutely no basis for assigning moral validity to the act of killing an animal yourself.
To address a possible objection of hunting for survival in a worst possible scenario (which doubtlessly will be brought up) i.e. some theoretical post-apocalyptic situation I will say this: since we currently do no exist in a state in which food is already not readily available, there is no need to bring a theoretical or abstract scenario into the equation. Almost anything can be proven with possible/theoretical/abstract situations, tailor made to try and prove the opposite reasoning wrong. Thus, it has no place here. The objection about aboriginal societies hunting to stay alive is a similar reason: since we do not live in a society such as that, there is no reason to address such a scenario.
Hunting is a cruel, barbaric, and wholly unnecessary practice. There is no justification whatsoever for it in current American society, be it practical or moral. Most people are aghast at the thought of killing a human being for sport, and yet we deprive animals of the same basic dignity granted to all human beings. There is no quality inherent and distinct to every single human being that set them apart from game animals, but it’s still murder when a human being is killed needlessly, while killing an animal needlessly is sport. Even the marginalized social groups of people such as the homeless, drug addicts, or mentally handicapped are still given a basic level of respect as to not take their lives from them. And yet many of these people are cognitively and emotionally ‘lower’ than many game animals. It is undeniably wrong, both morally and legally, to hurt them (marginalized people) so why then, is it permissible to kill animals for sport? Or to illustrate such an absurdity further: when Michael Vick was convicted of dog fighting, there were people calling for his execution. Why is the killing of dogs for sport so horrendous and yet the killing of deer (or any other game animal) for sport socially acceptable? What quality makes the two animals so different from one another? None. Nothing. It is an artificial social construct that permits the hunting of game animals and nothing more.
Hunting is not a sport. It is not a way to get closer to nature. By killing an animal you are not ‘respecting’ that animal. Hunting is state approved murder for fun and nothing more. If you want to eat the animal you kill, fine, but it is still killing for pleasure because the basis for eating that animal is you prefer, not require, that animal’s flesh over the flesh of some other animal. The lives of animals are not for us, as rational, sentient, and compassionate beings, to needlessly squander. As rational agents, human beings have a choice, and thus we have a responsibility to respect whenever possible, the lives of other sentient beings and reduce them to mere objects that are killed for sport or pleasure.
1 Thomas Eveland, Ph.D., “Why Killing Deer Makes Poor Park Management,” public presentation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 15, 1998.
2 William Robinson Wildlife Ecology and Management Benjamin Cummings Publishing, San Franciso 2002
3 Adrien Benke, The Bowhunting Alternative, B. Todd Press, San Antonio 1989
4 Croft, R.L. 1963. “A Survey for Georgia Bowhunters.” Proceedings of the Southeastern Association of Game and Fish commissioners. 17:155-163
5 Cada, J.D., 1988 “Preliminary Archery Survey Report.” Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife and Parks. Helena, Montana.
6 Garland, L.E. 1972. “Bowhunting for Deer in Vermont: Some Characteristics of the Hunters, the Hunt, and the Harvest.” Vermont Fish and Game Department. Waterbury, Vermont
7 Moen, A.N. 1989. “Crippling Losses.” Deer and Deer Hunting 12(6):64-70.
8 Boydston, G.A. and Gore, H.G. 1987 “Archery Wounding Loss in Texas.” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Austin, Texas.
9 Hansen, L.P. and Olson, G.S. 1989. “Survey of Archery Hunters, 1987.” Missouri Department of Conservation. Columbia, Missouri
10 Causey, M.K., Dennamer, J.E., Logan, J. and Chapman Jr., J.I., 1978
”Bowhunting White-tailed Deer with Succinylcholine Chloride Treated Arrows.” Wildlife Society Bulletin 6(3): 142-145
11 Aho, R.W. 1984 “Deer Hunting Retrieval Rates.” Michigan Pittman-Robertson Report. Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Lansing, Michigan.