Hunting: The encyclopedia entry

Suppose you knew someone who was asked to write an encyclopedia entry.

The topic: hunting in the United States today.

The encyclopedia: a new three-volume, million-word tome on Food Issues.

The goal: to give readers—mainly high school and college students—an overview of

  • issues, controversies, and fascinating things about hunting
  • the range of perspectives on hunting
  • who hunts and who doesn’t
  • related laws and regulations
  • the current resurgence of interest
  • and so on.

All in 3,000 words or less.

A foolhardy mission, perhaps. But I accepted.

So here’s the question: If you pulled this encyclopedia off the shelf, what would you hope to see mentioned there?

© 2013 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Erik Jensen says:

    Mostly that it takes some skill, time, and commitment! At least for “regular people” that do it and can’t pay someone to do a lot of the work for them.

  2. Dan Williams says:

    Hunting is part of life. And it is a part that – like sex, religion, etc – has been increasingly co-opted by corporate and political interests to the point of being a mere shell of its former self.

  3. Al Cambronne says:

    That for most hunters, it’s still about food. When done well, it can be done humanely; a case can be made that hunting is a more humane way of obtaining meet than growing animals on a factory farm. When hunting is local, it’s also more environmentally sustainable.

    And as far as issues and controversies, it might be an opportunity to make a distinction between animal rights and animal welfare. And a related but overlapping idea: caring about the individual creature vs. caring about the welfare of a population or species.

  4. Steven Bissell says:

    Books? Shelves? Encyclopedias? Are they still around? I wrote an encyclopedia on hunting for an animal rights group once, they were not happy but did put it in their book.

  5. Fletcher says:

    Students might be interested trends in posted property and historical rights of hunters on unposted lands. Is Vermont unique? Although I’m not a hunter I don’t post my property. However, most of my neighbors do.

    Given the disgusting, inhumane and unhealthy conditions in factory farms and meat processing plants, I admire ethical hunters today for their ability to confront fully and procure a clean source of meat.

    Perhaps some research into the anthropocentric “need” and justification for hunters to balance overpopulations. Situational frictions where mankind claims rights to land ownership and controversies over reintroducing natural predators – wolves and the like.

    Lastly, to address uneasiness over guns – statistics of people accidentally injured or killed annually by guns of hunters vs. handguns in homes would provide an interesting perspective. Also, students may want to learn about the historical influence of the NRA in hunting rules & regs in relation to manufacture of weapons and their promotion of gun ownership.

  6. Tovar says:

    Thanks for these thoughts, folks. I thought you might be interested to see some of the other responses I’ve received via Twitter and Facebook:

    – How, when done properly, it can be safe, sustainable and respectful.

    – That it’s a responsibility, not a right.

    – Wildlife Management, Recreation, Economics, Aesthetics, History, Education, Environmental Health, Human Health, Impact

    – That we are a product of hunting: our brains, our bodies, the roots of our cultures. That it supports agriculture and wildlife conservation.

    – Some of the history material in your book would be helpful, i.e. how different classes of people viewed hunting (either for food or not, depending on their class) and now how it’s evolved into different groups–the “sport” hunters, the ethical carnivore types, etc. I really liked that part of your book.

    – I’d hope that if indigenous hunting (perhaps re: respect) comes up, it’s with a specific example vs. broad stereotype.

    – It ain’t supposed to be easy.

    – Tough even in 3000 words. Your book references a lot of other good books on this subject. It would be important to cover the positives and negatives, hopefully in a manner that can not be easily taken out of context. Best wishes on this project.

  7. Paul Roberts says:

    I like Al’s idea of distinguishing animal rights from animal welfare.

    And I think that the distinctions between sustainable managed hunting, market hunting, and traditional hunting in an overpopulated world could be made. The American success stories in wildlife management are a story that everyone should know.

    What’s known, or believed, about the role of meat eating in human brain development.

  8. Fred says:

    I would like to see that as we’ve eliminated all the major predators man has a responsibility to take over this role in order to ensure the overall health of wildlife and the environment in general. Lack of natural predators results in over-population which can lead to destruction of habitat, starvation and rampant spread of disease which can then crossover to domestic populations.

  9. Jim Harding says:

    I teach a class at Green Mountain College (Poultney, VT) on Hunting: History, Ethics, and Management which canvasses many of those questions you raised. I think the main features of the class that get the students excited are:

    Role of Hunting in Human Evolutionary History
    – My take is that there is little support for evolutionary drivers to explain why we hunt today, wouldn’t we more likely be genetically hardwired to gather seeds and root for grubs given the role that behavior played in our development?
    Ethical Objections to Hunting
    – As noted above, we do parse out the different objections between animal rights and animal welfare. I bring in representatives of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting (C.A.S.H.) to offer their perspectives.

    Bambi–Cultural Landmarks Featuring Hunting
    – It’s surprising how familiar many people are with the concept of hunting (through popular culture references), but how few of these same people hunt themselves or know someone well who hunts. The result is many cultural landmarks that we have are found in movies and television. I ask the students to come up with as many instances that they can find where hunters or hunting is portrayed in a popular movie or television program. Inevitably, many of the references they come up with show hunting/hunters in a less than flattering light. Hunters are backwoods, buffoonish, dimwitted, etc. Hunting is cruel, “unsporting”, reckless, etc.

    The North American Wildlife Model
    – Hunting is both recreation and a tool used by wildlife managers to maintain sustainable yield.

    All in all, the hunting topic is rich even if just restricted to modern views (say post WWII) following many of the conservation laws.

    Would love to have you visit my class in the Fall if you’re free.

  10. Paul Roberts says:

    “My take is that there is little support for evolutionary drivers to explain why we hunt today, wouldn’t we more likely be genetically hardwired to gather seeds and root for grubs given the role that behavior played in our development?”

    We all still hunt and gather, but most of us do it in shopping malls, shopping channel, and We are also collectors of … you name it. The lid is off. As to hunting, killing and the carving of meat from the bone is foreign to nearly all, and shocking, even sickening to view. As Michael Pollan put it:

    “If I’ve learned anything about hunting and eating meat, it’s that it’s even messier than the moralist thinks.”

    I think we have to go pretty far back into prehistory to really appreciate the advantages hunting provided the development of our lineage. Nowadays hunters, and gardeners, participate in the natural world in extremely varying, but mostly dilute, levels.

  11. Tovar says:

    Jim: Thanks very much for these reflections. It’s helpful to hear about your students’ responses and perceptions. I’d be happy to talk about visiting your class. Shoot me an email sometime.

    Paul: Thanks for your follow-up as well!

  12. Phillip says:

    Late to the party here, but what’s new. I guess I’m not seeing your blog updates on FB anymore.

    Anyway, lots of great stuff here, and that’s a heck of an undertaking you’ve accepted. The only thing I haven’t really seen mentioned is the ratio of time hunting vs. actually killing things. There’s a misperception that everytime a hunter goes afield, he kills something. This, I think, allows for the enduring image of the hunter as a simple killer. Would be interesting to see, even as a graphic illustration, a sample of the ratios of time spent in the field for each harvest/kill.

    Oh. And of course there could be the discussion of whether hunting is sport. 😉

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