Is hunting morally acceptable?


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Unarmed but dangerous critics close in on hunting.

Editor's note: The people she most wants to talk to are the men and women who stalk animals and shoot to kill - the people who make moral choices in a split second. She is Ann Causey, a botanist and zoologist who teaches philosophy at Auburn University in Alabama. In a 1989 essay in the journal Environmental Ethics, and in a later article in Bugle, the magazine of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, she asked a question that continues to reverberate: Is hunting moral?

She's still looking for answers:

Is hunting morally acceptable? Those who support hunting usually respond by citing data: acres of habitat protected by hunting-generated funds, how many game species have experienced population increases due to modern game management, how much the economy is stimulated by hunting-generated revenues, and so on. Hunters also assure the public that hunters, more than most citizens, care deeply about ecosystem integrity.

These statements may be true but they are almost totally irrelevant to the question. Anti-hunters are not asking whether hunting is an effective management tool or whether hunters appreciate nature. They are asking: "Is it moral to kill animals for sport? Are any forms of hunting morally right?"

The hunter answers what he or she perceives is a question about utility and prudence, but his opponent has intended to ask a question about morality. It is as if one asked what day it is and the other responded by giving the time.

Our obsession with "sound, objective science" in addressing our opponents has led many hunting proponents not only to avoid the crucial issues, but also to actually fuel the fires of the anti-hunting movement. Outsiders to hunting are primarily concerned about the pain and suffering and loss of life inflicted on hunted animals and about the motives and attitudes of those who hunt.

They are offended by references to game animals as "resources." They are angered by the sterile language, and by implication, the emotionally sterile attitudes of those who speak of "culling," "controlling," and "managing" animals.

Anti-hunters insist that non-trivial reasons be given for intentional human-inflicted injuries or deaths, or that these injuries and deaths be stopped.

This is, in my view, an eminently reasonable request.

To be ethical, we must do two things: We must act ethically, and we must think ethically. What's needed for truly moral hunting to flourish is not just a change of appearance or vocabulary but a change of mindset, a deepening of values.

Apr 13, 2007 12:15 PM

I think that killing animals is ok for sporting puposes. I am an avid hunter and think that it is fun. In my family, we practice all hunting laws and laws of conservation. In my experience, I have never gone over the limit on any kind of hunting. I think it is also important to keep the population down for most animals such as the white-tailed deer. It keeps them from running rampant and getting killed on the roads. This way, hit-and-run accidents won't be as common. Think about a deer being hit, laying on the side of the road. It would be wrong to give it a slow painful death. It would have to wait on someone to ease its suffering.

sport hunting
Chris Bruha
Chris Bruha
Nov 14, 2008 06:42 PM
I personnaly agree with you about hunting for fun but i hope you at least eat the meat or its just a waist of an animal.
Sport Hunting
dcko kolis
dcko kolis
Apr 23, 2010 08:38 PM
I agree with Chris. When I was a young child, I hunted and killed for the sake of killing and left the animals to waste. As a child, I knew it was wrong, but due to lack of morales continued doing it. That eventually turned me away from hunting for many years. A few years ago as i turned middle aged, I found a renewed interest in hunting primarily by the memory of fun and thrill that I used to have and wanting to pass that on to my children. With the responsibility of raising my children as good people and finding my morality along the way, I have taught my children that you must eat what you kill. I truly feel that all hunted animals deserve the respect that if they are killed as nature has intented for them then they must be eaten as well.

With that said, the question of humane killing comes to the foreground. This is a bit more complicated for no matter how cautious a hunter is to make sure the shot is within range or that they are expereinced enough with there bow or firearm, there will always be the situation where an animal is not killed cleanly and quickly. I believe it comes back to individual values and the mindset to do all you can possibly do to ensure a clean and humane kill.

Matthew Zhong
Matthew Zhong
Sep 18, 2010 03:17 PM
Okay, i agree partially with saying it's important to keep some animal populations down, but aren't you kinda being biased about that? If it's important to hunt White-tailed deer to keep their population under control, then shouldn't it also be important to keep the human population down by the same means? Hunt the deer to keep them from running rampant. But what about hunting humans to keep them from ruining the entire planet? Besides, the earth only has so much space. What happens when humans have occupied all there is? If you say hunting should be okay to keep populations under control, then you should also be okay with the genocide of jews, and mass slaughter of Jim Jones' camp. While their intentions might have been wrong, the result is the same. Plus, you also have to look at it through the animals' eyes. How would they feel to be killed by a predator they can't even see or do anything to stop?
Apr 19, 2007 10:42 AM

if no one took out the deer population then they would certainly run free. But they would also die from hunger and overpopulation. if no one manages the deer then they will eventually become deseased and start to kill humans. this is why i believe that the population should be managed.

Apr 24, 2007 01:07 PM

i totally agree!

Apr 26, 2007 11:13 AM

what about hunting for fur? is that ok? if we didn't over do it maybe. how do you feel about the breeding farms that just raise and kill animals, that aren't killed for population control. its still hunting, but with no effort. is that form of hunting ok to you?

Apr 26, 2007 11:54 AM

that shouldn't be considered hunting but hunting where  you give the animal a fair chance to get away is morally sound to me if you dont controll the population the animals will die of starvation which can lead to the loss of other animals in which could cause a huge domino effect on certain wildlife areas. I am also a hunter and follow all hunting laws and conservation laws

May 29, 2007 01:20 PM

do you really think killing innocent animals for no reason is right? Suree. it gives us food and keeps the popualation down but you shouldnt kill animals that arent diseased.

Chris Bruha
Chris Bruha
Nov 14, 2008 06:48 PM
so what are we suppost to eat the desiesed animals so we get sick. ohh good idea geneous. either way every thing has to hunt. owls have to hunt mice and foxes hunt chicken. coyote's hunt foxes. and we hunt deer and phesent and bear and elk what the difference. and if it wasn't captive animals that we eat then what would we eat.

We all hunt.
Jan 15, 2010 01:44 PM
if people are killing animals for food then obviously there is a reason. everybody hunts. people arent going to eat dieased animals. good thinking.
May 30, 2007 11:27 AM

if the animals are diseased we can't eat them...idiots....i dont know about you but diseased meat doesn't really get my tongue watering. God didn't give us game animals to kill only when diseased he gave them to us to USE but NOT ABUSE

Nov 05, 2007 02:03 PM

Using animals in a natural thing. Dated for about 300 B.C.

Dec 04, 2007 02:47 PM

hunting is a legal sport to kill animals



Dec 05, 2007 02:39 PM

The animals would end up starving to death or something like that if we didn't hunt them. In the food chain they are the prey and we are the predators. If you want killing of innocent animals then check out where your grocery meat comes from.

Feb 15, 2008 03:29 PM

i think hunting is not okay cause you are killing the animals

Nov 14, 2008 06:51 PM
so im assuming your a vegitarian other wies were do you think deli meat comes from or beef or hamburgers or steak.
Feb 19, 2008 04:14 PM

killing animals is ok if you need the food but if you kill it and leave it then its totally wrong!

Mar 25, 2008 11:58 AM

this is great,   im doing a paper on this topic and you guys give some strong points....thanks

Nov 14, 2008 06:54 PM
yeah me too.
May 13, 2008 11:18 AM


Is hunting morally acceptable?
Oct 23, 2008 03:07 PM
i'm also doing a paper on this subject.
I honestly am an animal lover. The only type of hunting I've done would be fishing, I guess. And I admit that I'm guilty of keeping some a little too long before cleaning and had to throw them away or been careless and thought he might be a keeper and found out he wasn't after he was already dead. And I know thats cruel but it happens when you fish. However we I don't know if I really like the idea of sport hunting. The idea of killing an animal purely for prize bothers me. Hunting in the since that you take the meat and eat it I am all for. I believe it is much more humane than the acts that are committed to make commercial grade meat. Rather than being pent up and possibly fed steroid and killed mercilessly, the animal is free to roam the wild and feed naturally and when it is killed its usually gone before it knows it. But any other type of hunting, even though I guess I am a little guilty myself, I think are cruel and immoral.
Is Hunting Morally Acceptable
Nov 14, 2008 06:31 PM
I think if you obey the hunting and conservation laws it is perfectly acceptable.
Feb 12, 2009 09:16 AM
First off, there is no wrong in killing an animal for food. Anti-hunters should get the facts straight and actually talk to the hunters. We have no killing attitude or any attitude at that, we simply feed our family. And if im not mistaken hunters provide the most money for public land. It's proven in 2008 hunters made the most contribution to land and parks than anyother group. So what is that attitude we have again? When your a hunter you learn more responsiblity than many others. Hunting is a game from way back when and always will be. It's also proven that the responisiblity, respect, and attitude is what hunting helps. Granit there are the few poachers and few that shoot and don't worry about finding the animal. Those are the people you should attack because they are not hunters, they are poachers. So anti-hunters, if it wasn't for us providing meat for shelters, who would be feeding them because stats prove it wouldnt be you guys?
life and death
marty weiss
marty weiss
Jan 15, 2010 07:58 PM
Taking life is not sport.
The human species has evolved ethics as a way to guide us and protect us from making mistakes whose unforeseen consequences bring doom.
Look out into the universe and tell me how much life you see.
Life is a minority.
Were someone to take the life of your family, you would get it right now.
We humans have evolved into understanding more than our own immediate needs.
A mature comprehension of the rights and the responsibilities of our absolute dominion reflects complex duties.
We are responsible for everything here on Earth-- everything in our life-support system.
Just because ancient technology dictated lead bullets doesn't mean spewing lead around is a good idea.
Likewise "sport" hunting.
Cousteau's experiments with spearguns showed that previously abundant life vanished when hunting pressures from spearguns drove life away and stripped habitat of life.
Humans have the power of life and death as well as the responsibility.
If only to secure our own future we must use our power wisely.
Life is precious to us, but there are billions of light-years of death.
The old habits must die if we are to live.
Killing an ant for sport, much less a coyote, is abdicating our aegis as human beings.
Is hunting morally acceptable
Feb 06, 2010 11:33 PM
Sport hunting is a complete myth. It is not done for hunger or survival or game management. The prome motive of the sport hunter is his own pleasure, though most hunters will not admit this. There are, sad to say, millions of cruel and thoughtless people who enjoy shooting animals. There's nothing moral or even ethical about it. It's a way to murder legally. The "over-population" of deer is actually cased by hunting. It's called "compensatory reproductive rebound" and brings in huge revenues for the hunting industry. The closer you look at hunting, the closer you get to the ugly truth.
Wayne Hare
Wayne Hare
Feb 07, 2010 06:55 AM
Subsistence hunting is both. Sport hunting is neither.
Feb 09, 2010 03:30 AM
But. Simply because you eat the animal does not automatically make "subsistence" your prime motive for killing it. For many many hunters, and probably most, eating the meat is secondary to the pleasure they derive from the kill. Does a sport hunter suddenly become moral if instead of not eating the animal he decides he might as well consume some of it? Is that all it takes to be moral? If you didn't HAVE to kill, then you did it because you FELT like it, and there's absolutely nothing moral about that.
dcko kolis
dcko kolis
Apr 23, 2010 08:48 PM
What is to be said about the morality of the person that killed the cow that is in the hamburger you are eating? Is killing for money morale?
Mandy Davis
Mandy Davis
Feb 09, 2010 09:14 AM

Ankle deep in fragile ecosystems
crushed beneath ignorant boot-heels
arrogance oozes from a sorely disguised
hulk of humanity
dressed in ridiculous, blotchy
synthetic, imitations of nature

I wonder out loud
asking only the obvious
with full bellies and a life
smeared with the fat of the land
Is this necessary, is this your way

Hands on hips
sneer breaking a wide gash
beer sotted, blood thirsty visage
“it’s my f-ing, god given right!”
comes the all too familiar
mind boggling refrain

A 24” extension of
a “sportsman’s” essential manhood
something to hold and croon to
raised and ready to deliver
a killing blow to the ultimate

Making love to the violence stifled
shots ring out
steel satisfies the longing
lighting one up in the afterglow
he smiles
possessing his prize

Ah, sweet release
into a bloody, flailing
mass of flesh and bone
 oozing life
drowning in life’s giving waters
with dying, hopeless eyes

The trophy retrieved
the glassy eyes condemn
for generations lost
the cycle selfishly disrupted
by smug ego gratification
to obliteration’s end

Just like Starman
oh to enlighten
for killer to feel cold entering
as precious life retreats
the fear, pain and confusion
as cruel steel rips and tears

Tell me
does the camo hide you
from knowing eyes
a god called upon, a violated earth
a species obliterated
and humanity denied?

Feb 09, 2010 04:24 PM
Mandy, with all due respect, and considering we're on the same side of the issue and you an obviously gentle and compassionate person, a poem like this falls on deaf ears. It would have no effect on the mind of a hunter. In fact, a hunter reading it will scoff it off as fluff and probably become more convinced he's right about hunting. The only way to expose the myths, lies and injustices of hunting is to address and challenge them DIRECTLY. And that means having the hard FACTS that refute and disprove the hunter's assertions and propaganda. Hunters are hardcore killers and are not impressed by poetry, unless it's about the joys of murdering animals.
Is hunting morally acceptable?
Apr 24, 2010 02:24 PM
I think hunting is actually morally preferable to most of the meat you buy at the market. The animals we raise for food production are not treated very well and because it keeps prices low, those practices are almost universally accepted. The deer and elk (and birds and rabbits) I chase live free, and if I am lucky enough to take one it is because I have put in the effort to represent the true cost of extending my life by taking in the animal's energy. As far as "sport" hunting goes, if you want to target animals with decorations that is your perogative, as long as the meat is taken and used as well. People need to stop lumping hunters together with poachers as the two categories could not be more different.
deer are color blind
marty weiss
marty weiss
Apr 24, 2010 05:06 PM
so much for camo.
The world in which subsistence hunting existed is gone for those who have gas and electric.
The whole nature thing is hopelessly compromised. Mostly by polluting industry.
But roads, climate changes all pressure wild critters into death. Killing is not sport.
It is pretending our eco system is still viable, but it is not.
When I went down the Mississippi, I could not drink the water, the fish were laden with PCB's and heavy metals and herbicides. It looks pretty but it is a whited sepulchre.And this is our life support, people.
Geoff Thompson
Geoff Thompson
Apr 24, 2010 07:46 PM
Hunting laws should be structured to allow for sustainable subsistence hunting. The same laws should be structured to prohibit trophy hunting. Wild predators should be reintroduced or protected if they are already present. Hunting laws that protect the balance between species, including humans, are OK with me.
Hunting, in Theory
May 11, 2010 07:29 PM
I find it odd that no one so far has responded that it's wrong to purchase meat from a store, which seems the strongest argument against hunting. If a person does hold this view, it's easy to include expand such a moral view to hunting animals. To me, the argument against taking animal life seems weakest if bolstered by animal rights (is it then wrong to kill pests in your home, or bacteria infecting a wound?) and strongest if bolstered by land-use efficiency (it takes less energy and fewer other resources to produce a vegetarian's diet).

If a person finds it acceptable to purchase meat from a store, doesn't it become harder to declare hunting morally wrong? In what way is it better to pay to have an animal killed for you than to do it yourself? Clearly there's no distinction in the killing, and in fact, farmed animals have a lower quality of life and shorter life span than wild animals. Shoppers are often encouraged to purchase organic meats because it's healthier or because the animal had a better quality of life. These are both even more true with wild meat. The only satisfactory argument becomes that it's unacceptable to enjoy the killing, and that's kind of an odd one. If you purchased meat from a store, how do you know the meat processing plant workers did not enjoy their jobs? If they did, is it wrong to purchase meat from them?

Many people against hunting opposite it because they consider the animals endangered. American society as a whole has determined that this concern is a valid one, so we protect endangered animals by enacting laws. Thus, in America, legal hunting does not raise the question of endangerment, except to the extent that a dissenter objects to the way society has categorized a species. But that is no longer a disagreement on the validity of hunting; rather, it is a disagreement on a categorization by society.

Other people oppose hunting because the animals are beautiful. Perhaps the wildness is beautiful, precious because our modern culture has made wildness too scarce. This may be the most powerful emotional reason for people to be opposed to hunting. But this is actually not an argument against the moral acceptability of taking an animal's life. Indeed, this point of view would accept hunting in epochs and locations where wildlife is abundant.

Where do we get our values? From religion? Religions worldwide accept hunting. From laws? Legal codes worldwide accept killing of wild animals. From cultures? Throughout human history, most cultures have engaged in killing wild animals. Or do we see our values coming from our own hearts and minds, as implied in this discussion? If so, what about diversity of thought? Generally, liberals will rise in defense of a myriad of cultures against the unifying effects of globalism and multinational corporations. Yet for a relatively recent few to determine for all society – and all societies – that hunting is wrong would be a radical imposition of their values onto others.

For these reasons, the burden of proof falls heavily on those who find it unacceptable to hunt wild, non-endangered meat for food.
Morality of hunting
Aug 14, 2010 12:50 AM
The point is that "sport" hunting (though in no way a sport) is not a matter of the hunter's survival. Most of them hunt and kill for pleasure. That is their prime motive, whether they decide to eat the meat or not. They kill many millions of animals they do NOT eat. Open your eyes! If you kill and don't NEED to, then you're killing NEEDLESSLY. That's what makes it IMMORAL.
Morality of hunting?
Aug 14, 2010 02:19 AM
PS. In your fallacious argument you say "Religions worldwide accept hunting." Buddhism doesn't. Neither do many others. As for Christianity, it was founded by a man who spent his life preaching against killing on every level. Anyone who thinks they're a Christian and also hunts, is also a hypocrite. Do you think if Jesus were alive today he'd pick up a gun or bow and go into the woods to shoot animals? He wouldn't do it even if you put a gun to his head! Hunting exists because it's big business and brings in enormous revenues for itself & company. And since when is big business an icon of morality? Hunting is now legal as slavery once was. In Nazi Germany it was legal to exterminate people. Does legal make it right? Sooner or later, when enough people get a good look at how cruel, destructive and needless hunting is, justice will finally catch up with the laws that permit it.
Aug 14, 2010 06:32 PM
Would Jesus hunt? He ran with a crowd of fishermen and ate and served meat. I think he would hunt. I kind of see him with a bow. But he spoke in farmer parables (you know -- kill the fatted calf fr the prodigal son and all that) and was a man of the people - a populist figure. So he'd probably hunt with rifles and shotguns as well.
Aug 15, 2010 12:32 AM
You're onto something. All that stuff he preached about mercy and compassion - just farmer talk. He probably would've loved to turn in those dirty robes for a fresh camo oufit. Or maybe buckskins. And for his birthday wouldn't a new rifle or shotgun be the perfect gift for the "Prince of Peace"? Jeez, you sure do know what you're talking about.
happy gillmore
happy gillmore Subscriber
Dec 05, 2011 05:13 PM
Steve you have know idea of what you are talking about. God gave us animals for our own use not to let just run around. Tell me would you like to see a bunch of dead animals on the road or not even know that an animal died
drake  smith
drake smith
Feb 25, 2014 12:56 PM
im writing a paper thanks for your ideas8)
Richard Crow
Richard Crow Subscriber
Feb 25, 2014 02:52 PM
Morality is whatever is socially acceptable at the time. Surveys overwhelmingly show it is socially acceptable to hunt, therefore it is moral.
Kirk Hohenberger
Kirk Hohenberger Subscriber
Feb 25, 2014 03:46 PM
The whole planet revolves around things being killed one animal eating another animal and so on. So are we asking the question is it moral for humans to kill because they necessarily know longer have to. Is it more moral to keep animals captive and raise them to be eventually killed for our consumption? Greater harm and death occurs from man's altering the environment and loss of habitat. Is it moral to kill animals when you plow up the Prairie ,drain the marshes ,and cut down the forests, which then causes animals to starve to death ,and in the extreme cases eventually to go extinct?
don bertolette
don bertolette Subscriber
Feb 25, 2014 06:26 PM
Context is important to consider. X number of generations ago, native indigenous cultures subsisted off the land, by dint of agricultural energies, or by hunting. There was a brief period during peri-European settlement where early settlers and frontiersmen relied on the land to meet their needs for food and shelter, other uses. Since then, increasingly, we lost our context, woods bison and buffalo soon thereafter were extinguished summarily way beyond any need for food, shelter, or few other reasonable uses.
Today already!, you say!? Me? I'm not a hunter, although I have sufficient firearms to provide subsistence-based hunting should I be so. I have not had a hunting license, nor hunted. I have had fishing licenses (currently do) and have, do, and will fish (I'm an Alaska resident...:>). So my thoughts aren't really from one-side or the other...I think it interesting how diverse the what-I-thought-this-HCN-population is, but notice that much of the that diversity seems to have responded anonymously. Often anonymity permits a wider latitude towards less diplomatic exposition, but I'm pleased to see more constraint than is often the case.
On with it moral, hunting? All of its own? Simply, no! Morality doesn't exist with the prey end of our arrows, or firearms. It becomes an issue when our fingers release the killing stroke. If done without thought and consideration, or is done so after many times with thought and consideration, and the game is consumed, used in a subsistence manner, yes. Is the annual hunting trip that distant hunters plan for, and with success, return with game for home consumption and use, moral hunting? Probably at the individual level. How about X million such annual hunting trips, permitted by virtue of a fishing and game agency charged with 'managing' wildlife?
Not in Alaska, our Fish and Game department is a chicken coup managed by biology is ignored, or trumped up to rationalize their own biases. To the extent that your own states manage your wildlife similarly, I'd call into question the morality of such hunting, no matter what the individuals own creed is, and hope that individual would actively participate in changing such a sad scenario.
Hunting for sport? What is that? Trophies? There lies some territory that is pretty much indefensible from a moral standpoint, from a biologically based wildlife management standpoint. Taking the beast that exemplifies the superlative features of its species is a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to failure.
All that said, I'm not a vegetarian or vegan, although I've no objection to eating their food; I'm not a hunter, but I'll eat game that is not over-harvested, I'll eat king salmon as long as they meet the escapement goals. Without known issues of morality.
don bertolette
don bertolette Subscriber
Feb 25, 2014 06:34 PM
And I enjoyed Mandy's poetry, she is skilled, as a poet. But not as a skilled communicator...self-indulgent it would seem in the context...was there any sense of positive/constructive criticism, any hope of a collaborative conversation?
Christopher Moyles
Christopher Moyles
Feb 25, 2014 07:50 PM
I think there is a clear line between hunting and killing. Killers don't eat what they kill, and that is disrespectful and therefore immoral.

This year I didn't fill my tag and so this winter I am getting my protein from my chicken eggs, trade with my more fortunate friends, as well as the meat I choose to buy from the store. Although expensive, I try to buy organic and grass-fed whenever possible, and it is a premium price I choose to pay in order to best understand where my food comes from and how I am connected to that process.

Hunting for winter meat is a ritual here in western Montana and it further connects us to this rugged country. We celebrate a snowfall in hunting season in the same manner we celebrate a powder day on the ski slopes. We spend hours following tracks and reading the landscape, sitting quietly, finding our way back to our homes by headlamp.

This fall, just at dusk on the last day of the season, I side hilled a ridge heading back to the truck. I heard a snort and looked down the draw at a doe stomping her foot. The shot was long and the light was bad, so I turned my way and she turned her way, and we both moved off towards our respective dinners.

The snow is deep here now and as I sit in my warm home, that doe is out there, eating bark, digging through snow for forage, making her way across a wilderness. A wilderness that would swallow me whole if I had to survive on bark and old grass, bed in the lee of blow downs, wallow through snow drifts and dodge lions. That engenders respect.

One day this landscape will take me as it does all things and I will be most grateful for the times I have best understood the natural cycles of the world. In the spring this year, that doe may have one or two fawns. In the fall I will wait for the snows to begin and spend some days in the mountains. Maybe I will fill my tag this year, but regardless, I will that I am part of something larger than myself.
drake  smith
drake smith
Feb 26, 2014 12:54 PM
if someone thinks hunting is wrong they are just dumb we would not survive with out hunting
drake  smith
drake smith
Feb 26, 2014 12:57 PM
hunting is my life and has built my life