The ‘sport’ of hunting: Why I don’t call it that

For some people, hunting for “sport” implies frivolity: killing for fun.

For some, it suggests wastefulness and a lack of respect for animals: taking a whitetail’s antlers and cape for a trophy mount, and leaving the meat to rot.

Those are two reasons I don’t call hunting a “sport.”

When I talk or write about hunting and why I do it, I want people to understand what it’s like for me to take a deer’s life. I want my words to bring them to where I kneel beside the fallen animal, my hand on his still-warm shoulder. I want them to feel some faint ripple of the soul-deep wave that shudders through me.

I want my words to bring them to where I stand in the kitchen, separating muscle from bone and, later, sautéing tender slices of backstrap. I want them to sense what that venison means to me, taken so close to home, from woods I know.

I don’t want them thinking I get my jollies through a rifle scope.

For some people, “sport” implies a contest between hunter and hunted, or among hunters.

For some, it suggests highly structured competitions like professional team sports or the Olympics.

Those are two more reasons I don’t use the word.

When I talk or write about hunting, I want people to understand what it’s like for me to be in the woods. I want my words to bring them to where I sit watching sunlight break through frosty pine needles, to where I kneel and reach out to touch the edge of a fresh deer track. I want them to see ferns and moss. I want them to feel the immediacy of that connection to the earth that feeds us.

I don’t want them thinking I see animals as opponents. I don’t want them thinking Astroturf. I don’t want them thinking I’m out to bag a bigger buck than the next guy.

Many hunters, of course, use the term “sport.”

For some, it is simply habit—a word they grew up using, a word they’ve read a million times in books, in magazines, and online.

For some, hunting does feel like “fun,” or like a contest with animals, or like a competition with other hunters.

For some, the word is an important link to the late nineteenth century, when “sport hunting” denoted the importance of skill, and adherence to a rule-bound code of respectful, chivalrous conduct. Unlike the “market hunter” and the “pot hunter,” the “sport hunter” would never stoop to snaring or poisoning game animals. And “sport hunters” the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and George Grinnell were laying the foundations for America’s wildlife conservation legacy.

Fair enough. I don’t waste time arguing that people shouldn’t call their hunting “sport.”

But I do object when people insist that “sport”—or “recreation”—is the right term for virtually all modern hunting, including mine.

Take my friend Jim Tantillo, for instance, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University who wrote his dissertation on hunting. He maintains that hunting falls into two categories: hunting for survival, and hunting for other reasons. So far, so good.

If you hunt for survival, he says, then “hunting is work.” But if you choose to hunt, then “that very choice makes it fundamentally a form of recreation.”

I don’t think the language fits. “Involuntary” and “work” aren’t quite the same. And “voluntary” and “recreation” definitely aren’t the same.

A gardener may opt to grow a substantial portion of his family’s food. A volunteer EMT may squeeze herself into mangled cars to save lives. Both act by choice. And both probably enjoy aspects of what they do. But I doubt any of us would call their actions “recreation.”

In some dictionary somewhere, perhaps “recreation” means nothing more than “voluntary activity.” (In mine, it means “refreshment” and “enjoyable relaxation.”)

At some moment in time, perhaps “sport” meant nothing more than “rule-bound.” (Today, my dictionary says it means a host of different things, including “athletic activity,” “amusement,” and “recreation.”)

In the end, however, the meanings of words do not really exist in dictionaries; they exist in use and interpretation. Nor are meanings locked in history; they are constantly changing. (If I was the first to pen the lyric, Don we now our gay apparel, no modern American would picture cheery Christmas duds.)

As you can probably tell, I’m not interested in coming up with a label that applies to everyone’s hunting. I doubt such a word exists, except for “hunting” itself.

What I’m interested in is making my hunting comprehensible to others. And in a world like ours, where discussions of hunting are already full of pitfalls and confusions, “sport” and “recreation” only get in the way.

Notes: First, thanks to all who responded to my recent questions about “sport” on Facebook and Twitter. Your thoughts were of great help. Second, my apologies for the hiatus between posts. I promise that my attentions are being devoted to a good cause—I’m in the thick of book edits.

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Phillip says:

    Good one, Tovar, and food for thought.

    I’m gonna chew on it awhile, and maybe give some other folks a chance to chip in. You already know my initial stance here anyway… something on which Jim Tantillo and I are definitely aligned.

  2. I have an old book on “Elizabethan Sport.” It has nothing whatsoever to do with athleticism or what we now term sports. It’s entirely devoted to the practice and terminology of hunting in 16th century England, with particular attention paid to all the “sport” vocabulary in Shakespeare. So perhaps it’s really a matter of the word “sport” having been hijacked and lost its original meaning. Maybe “sport” really was recreation for the upper classes in Elizabeth’s time. I know that the poor were largely prevented from hunting by poaching laws, thus reserving the animal resources for those who least needed them, and could do it essentially for enjoyment.

    In any case, I hear what you’re saying and I agree that when it comes to taking life, we ought to choose our vocabulary carefully.

    • Tovar says:

      It certainly is interesting how the meanings of words change. We keep using them because of some past affiliation, but our current usage is often far, far removed from earlier ones. It can get us into some messes, especially when someone else has a different set of associations in mind…

  3. Nathan says:

    Great post, Tovar! I appreciate your argument towards the end of the piece about the difference between “hunting for survival” and hunting for any other reason. I’ve never found the notion of hunting out of “necessity” compelling. It already assumes that subsistence hunters hunt because they have no other option — i.e., if they had other options (poor sops), they would stop hunting in a heartbeat. (Hooray for domestication, agriculture and “civilization.”) Not only does that presuppose a refuted view of paleoanthropology (probably one dating to the 19th century), the mistaken idea that hunting is an unpleasant way to spend one’s time and an ineffective way to feed your family, it also presumes that hunting is prima facie immoral and the only reason it would be acceptable is if it is done out of dire need. I’m out of my depth, of course, but it seems to me that the conceptual distinction between “need” and “recreation” embodies discredited notions about labour, to say nothing about smuggled-in value-biases. But I ramble on so… 😉

    • Tovar says:

      I didn’t make the point in this post, Nathan, but I totally agree (and do make this argument in my book, particularly in response to Ortega y Gasset): The notion that “hunting that produces food” and “hunting that is appreciated/enjoyed” are separate categories is way off the mark.

  4. somsai says:

    I’d have to disagree with your friend Jim Tantillo,

    Every couple years I spend time with people who live in one of those places in the world where roads and cell phones don’t reach. They live what might be called a traditional lifestyle as their people have for generations uncounted, well actually they do count generations but that’s another story.

    The scientists tell me these folks get more than half their protein from the wild. They raise pig and chickens, grow rice and corn, but they hunt animals and forage for plants extensively. If the hunting is very bad or for a holiday they eat pig, Sometimes they spend 2 days driving the pig to town to sell. For every day living they eat what they shoot, (with black powder).

    I see them display many of the same emotions when they hunt as we do. The whoop of success, the fist pump, the quiet smile of the dad. Every male hunts from an early age, many hunt at least a few minutes every day, a quiet walk in the forest before sundown with the chance of dinner. They love to talk of the animals and the hunt. They keep the jaw, skull, fur or horns of significant animals and tie leaves to them and put them in the rafters of their houses. Why the trophies I don’t know.

    When I describe our game laws they mostly understand the idea of game management, any hunter can grasp the concept.

    I think we hunt because we always have and it’s as natural as life, it’s in every culture.

    • Tovar says:

      Good point, Somsai. That echoes Nathan’s thought above, and reminds me of what Richard Nelson once wrote about the Inupiaq in Wainwright, Alaska: They live to hunt as much as they hunt to live. Though they get a major portion of their food from hunting (i.e., it’s necessary for survival), they also find enjoyment and meaning in it. It’s not anything like involuntary “work.”

  5. I was in an online discussion on FB with a vegan who tried to make some of the anti-hunting arguments, and I was able to refute or defend successfully against all of them, thanks to you, Michael Pollan, et al; I still feel like it isn’t a sport for me, it’s a connection to the earth, and my youth with Dad. I go back in time, and remember the places we went, the animals we took, and see him in a much better light. Long gone now, but not forgotten. i am a different type of hunter than my father and grandfather, but I still remember the good old days.

  6. Eric Nuse says:

    Several years ago Orion-The Hunters’ Institute held a Think Tank to look specifically at what to call what many of us do with guns and bows in the fall in North America. We agreed that Sport is an accurate description of our hunting from a historic and philosophic view, but as you say Tovar it carries lots of baggage and misconception in the popular mind. Our bottom line was we should not use a modifier such as modern, sport, legal… the best term is straight hunting. The challenge is to get non-hunters to understand what hunting is and raise the behavior of some hunters to a level that makes us all proud to be identified as hunters.

    • Tovar says:

      That sounds right to me, Eric: Relegate “sport” to history and philosophy, and don’t use it otherwise.

      “The challenge is to get non-hunters to understand what hunting is and raise the behavior of some hunters to a level that makes us all proud to be identified as hunters.” Amen to that.

  7. Carol Eberhard says:

    Good post, Tovar, and good replies. I, too, dislike the term “sport hunting”. Hunting is something so much deeper. A pull from our cell’s memory. A oneness with the ebb and flow of life. A feeling “hunting with a shopping cart” can never give.

  8. Al Cambronne says:

    I agree that “Sport” is no longer quite the right word. I also agree, though, that we needn’t try so hard to separate “recreation” from “survival.” Hunting can be both.

    I think your gardening analogy is a good one. For my wife and I, gardening is a fun hobby—and yet more than a hobby. It feeds us. It’s true that if we took the same amount of time we spend on our garden and on canning and freezing, and instead spent that much more time at the office, maybe we could earn enough money to buy all that same produce at the grocery store. But maybe gardening is still a good investment of our time. And for others, especially in this economy, that might be even more true.

    No one’s forcing us to garden, and it is voluntary. Still, bit by bit, it becomes difficult to define what’s “necessary” and what’s “survival,” as opposed to mere “recreation.”

    If we think about hunting in a similar fashion, then it sounds like your friend Jim Tantillo sets the bar pretty high: “Hunting for survival, and everything else. If you can choose, then it doesn’t really count.” To me, that seems like a false dichotomy. As the saying goes, however, there are two types of people in this world—those who divide everyone into two types of people, and those who don’t.

    The wealthy trophy hunter who goes on safari and brings back only trophies? Not “survival.” Agreed. At the opposite extreme, there’s some Inuit guy, our pure ideal of the noble savage subsistence hunter. But he still “chooses.” If he truly wanted to, maybe even he could stop hunting and get a better job so it would be easier to buy meat at the store. Or he could apply for welfare, or move to Pittsburg. (And what if he also happens to actually enjoy hunting, like those Inupiaq Nelson writes about? Does that alone disqualify him?)

    And what about everyone else who’s in between those two extremes? I live out in the woods, but maybe not far enough for Jim. I haven’t bought any new rifles lately, and I consider the old ones fully amortized over several years and deers. Even calculating conservatively, a deer’s worth of venison could be valued at two to four hundred dollars. Plus, I didn’t have to first earn those dollars and pay taxes on them. So let’s add some further percentage.

    Admittedly, that’s not the only reason I hunt, and wouldn’t make much per hour. Still, I can rightfully claim my hunting is an economically productive activity. And to be honest, our budget is a little tight right now.

    But how impoverished must I be before I can claim “survival?” How far back in the woods must I live before my hunting is no longer “fundamentally a form of recreation?” (Is it OK if the road is paved, as long as my driveway isn’t?) And do I have to be really, really careful to not enjoy any part of it?

    If I leave the office early today so I can hunt, I will be glad to be leaving the office early. I may even have an enjoyable experience out in the woods. But I’ll also be hunting purposefully. If I’m successful, after I pull the trigger I’ll have to do a bunch of work. It will, however, be voluntary. (But not sport.)

    • Tovar says:

      Marvelous, Al. I should have had you write this post. But, then again, you’re busy writing your own book, which I’m really looking forward to.

      • Al Cambronne says:

        Aw, shucks. Sorry, I got a little carried away. Too many words, and at a time when I should indeed by working on something else. But maybe I somehow needed to work through those questions in my own mind. Interesting ideas to ponder…

  9. Good piece Tovar. Very interesting discussion. I’ll add one thing: read my posts on this at the O’fieldstream Journal.

    Start with *OFS Differs* (; follow links at bottom of each page for successive posts.

    I believe you may find a few ‘terms’ of value in your search for explanation. We REALLY need to have a seriously live-conversation. “. )

    Look forward to conversation …

  10. Sarah says:

    I’ve had this same conversation with many a hunter and non-hunter over the years and definitely agree wholeheartedly. Thank you Tovar.

  11. Erik Jensen says:

    Good post on the bankruptcy of the word. I think the question is, where do we go from here given the changed meaning of the word ? The broader public responds very well to “hunting for recreation and meat”, negatively to “sport hunting”. I have been calling it a pastime as a way to connect it to a lifestyle and outdoor values. I’m not sure if that works either, even though that’s the best I can come up with. As I mentioned to Tovar on facebook, hunting is now an activity that runs counter to the culture, based on that it has nothing to do with gaining status in a hyper-competitive world. This is especially true with kids since that is the most common reason they are in a sport…it doesn’t help you get into a good college to say you really know how to use a rifle and sit quiet for a long time in the cold woods !

  12. Jim Tantillo says:

    two quick points. (1) the “sport” issue is a bit more complicated than you let on, but Huizinga’s Homo Ludens and Allen Guttman’s From Ritual to Record (among others) can help with that, so I’ll leave that issue alone for now, although perhaps I can come back to it at some point later.

    More significantly, (2) to the extent that you are making a normative argument about terms that we “should” or “shouldn’t” use, it seems to me that your whole discussion rests on a kind of ad populum fallacy: i.e., because most people don’t like the word “sport,” therefore we shouldn’t use the term “sport.”

    Ad populum arguments are among the weakest arguments going. By parity of reasoning one might also conclude that because most people are racist, we shouldn’t fight racism. I’m just not sure the argument works.

    But as always, a thought-provoking post. I’m enjoying seeing what others have to say.


    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Jim.

      In response to your second point: That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that I don’t use the word “sport” to describe hunting, and I’m explaining why. I do not avoid it “because most people don’t like the word,” as you put it. I avoid it because the word utterly fails to convey what I want to convey.

      If I wanted to talk with North Americans about soccer but insisted on using the word “football” because I believed that was the right (British English) term for it, a lot of confusion would result. It’s not that people don’t like the word “football.” It’s that “football” doesn’t mean soccer to them. Obviously, the sport and hunting conversation is a lot more complicated than that.

    • This reminds me of what the Sons of Confederate Veterans used to say all the time when I was covering them in Virginia more than a decade ago. They wanted a special state license plate (everyone and his mother has a special plate in Virginia) with what amounted to their logo: the Confederate flag. The black caucus in particular objected, because it’s also a popular symbol among racists. SCV argued that the flag had been co-opted by the forces of racism, which was not their fault, and they shouldn’t be punished for it. This may have been 100 percent correct, but it did not change the fact that many, many, many, many people see Confederate flag stickers and patches and assume they’re looking at a proud declaration of racism. Who’s right in this debate, the SCV or the black caucus?

      Meanings change, or in the case of “sport hunting,” meanings are lost. Insisting on using a largely misunderstood term may be historically justified, but in this case, also extremely counterproductive. To all who want to use the term sport, that’s fine as long as you don’t call what I do “sport.” I prefer “diet.”

  13. Jim Tantillo says:

    There’s a meat-centered bias to much of Tovar’s treatment of the topic, here, and elsewhere on the blog. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. But in my view it means he risks generalizing from deer hunting to hunting in general. Much of what holds for deer hunting does not apply to fox hunting, say, or to hunting mountain lions with hounds, to hunting raccoons with hounds, to varmint shooting for coyotes, woodchucks, prairie dogs, and the like (bracketing off moral concerns about varmint shooting for the moment). And if fishing is hunting for fish, catch-and-release fishing is problematic. In addition, market-driven pheasant hunting in Britain (e.g. tower shoots) tends not to result in the personal consumption of the pheasant meat shot by the hunter but instead to its sale to others. African safaris likewise often result in the meat from the kill being sold and/or otherwise distributed to “locals,” and the mounted head being shipped back to the hunter a year or two later.

    Shawn Riley, who was Montana’s big game biologist for many years, told me once that mountain lion hunting is a good example: often a hunter being led by a guide will kill a mountain lion the first hunting trip he/she makes. Then, a year later when the hunter returns to do it again, the same hunter will get to the point of having a treed lion and then decide not to pull the trigger, realizing that it’s the “hound music” that’s the real attraction, and not the kill. Shawn tells me that it was the closest thing to “catch and release hunting” that he has ever seen.

    I love what Tovar writes about as the mindful carnivore. I just don’t think that much of it applies to other, equally compelling forms of hunting. And again, that’s not a criticism, just an observation. Your mileage may vary.

    • Tovar says:

      You’re right on the money there, Jim. I write about the hunting I do, where food is the central aim. Personally, I’m not at all compelled by the other kinds of hunting you mention, so I don’t generally write about them. Others, of course, may be so compelled and may be more inclined to call their hunting “sport.”

      As you point out, hunting isn’t any one thing. As I said in the post, I don’t think there is any one label that applies to all hunting, except “hunting.”

      I agree with what Eric said above in mentioning Orion: a major challenge is “to get non-hunters to understand what hunting is.” For me, “sport” hinders that effort.

    • I think catch-and-release fishing IS problematic (except for throwing back undersized fish, or protected fish). To me, it’s no different than tasing ducks for kicks.

      Here’s the thing: Sport hunting is a term that arose to distinguish one type of hunting from market or hunting, which had a bad name (rightfully so). Market hunting is no longer allowed, so why do we still need the term “sport”? Moreover, if it was acceptable to adopt a new label 100+ years ago to rehabilitate the image of hunting, why is it not acceptable now?

      I’m with Tovar – just “hunting” would be fine. If it’s legal, it’s hunting (even if I find it distasteful). If it’s not legal, it’s poaching.

      And Erik, where do you get your stats? I’ve seen one stat that said 95% of hunters eat what they kill, but I was suspicious. The number is pretty close to what I’ve seen among hunters I’ve met, but that doesn’t seem to take into account “varmint” hunting.

      • Erik Jensen says:

        Holly, you are correct in questioning my numbers, it was a little bit of pulling a number out of a hat based on reading the same studies you have, as well as one done in Sweden on the hunting culture as well public attitudes towards it, and having direct connections to Nordic hunting culture. Being involved in in hunting my whole life, my experience is the same as yours, the 95% consumption of what they kill is probably accurate, but that has been considered “desirable” game. You bring up a good point about the “varmint hunting”… That might throw the numbers off. I know so few people that do it, I can’t say, and I don’t know if that’s a reflection of who I know or the hunting population at large.

        • Just catching up, here, trying to see what I missed in lost notifications. Just to be clear, I wasn’t questioning your numbers. I’m just looking for more sources on it. I’ve only seen it referenced in one study.

  14. Erik Jensen says:

    Jim’s points are correct that there is a “meat” bias in this blog, but frankly, that is at least 80% of hunters in the U.S. and most of the other rich nations where there is significant hunting participiation – Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and maybe some others. I think the points about cougar hunting, etc., are well taken, but a little technical. The fundamental fact of the matter is that most “Joe hunter” types, regardless of broader world views, frown on hunting culture where the consumption of the meat, or the sharing of the meat with others, is not a big part of the experience or motivation, even if it is not the only one.

  15. Jim Tantillo says:

    Holly wrote:
    “Here’s the thing: Sport hunting is a term that arose to distinguish one type of hunting from market or hunting, which had a bad name (rightfully so). Market hunting is no longer allowed, so why do we still need the term “sport”? Moreover, if it was acceptable to adopt a new label 100+ years ago to rehabilitate the image of hunting, why is it not acceptable now?”

    This is simply wrong, historically. The ancient Greeks hunted for recreation and had a concept of “sport” that went along with it. Sport is where the rules of “fair” chase come from. Greek hunters were critical of later Roman hunters who hunted in so-called “Oriental fashion,” i.e., from elevated platforms, simply waiting to sluice animals as they were driven past the platform. This offended the Greek sensibilities of what was fair/unfair.

    Fast forward to the middle ages, and you see fair chase developed in mature form and associated with honor and chivalric behavior generally. Again, hunting as a highly ritualized activity with arbitrary rules designed to restrict the hunter’s advantage–as opposed to poaching with crossbows, sluicing animals in mud wallows or water, etc.–basically is present in virtually all aspects by the 12th or 13th century. It is simply an anti-historical, Americanist misreading of history to insist that sport hunting arose to distinguish it from market hunting. That story is simply incorrect, historically.

    Without understanding WHY hunting is a sport–regardless if we all simply choose not to use ‘sport’ as a modifier–one cannot really understand where fair chase comes from and why fair chase matters. If hunting is simply about food, then employing the most efficient means possible to put meat in the pot would generally be justified (the end would justify the means).

    In contrast, if the desired end is the activity of hunting itself, i.e., if hunting is a “game” to be enjoyed, then the rules of fair chase are far more intelligible.

    • Tovar says:

      Good points, Jim. American hunters’ use of the term “sport” in the 19th century — like the concept of “fair chase” — definitely wasn’t new.

    • Al Cambronne says:

      Some interesting points, Jim, about the connections between “sport” and “fair chase.” Since you seem to have really studied the history of hunting, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about what seems to be a pattern related to sport, fair chase, class, historical precedent, and what you’ve described as our occasional “meat bias” when discussing such things.

      Here’s what I’m thinking: The degree to which hunters follow artificial and ritualized rules and conventions of fair chase seems almost inversely proportionate to the utility of the hunt and the amount of meat found on the quarry.

      Here’s an example: Although there are plenty of us proletariat partridge hunters, upland game is quite often pursued by wealthy hunters wielding shotguns that cost more than most new cars. (There may be some angling parallels with flyfishing for trout.) Things are to be done a certain way, and shooting birds on the ground is not the done thing. I suspect many of those same hunters never pursue deer or elk, unless in the context of trophy hunting. Quail are delicious, but…

      What’s up with that, and how did we get there???

      • Tovar says:

        Interesting thoughts, Al.

        I think it’s worth noting that “hunting as sport” is an agricultural notion. By that I mean that it emerged out of agrarian societies, where people (especially nobles) did not need to hunt for food.

        Though I didn’t get into it in this post, “sport” is a shortened form of “disport.” (I was just writing about this in the book, and corresponding with another hunter about it.) Trace that word back to Old French and you find the verb “desporter” — to amuse oneself, to divert oneself, to carry one’s mind away from the serious business of living, growing crops, running the manor house with all those troublesome peasants underfoot, etc. So, even back in the Middle Ages, “sport” indicated the fact that this hunting was NOT a serious matter of food, let alone survival. It was NOT the hunting of a hunter-gatherer society.

        • Nathan says:

          I think you’re right on the money here, Tovar. The agrarian context virtually forces us to distinguish sharply between productive labour and activities of ‘distraction,’ whereas the taskscape of foraging encourages no such division. (The binaries of agrarian thought are so entrenched in our form of rationality that ‘civilization’ has a desperately hard time making sense of foraging.) I just read Colin Tudge’s very short (and sometimes mistaken) book on “How Agriculture Really Began” (Darwinism Today series, Yale UP), and he makes the point that hunting was not undertaken by foragers with an attitude of ‘dire necessity’ — rather, *agriculture* was adopted out of dire necessity. He argues that populations of hunters tend to be “laid-back” or even “lazy” — a term with perjoration deriving from the perspective of farming peoples (cf. the term ‘savage’) whose entire worldview is informed by their (socially constructed) need to maximize output or die. So within an agrarian context, I can see how hunting can be usually associated with ‘time-off’ (thence it’s usual relegation to [or regulated for] the aristocracy), and so Jim’s position at least makes sense therein. And while his examples about Greek, Roman and medieval views of hunting as sport are well-taken, it’s important to hold them in the larger context of pre-agricultural approaches to hunting. I think Jim’s claim that “If hunting is simply about food, then employing the most efficient means possible to put meat in the pot would generally be justified (the end would justify the means)” can only make sense within an agrarian context. Foragers whose hunting allows for a laid-back lifestyle wouldn’t have the need to approach their subsistence activities with an ‘ends justify the means’ attitude, to say nothing of the ritualistic/religious circumscriptions that surely accompanied the practice. What’s fascinating to me is the possibility that your so-called “meat bias” might actually involve the relocation of contemporary hunting practice outside the agrarian binaries we’ve been operating with for so long! 🙂

          • Tovar says:

            Very interesting, Nathan.

            Ted Kerasote deserves credit for drawing my attention to the agrarian context of hunting as “sport.” In Bloodties, though he doesn’t delve deeply into the term itself, he does explore the question of agriculture and what it means for humans and for hunting.

    • Jim: The fact that my history was flawed doesn’t change my arguments. I think the term “sport” does far more harm than good NOW, and that is a real problem. The whiff condescension in its history does little to rehabilitate the term for me.

      And for me, hunting is most certainly not a game. I do not hunt just to hunt; I hunt with the hope I will bring home some meat, with the understanding that I am likely to fail more often than I succeed. I don’t think I’m alone: I think a quick poll of hunters would reveal that if we knew we’d be unsuccessful every time we hunt, most of us would not hunt.

      So, in my first response to your first comment, I asked who’s right: Sons of Confederate Veterans or the black caucus? What say you?

  16. dadaDan says:

    What would Hemingway think? He would likely agree with most of what you’ve written, but still accept an element of sport to the hunt. Given the opportunity for the development of technique and skill, and the fact that none of us are subsistence hunters, it is very much a choice. You might not identify as having fun while hunting, but you definitely feel an enjoyment.

    A few times you mention that you wouldn’t describe hunting in a certain way to avoid having others view you in a negative light. The things you mention in terms of connection to your environment and to nature and to self are similar to what many athletes would describe as their connection to their respective sport. Maybe hunting is soulful and also the elemental true sport.

    Anyways, Hemingway liked bullfighting because it was the only way to understand violent death in a pure form devoid of extra context. He didn’t call hunting a sport though. But it certainly is a pastime.

    • Tovar says:

      Interesting thoughts, Dan. When I posed this question on Facebook (about people’s sense of what “sport” means in connection to hunting), one non-hunting, mountain-climbing friend mentioned an assertion by Hemingway that “there are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” Hmmmm.

  17. Tovar and commentators, nice foray into the vagaries of linguistics. The meanings of words do change, legitimately, and purely through promotion. Witness Michelle Bachman’s redefinition of “submission” to mean “respect for my husband”! But, historical use and etymological origins are worth examining. I prefer “re-creation” as the meaning of recreation, in contrast to modern usage where it can mean something as trivial as water skiing. Re-creating what? Exactly the point; does hunting re-create something of evolutionary significance? If so, is this genetically coded, or, derived from culture? What does water skiing re-create? Is “re-creation” inclusive of “catch-and-release” fishing? Ortega y Gasset may be excused from a mischaracterization of “sport” simply by examining the origins of the essay he wrote for a friend, but each of us would do well to consider carefully, not only the context of the words we use, but their historical emergence into the modern lexicon.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for chiming in, George. I, too, like “re-create.” If most people heard “recreation” that way, I’d certainly use the word differently, and perhaps more often.

      Along those lines, another hunting philosophy professor, Lawrence Cahoone, argues in his article “Hunting as a Moral Good” (Environmental Values, vol. 18, no. 1, 2009, pp. 67-89) that “hunting is not a sport, but a neo-traditional cultural trophic practice.”

  18. ingrid says:

    For the record, I read almost all of Hemingway’s novels, and always disagreed with him on bullfighting. I’m not sure he’s an exemplar when it comes to defining “sport” unless one wants to manipulate constructs for self-aggrandizing and self-destructive purposes. [:-)

    • Tovar says:

      I’m not sure I’ve ever held up Hemingway as an exemplar when it comes to defining anything. Heck of a writer, though. 😉

  19. Arthur says:


    I couldn’t agree with you more, my friend. It definitely isn’t a sport – it’s many different things, but a sport it is not.

  20. Michelle says:

    Wow – what a great post and comments! I didn’t realize this would hit close to home for so many people. It is similar to the “harvest” versus “kill” discussions. Same passion on both sides.
    Anyway, I NEVER use the word “sport” in reference to hunting in press releases or verbally. For the same reasons you don’t, Tovar. I thought it was just me that felt this way. But now I see I was really on the right path to steering the network in this direction.

    I also don’t allow the words “kill” or “weapon” in my releases.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Michelle. I think it hits home for a lot of people, especially anyone who grew up as a non-hunter.

      I do use “kill,” since people know exactly what I mean and it feels honest to me; sometimes I also use “take,” but I never use “harvest.” I’m on the fence about “weapon”; sometimes it seems appropriate (especially when I want to refer to firearms and bows at the same time), but I dislike the link to inter-human conflict, the suggestion of warfare.

  21. Joe Camacho says:

    I enjoyed your post! It made me stop and examine my approach on how I pass the hunting tradition to my son. My father taught me well a love of the outdoors. He taught me that in our “recreation ” we must have a sincere respect for all creatures. The principle behind your post is the very hope of understanding I can pass to my son. Great job, thank you.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Joe. I’m glad the post was helpful. “A sincere respect for all creatures” is the kind of thing I like to hear.

      • ingrid says:

        “A sincere respect for all creatures” is the kind of thing I like to hear.

        Me, too. But even more, I’d like to see it. I don’t see it often enough.

        One thing I will add to this discussion as a non-hunter. The change of a word would make not one iota of difference to someone like me. I see enough “sport” out there in the field of hunting, that changing the language surrounding hunting would do little to change my experience of hunting. In fact, changing the word without a commensurate effort to elevate hunting behavior, would seem disingenuous to me. It seems like the best way to ensure that non-hunters don’t view hunting as “sport” is to challenge those practices that make it look a helluva lot like sport. Many of you do defy the negative paradigm — all of you here, I would venture. But I would argue that whatever you call the practice of hunting is far less important than how you practice it.

  22. Jim Tantillo says:

    Al wrote:
    “Here’s what I’m thinking: The degree to which hunters follow artificial and ritualized rules and conventions of fair chase seems almost inversely proportionate to the utility of the hunt and the amount of meat found on the quarry. ”

    This is where the philosophy of play and games matters. Philosopher Bernard Suits is one of the leading theorists in this area, and his book The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia is one of the better systemic treatments for the questions, what makes a game a game? and indirectly, what is play?

    For Suits, game playing essentially involves the intentional selection of inefficient means, and one’s intent in game playing (as in hunting) matters morally and practically–one does not “play golf” by simply picking the ball up in one’s hand and dropping it into the cup on the green, even though putting the ball in the cup is the goal in golf. One must restrict oneself by using the appropriate golf clubs. In soccer, you could pick the ball up with your hands and place it in the net, but in doing so, you have not played soccer. The rules of games limit what you can do and how you do it. For Suits, “playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” Hunting is not shooting a bazooka at a cow through a barbed-wire fence. Hunting is the intentional limiting of one’s advantages over the prey animal—the “unnecessary obstacles” that Suits refers to are to a large degree, self-imposed.

    For a nice discussion of Suits’s relevance, see Tom Hurka’s interview about Suits’s The Grasshopper.

    • Al Cambronne says:

      Your golf comparison is an apt one, and reminds me of that Mark Twain (?) quote about golf being “a good walk spoiled.” Although I hope to never describe my grouse hunting that way, it’s always far more walking than shooting. Many, many miles per bird downed. Definitely more calories out than in. For me, at least, it would not be a good way to live off the land.

      Hmmm… Maybe there’s a bestselling new diet book in there somewhere. I could call it the “all the grouse you can eat”* diet. So admittedly, this is one type of hunting that would fall under the category of “Not Survival.”

      *But you yourself must find and shoot them first. Plus, you can’t eat anything else with them. It’s not the main course. It’s the meal. Baked only, not fried. And no breading allowed.

    • Jim, regarding this comment: “Hunting is the intentional limiting of one’s advantages over the prey animal—the ‘unnecessary obstacles’ that Suits refers to are to a large degree, self-imposed.”

      While there is a subset of hunters that enjoys adding unnecessary obstacles to hunting, I don’t think you can apply that definition to all lawful hunting in America, just as I can’t say all hunters in America hunt for meat.

      For starters, many of the obstacles are NECESSARY for conservation – not just the bag limits, but methods of take that make hunting more difficult, thereby limiting our potential take.

      While I love dove hunting with a shotgun – so challenging! – I would happily trap them rather than shoot them to avoid getting all that shot in my meat, wounding, etc. But regulators recognize that trapping doves is WAY too efficient, so it’s off the table. (Though, clearly, they were not in my front yard this summer, watching those little buggers refuse to enter my traps.)

      As for unnecessary obstacles being self-imposed, I think that varies widely among hunters. I do inflict some obstacles on myself: I am no longer interested in hunting planted birds, and I’m not interested in hunting inside a fenced enclosure of any size. But these limits are a function of wanting to test my skills (I’m new to this, and constantly trying to improve) and prolonging my enjoyment of the hunt. I love getting my limit of ducks in 90 minutes once in a while, but I’m always a little sad to leave the field that early.

      More importantly, I don’t give a damn if other hunters follow my personal “rules” because it’s not a game, and I recognize that the choices I make after first following the laws are solely a matter of personal preference.

      And success still matters to me, a lot. For example, I have a choice this fall: I could go deer hunting three hours away from home in the Mendocino National Forest, where I could camp out for three days surrounded by other hunters and never see a legal buck, or I can drive 45 minutes to a friend’s ranchette where they see big bucks all the time, and have an excellent chance of bagging one. I’m going to do the latter. I’d love to do the challenging thing, but I’m trying to conserve my cash (being an untenured plebe at my university, I always have to be concerned about job security), and I want to put a deer in the freezer.

      Clearly, hunting for you is “sport” according to your definitions, and if you want to call your hunting sport, despite the negative connotations, that’s your business. But hunting for me is not sport, neither by your reasoned definitions nor by the general public’s understanding of the term, so I will continue to reject that label.

  23. Joshua says:

    Good post, Tovar. I’ve written my own on this, after having read Holly’s and then Phillip’s posts. I almost agree with you here, except that I consider some hunting ‘recreation’, because it includes activities that are relaxing and enjoyable. However, in the Venn diagram, it definitely saddles that and other endeavours (food-gathering, spirituality, etc.). I don’t consider it “sport” in the common definition of today.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Joshua.

      To be clear, I’m not saying that there’s nothing enjoyable about hunting. Not at all. I’m saying that words like “sport” and “recreation” are, for me, terribly inadequate when it comes to describing my experience of hunting.

  24. I have never understood fellow hunters calling the act of obtaining meat from the land as a sport. Why do we have to compete over everything……I killed a bigger buck than you….I tagged out before you. I just don’t get it. Next we will be calling farming a sport….hold on we already have contests for biggest pumpkin. Your pal the Envirocapitalist

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Gabe. Good to see you around these parts again.

      You’re right on the money. The idea and language of hunting as “sport” is NOT about “obtaining meat the land,” as you put it. As a couple of folks mentioned above, those ideas and words came out of places in Europe and the Mediterranean where meat/food was no longer the central focus of hunting.

  25. Ironically many sports have their origins in hunting, as noted by Douglas Caroll. The concept of ‘the ball as prey’ is telling. The heart of many modern sports is in the historic training games designed to prepare young men to hunt.

    I am uneasy with the term ‘sport’ hunting too but think many hunters who are knee – jerk opposed to it make a weak argument at times. Utilitarian hunters claim its ‘just about the meat’ but I have yet to meet a hunter who doesn’t revel in the thrill of the chase. This thrill may have its origins in the elation of a successful hunt from a survival perspective but I would argue there is a element of ‘game playing’ involved. If there wasn’t it would be better guarateed and no-doubt less costly to raise a pig and some birds, or buy them from an ethical producer. Hunting is serious undertaking, loaded with responsibility but I would be lying if I denied any aspect of ‘sport’ (i.e. the joy of strategy and tactic). Its the one reason I can have a good day hunting that enjoys no material success (other reasons are legion, including the time spent in outdoors, learning more about ecology etc). The conflation of hunting with the characteristics of casual sports like a wednesday evening ultimate-frisbee league is flawed, yes, and offensive in light of it sullying the reverence we should have for our prey.

    • Tovar says:

      I agree with much of what you say, Brian. As a number of folks have noted here and elsewhere, subsistence hunters also enjoy the hunt. I think the division between “utilitarian” hunting and “non-utilitarian” hunting (often called “sport,” “recreation,” etc) is an illusion. Part of problem I have with “sport” is that it reinforces that illusion.

  26. I aggree. As Jim also pointed out, sport and hunting are not fundamentally at odds and don’t need to be anathema. It is however a very strong cultural construct that we unfortunately need to deal with in hunting discourse.

  27. Tovar says:

    After this post went up, Holly put up the post she mentioned above. Then Phillip put up a post responding to (and disagreeing strongly with) both Holly and me; the comment function on his blog was not working, however, so discussion did not ensue. Then Joshua put up a response over at Enviroethics. Finally, Phillip wrote a follow-up post and the comment function started working on his blog.

    I hadn’t planned on responding to Phillip’s post, as he and I have been over this terrain before. But Josh’s post alerted me to the fact that my post may have been misinterpreted by some readers. To remedy and perhaps forestall such misinterpretation, here is the bulk of my reply to Phillip:

    In writing my post, I was not out to make the case that certain kinds of hunting are wrong, or to launch some kind of holier-than-thou crusade.

    I was not, for instance, out to attack trophy hunting. True, I don’t like the idea of trophy-only hunting, where animals are killed for that reason only. (I don’t think too many hunters hunt that way.) I have a number of friends who admire antlers and refuse to shoot antlerless deer, yet also enjoy and make good use of venison. My relationship with hunting is different from theirs, but are they “trophy hunters”? I don’t know, and I don’t bother trying to pigeon-hole them. I consider them to be fine and ethical hunters. I’m not attacking what they do.

    I was simply out to illustrate why I don’t use the term “sport”—namely because it invokes such a wide and confusing range of meanings for people (including me). None of those meanings accurately describe my hunting. And even if one or two of them did, I would never know whether those were the meanings getting through to the people who hear or read what I say and write.

    As I mentioned in the post, I don’t waste time trying to convince others not to use the word “sport.” I know plenty of hunters who use it. Their use of it further illustrates my point: When I hear them use the word, I only know what they mean because of context or because of knowing them as people. If I know what they mean, it’s in spite of the word, not because of it.

    I don’t have time to get into a lengthier discussion of these issues, or of your characterization of my post. Suffice it to say:

    1. I, too, stand by what I wrote. If you truly hear my words as “intellectually dishonest,” then I suspect that is rooted in our very different relationships with hunting. For you, hunting may be “no different than golf…except that hunters sometimes kill things.” For me, it’s not.

    2. My writing style (discussing my perspective on hunting, language, etc) is intended to voice what is true for me. It is not intended—as you characterized it—to set me apart as the “good guy” in contrast to all other hunters.

    3. I don’t think that my post or my avoidance of “sport” perpetuates stereotypes. I find that talking with non-hunters about why I hunt and about what hunting means to me is a good way help them understand hunting better. My perception is that using the word “sport”—especially in those conversations with non-hunters—serves to reinforce stereotypes.

  28. Dave Proulx says:

    Hi Tovar,

    I”ve been lurking for the past few days reading up. Great topic.

    I agree with Brian’s post above. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t get a great deal of satisfaction from the thrill of the chase, the strategy and tactics, and camaraderie of hunting. I have a lot of fun while setting decoys, blowing duck and goose calls, following a dog, building blinds and paddling through a marsh at dawn. With that said, hunting is also a serious pursuit that puts a significant responsibility on participants, so the term “sport” seems like a very inadequate way to describe it. To me, hunting is a lifestyle, much more than just a sport.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Dave. I think your description of the hunting experience (enjoying many aspects of the hunt, but also feeling that it is deeply serious) resonate for many hunters. One task before us as hunters, I think, is to convey that experience to non-hunters, with all its variations and nuances intact.

      (An aside: In terms of enjoying the hunt, I’m probably something of an oddball, given my dietary journey and the perspective with which I came to hunting. Though I enjoy tracking, stalking, and such, I’ve also spent a fair amount of uncomfortable time hunting: feeling conflicted about the hunt, freezing my butt off, etc!)

  29. Jim Tantillo says:

    sorry to be absent the past few days.

    One of the diagrams I’ve always found helpful for considering some of the relations between terms we use (including play, games, contests, sports) comes from Allen Guttmann’s From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports.

    Portions of Guttman’s book are available on google books, including Chapter 1, “Play, Games, Contests, Sports.”

    The diagram can be found on page 9 of Guttmann’s chapter, I’ve also scanned it and provided a link to the scan on Flickr:

    for what it’s worth. the diagram might be helpful for clarifying some of the terms that have come up in this discussion.

  30. Jim Tantillo says:

    I might add for the benefit of those troubled by the “trivializing” connotations of play/games/contests/sports, one of the greatest meditations on play and leisure continues to be Josef Pieper’s little book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture. Pieper’s book deserves to be better known than it is.

    In fact, there is an entire theological literature on the sacred aspects of play, ranging from Jurgen Moltamann’s classic Theology of Play to Romano Guardini’s “The Liturgy as Play,” which can be found online at

    I am convinced that in many of these discussions, folks simply misunderstand the fundamentally sacred or spiritual nature of play.

    • Tovar says:

      I think that ideas about “deep play” and “the sacred aspects of play” are fascinating, Jim, and I’m happy to discuss them with someone like you.

      But in general discussions and writings about hunting, I’m definitely not going to use words like “play,” “recreation,” “game,” or “sport.” As you, Eric, and others at Orion recognize, our common understandings of such terms make them hazardous pitfalls in public discourse. And I don’t think that’s going to change. No matter how well-founded your assertions, those words will continue to carry the “trivializing connotations” you mention.

      • Jim Tantillo says:

        Tovar wrote, “But in general discussions and writings about hunting, I’m definitely not going to use words like ‘play,’ ‘recreation,’ ‘game,’ or ‘sport.'”

        Frankly Tovar, I don’t really care what terms you use in general conversation. In polite company I don’t even talk about hunting.

        But like it or not, you are part of the hunting intelligentsia now, with blog followers and a book coming out. The collective quality of our thinking about hunting matters a great deal to me, and to the extent that bad arguments may also potentially undermine society’s understanding of hunting, that also concerns me.

        I think Phillip gets it exactly right when he says, “It’s not the word ‘sport’, nor even is it the word ‘hunt’ that gives certain people pause and drives their distaste for what we do. It’s what happens when we hunt. It’s the killing. And because we don’t HAVE to kill, because we do so as a recreational pursuit, that makes it unacceptable to them. Managing our lexicon to deny the sporting aspect of the hunt doesn’t change that fact. It only obscures it . . . poorly.”

        That’s the truth about hunting. We kill, and we do so voluntarily—we do so recreationally. Only 7 percent of Americans hunt. We elect to participate in an activity that’s optional. We do that because we enjoy the activity, and not because we have to do it. To deny this fundamental reality about hunting is deceptive, if not intellectually dishonest, as Phillip also (correctly) observes:

        “That’s why I call it intellectually dishonest. I’m not calling any individual dishonest… I’m not saying you’re a liar when you refuse to call it ‘sport hunting’. None of this was ever meant to be personal.”

        Anti-hunters are quick to pick up on the deception, and as Phillip also correctly observes, well-intentioned hunters are complicit in the deception when they fall back on the defense of “I am not a sport hunter”:

        “The bigger issue . . . is the acceptance of myth as fact. The misappropriated term ‘sport hunter’ has created a negative image that represents a true minority of hunters. It has built up a carefully constructed mythology with just enough truth to convince the ignorant. If there is a desire to promote hunters and hunting, then it’s necessary to bust this myth . . . not to disassociate oneself from the mythical society. It’s not enough to say ‘I am not a sport hunter.’ That only perpetuates the myth, and in the long run it only draws a deeper divide between hunters, particularly in the eyes of non-hunters.”

        I think Phillip is dead right about this. Just because the words “sport” or “play” have negative connotations for ignorant people is no reason to mask the reality of hunting, or as Phillip says, to perpetuate a myth. The sooner hunters are more honest about their activity, the better off we’ll all be.

        • Tovar says:

          Jim: Perhaps you and Phillip are content to boil it down to “we hunt because we enjoy the activity” and “we kill recreationally.” Perhaps that seems like an accurate, if not complete, description of your hunting experience. To you, perhaps that seems like an important place to start (or end) conversations with non-hunters.

          I am not content to boil it down to those statements. Though there are some aspects of hunting I enjoy (killing not among them), those do not seem like accurate or anywhere near complete descriptions of my hunting experience. To me, those do not seem like important places to start conversations.

        • “In polite company I don’t even talk about hunting.”


          So that puts hunting at the same level as, what, flatulence, in terms of propriety?

          To both Jim and Phillip, I say that disagreement does not constitute intellectual dishonesty.

          You really need to consider that not everyone shares your view of, and motivations for, hunting. It would be nice if we were all on the same page about what we do, but clearly, we are not.

          As for me, I hunt for food, and I hunt because I love hunting. I won’t hunt what I won’t eat, and if I didn’t love hunting, I wouldn’t do it just for the meat. I do not hunt as pure recreation, nor do I hunt to for the pleasure of following ancient rules or codes. (Especially not for that. I loathe the stench of elitism.)

          I really don’t care if those are your motivations, but they are not mine, and that does not make me a liar. Nor does conceding that the term “sport” as it relates to hunting is broadly misconstrued, not just by undereducated rabble, but by most Americans.

          I agree that we need to change Americans’ knowledge about and perceptions of hunting, but I don’t believe clinging to a term whose meaning has clearly changed is the best way to do that.

          • Jim Tantillo says:

            “So that puts hunting at the same level as, what, flatulence, in terms of propriety?”

            That’s the most honest statement to date. I don’t care for the term “fart,” but it smells just as bad when I pass gas. Denying that it is a fart doesn’t make it smell any better.

            Again, to be clear: If, and ONLY if (iff as the philosophers say) one hunts for pleasure/fun/enjoyment/delight/recreation etc etc etc etc etc, THEN hunting is essentially and fundamentally a form of play. I don’t care if you call it “play” or your “sacred religion,” it is still a fart . . . er, I mean, “play.”

            After that, the logical relations between play, game, contest, and sport take over. Again, whether you call it a game fart, a contest fart, or a sport fart. It is the logical relations that matter and that are necessarily entailed.

            A game is structured play with rules; rules “constitute” the game. The rules make the activity what it is, whether the activity is golf, bowling, tiddly winks, or hunting. Unless you are advocating hunting with NO RULES (which I don’t think anyone is), hunting is a rules-constituted form of play. I don’t care what you call it.

            Competitive games are contests, period. That follows from the logical relations between concepts–not your personal like or dislike of the term. If you match wits with animals in hunting (just like matching wits with an opponent in a board game), then the contest-element is necessarily there, what the Greeks referred to as agon. Again, I don’t care what you call it, but the agonistic element is present in hunting whether you like it or not. And if the agonistic element is NOT present, by any chance, then odds are, you’re not hunting–you’re probably shooting that bazooka of yours through a barbed wire fence at a cow.

            The “contest” element of games, by the way, is what anti-hunters most frequently seize upon to criticize hunting. “Hunting bears over bait is not fair.” “Hunting lions with hounds is not fair.” The very ESSENCE of of the idea of fairness in hunting stems from, and is a direct result of, the absolutely essential contest-aspect of the hunt.

            And sports are physical contests. Again, whether you like it or not, that relation is logically entailed by all that precedes. And again, I don’t care whether you call it sport or not. But I think it matters a great deal in terms of (a) understanding what hunting is, and (b) explaining hunting to others, in order to (c) sometimes try to defend hunting to others.

            Okay. I’ve probably said enough. I didn’t ask for this conversation; like Phillip, I feel obligated to respond/participate in part because I was named by name in Tovar’s original post and in part because I truly think these distinctions matter. But it is difficult to have these conversations when folks seem to take things so personally and appear to feel as if an analysis of their arguments is somehow a criticism of them. As Phillip said, none of this is personal.

            • Nathan says:

              Jim, don’t you think that perhaps the very concepts you’re using should be subject to critique? The logical entailments are what they are only *given* those definitions of the concepts, but those definitions do not simply descend from the Platonic realm of Forms or any of the footnotes thereto. They may (indeed can) only work in certain contexts and not in others, and they certainly carry with them (as you seem to have suggested earlier) historical baggage. I’d suspect this about Josef Pieper’s conception of “culture” (a term which almost invariably tends to assume itself to be equivalent with “civilization” — highly-stratified, dense, sedentary and agriculturally-based culture) and I’m increasingly convinced that the notion of “necessity” at use in the hunting debate unconsciously privileges agriculture: nobody wants to say that I eat beef for sport because the rest of my red meat comes from hunted deer, but it follows by the same logic implicit in ‘x hunts for sport because they could just as well get their meat from Old MacDonald’s farm.’ My sense is that what’s needed here is a hermeneutic turn in the philosophy of sport that precedes the conceptual analysis of sport, and that might be what Kevin is getting at when he says “though my physical survival may not depend on the activity, that is not a criteria that I use to determine whether something is an essential and sacred activity in my life. That criteria is an artificial construct born of the world of separation from nature, a separation that I strive to heal as much as I can for myself, through hunting and its attendant activities of ceremony and prayer.” The necessity or recreational nature of sport hunting must be understood, at the very least, as a contingent social construction [at the risk of introducing other highly controversial terminology]. The grand philosophical conundrum of hunting (I think) is that the more we think about it, the more the categories of deeply-entrenched agrarian thought become problematic and even inadequate for understanding it. Deconstruction (loosely defined) is likely to be more apropos to the task than the standard (and all-too-often, ahistorical) methods of analytic philosophy. Philosophy may have started with the Greeks, but to think hunting we have to precede them [said at the risk of trying too hard to be pithy].

            • Tovar says:

              Jim, I think the disagreements here go deeper than language or personal offenses.

              I believe that many of us understand your basic argument, which I might oversimplify as:

              1. Virtually all modern hunters hunt and kill voluntarily (and this is what bothers many non-hunters).
              2. Modern hunting is bound by various rules (some of them codified as laws, some of them with long histories).
              3. Because modern hunting is voluntary, it is done for enjoyment and is fundamentally and essentially a form of recreation.
              4. Because modern hunting is both a form of recreation and bound by various rules, it is fundamentally and essentially a kind of game.
              5. This is the one right way to understand (and explain and defend) modern hunting.

              Points 1 and 2: I think everyone agrees on these.

              Point 3: Here, we disagree.

              Gardening, or putting in sweat equity at a local CSA farm, is also voluntary. Instead, one could just fork over a few extra dollars at farm or grocery store. Perhaps some people work the soil for amusement, but many do it to feel deeply and directly involved with their food sources. Perhaps certain aspects of the food-growing experience are enjoyed, but that doesn’t make all food-growing recreational.

              Going to church is voluntary. Perhaps some people go for amusement, but many go for a sense of communion and community. Perhaps certain aspects of the church-going experience are enjoyed, but going to church is not something that many people do as a form of recreation (at least not as the word is normally used).

              Serving as a hospice volunteer is voluntary. Perhaps some parts of the experience (the relationships formed, etc) are enjoyed. Perhaps the experience is rewarding. Perhaps the encounter with the basic realities of life and death is enlightening and deeply grounding. But it isn’t recreation.

              Point 4: Here, we disagree again.

              Someone could argue that modern hunting is like growing vegetables—that it is essentially, fundamentally, and originally a way of obtaining food. Someone could argue that modern hunting, as a particular way of obtaining food, is essentially and fundamentally a way of reconnecting to and celebrating our pre-agrarian heritage. One could point out that rules and rituals accompany hunting even in hunter-gatherer and hunter-farmer cultures, and that the more recent kinds of ideas and rules that started with the Greeks are elaborate oddities at best and unfortunate bastardizations at worst.

              Someone could argue that modern hunting is like going to church—that it is essentially and fundamentally a kind of communion-seeking—and that the rules and procedures imposed on it are mostly meaningless trappings, with a few relevant rituals in the mix.

              I, for the record, do not think modern hunting is essentially and fundamentally anything. There are all kinds of modern hunting, done for all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of ways. I know that you (like Phillip) aren’t fond of drawing distinctions among different kinds of hunting, and are concerned by the divisive potential. But take six different people:

              • a hunter who hunts 200 days a year, pursuing 15 different species in 30 states
              • a hunter who hunts one week a year and puts one deer in the freezer
              • a hunter who gets out in the woods for a couple days each fall but hasn’t killed an animal in 20 years
              • a hunter who hunts on a different continent every month, aiming to get his or her name in the top tier of every world trophy-record book
              • a hunter who chooses to live in the Alaskan bush and feeds his or her family through hunting
              • a hunter who doesn’t eat wild meat but enjoys seeing prairie dogs explode at 300 yards, or likes shooting snowshoe hares over beagles and leaves the carcasses in the woods.

              I think it’s silly to argue that hunting is essentially and fundamentally the same kind of activity for all of them.

              For various hunters, in varying degrees, I think hunting is a way of obtaining food, a form of communion, a form of recreation, a way of engaging with the basic realities of life and death, and/or any number of other things.

              Point 5: This may be our strongest disagreement. I think your argument is a valid way of understanding hunting. I do not for a moment think it is the only valid way. (Nathan and Holly’s comments above, and Kevin’s below, are helpfully suggestive of other ways, outside the bounds of the criteria and arguments to which you are committed.)

              • Jim Tantillo says:

                Hi Tovar,
                Yours is a sympathetic and fairly nuanced summary of arguments I’ve advanced over the years. I’m not sure how I feel about the conclusion, “This is the one right way to understand (and explain and defend) modern hunting,” but perhaps that truly is my belief. As a philosophical pragmatist, I’m not sure we can ever be certain that we have the “One, True, Correct” understanding of anything, but I certainly believe that some positions are better and more defensible than others.

                Let me try to provide brief responses to certain points made below.

                “Point 3: Here, we disagree. (‘Because modern hunting is voluntary, it is done for enjoyment and is fundamentally and essentially a form of recreation.’)”

                Voluntary is one aspect among many, it is not the key defining (sufficient) characteristic of play, but it is a necessary condition. Here is Huizinga’s definition of play:

                “Summing up the formal characteristic of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the difference from the common world by disguise or other means.”

                Your examples—gardening, church-going, and hospice volunteering—all can have elements of play. I think the confusion here is conflating play with recreation. While similar, these concepts are not always necessarily equivalent or identical.

                “Point 4: Here, we disagree again. (‘Because modern hunting is both a form of recreation and bound by various rules, it is fundamentally and essentially a kind of game.’) . . . I, for the record, do not think modern hunting is essentially and fundamentally anything.”

                You are not alone in this conclusion; in fact, most modern philosophers do not believe in “essences” at all. This is the legacy of Wittgenstein’s anti-essentialism, and Wittgenstein himself used “games” as his paradigmatic concept that cannot be defined!

                I stand with Thomas Hurka, on the other had, in believing that games (and other concepts) can be defined, and also that the idea of “essence” is not nonsensical. In this belief, I am perhaps in the minority in Anglo-American philosophy. I do also believe, however, that essentialism is making a philosophical comeback, both within the philosophy of biology (e.g. Brian Ellis’s The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism), but also within the philosophy of play and sport (Martin Bertman’s Philosophy of Sport).

                “There are all kinds of modern hunting, done for all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of ways. I know that you (like Phillip) aren’t fond of drawing distinctions among different kinds of hunting, and are concerned by the divisive potential. But take six different people:

                • a hunter who hunts 200 days a year, pursuing 15 different species in 30 states
                • a hunter who hunts one week a year and puts one deer in the freezer
                • a hunter who gets out in the woods for a couple days each fall but hasn’t killed an animal in 20 years
                • a hunter who hunts on a different continent every month, aiming to get his or her name in the top tier of every world trophy-record book
                • a hunter who chooses to live in the Alaskan bush and feeds his or her family through hunting
                • a hunter who doesn’t eat wild meat but enjoys seeing prairie dogs explode at 300 yards, or likes shooting snowshoe hares over beagles and leaves the carcasses in the woods.”

                I think it’s silly to argue that hunting is essentially and fundamentally the same kind of activity for all of them.”

                Take your examples of six different people, engaged in six different activities, and try this:

                • a runner who runs 200 days a year, competing in 15 different 10k races in 30 states
                • a softball player who plays for two months in the summer in one Sunday morning league
                • a golfer who plays solo for a couple of days each week but who hasn’t played competitively against anyone in years
                • a triathlete who competes in a different state every month, aiming to get his or her name in the top tier of national triathlon rankings
                • a jogger who chooses to live in the Alaska bush and runs alone, doesn’t compete, keeps track of her running times, and stays in shape through jogging
                • a baseball player who doesn’t play on a team but enjoys going to the batting cages to let ‘em rip, or likes driving golf balls off the end of a dock into the lake and leaves the golf balls to sink to the bottom.

                Now let’s look at your statement, “I think it’s silly to argue that hunting is essentially and fundamentally the same kind of activity for all of them.” Well, I think it’s silly to interpret my argument as saying that these six activities are all the same. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s silly at all to say that these activities share things in common, and that all six activities are pretty easily comprehended within the concepts of play, games, and sport.

                “Point 5: (‘This is the one right way to understand (and explain and defend) modern hunting.’) This may be our strongest disagreement. I think your argument is a valid way of understanding hunting. I do not for a moment think it is the only valid way.”

                I think you overstate my confidence. As a pragmatist, I do not think “it is the only valid way” to understand hunting. But I do think it is a very significant, coherent, and important way to understand (modern) fair chase hunting.

                In the end, I don’t mind that we disagree. We can agree to disagree.

                • Tovar says:

                  True, Jim, we can agree to disagree, and that’s probably the best possible outcome.

                  I will add just one thing. My list of six hunters provided little information about what hunting actually means for each of those hunters. The following is oversimplified, but will serve: For one (Hunter A), the hunt might primarily be a prayerful, sacramental pursuit. For another (Hunter B), it might be virtually all about having fun and one-upping the next guy. For one (Hunter C), it might primarily be a preferred way of getting good meat. For others — perhaps including some wacky one-time anti-hunting vegan (stranger things have happened) — the hunt might be a mix of things.

                  Do these hunters’ activities share things in common? Sure. They’re all hunting: voluntarily seeking out animals and, more or less often, attempting, more or less successfully, to kill them.

                  It might, as you say, be quite possible to comprehend all of their activities, or at least certain aspects of them, within your preferred concepts of play, games, and sport. As I see it, though, we can glean more accurate comprehension by refraining from imposing those (or any other) concepts, by not trying to reduce their hunting to a predetermined set of constructs. Listening and watching, we might note that while Hunter B’s pursuit fits very nicely within the same framework as golf, Hunter A’s pursuit has a lot more in common with going to church, and Hunter C’s has a lot more in common with serious gardening. (To be clear: I don’t think these are mutually exclusive categories of activity or experience. For many people, hunting — like most things in life — is enormously complex and multi-faceted.)

                  Do we want to understand and illuminate hunting, in all its variation? Or do we want to prove that all hunting is (or can be understood in terms of) something that we’ve already decided on? As a reflective writer and student of cultural ethnography, I am far more interested in the former. As an ethicist and analytic philosopher, you may be far more interested in the latter. As you and I recently acknowledged in an email exchange, there is a basic difference in our approaches and aims.

  31. Dave Proulx says:

    “One task before us as hunters, I think, is to convey that experience to non-hunters, with all its variations and nuances intact.”

    Yes, I find myself trying to explain the totality of the hunting experience to non-hunters more often these days. Hunting sure doesn’t lend itself to simple “bumper sticker” explanations, does it?

    re: your aside – plenty of discomfort here, too, though for me, most all of it is caused by mid-winter hunts on Long Island Sound. 🙂

    • Tovar says:

      No, it’s definitely not a topic that can be well-articulated by a bumper sticker! I can only imagine those mid-winter outings on the Sound…brrrrr.

  32. Kevin Peer says:

    As has been said already, there is trouble inherent in trying to stuff too much under the umbrella of words such as “sport” and “recreation”. The English language, brilliant for the kinds of descriptions that science necessitates, is notoriously clumsy and inadequate when applied to more subtle regions of human experience.

    I consider myself at home among the company of several others here who say that the word “sport” is off the mark in describing their relationship with hunting. Many hunters no doubt would be proud to use the word, but I’ll let them use the words that feel emotionally and intellectually honest for THEM.

    And though my physical survival may not depend on the activity, that is not a criteria that I use to determine whether something is an essential and sacred activity in my life. That criteria is an artificial construct born of the world of separation from nature, a separation that I strive to heal as much as I can for myself, through hunting and its attendant activities of ceremony and prayer. Hunting is through and through a journey for me, with every foray being unique, and significant.

    I hunt for meat, I hunt for communion, I hunt for a sense of spiritual continuity with my ancestors, and I cannot imagine living my life without the quickening that arises spontaneously within me as the next equinox approaches.

    I emerge from home with bow in hand this weekend – may Cernunus be with me!

    Great discussion, everyone. You are all very high quality humans, and I bow to you.

  33. Kevin Peer says:

    “Again, to be clear: If, and ONLY if (iff as the philosophers say) one hunts for pleasure/fun/enjoyment/delight/recreation etc etc etc etc etc, THEN hunting is essentially and fundamentally a form of play. I don’t care if you call it “play” or your “sacred religion,” it is still a fart . . . er, I mean, “play.””

    Ahh, the aroma of mental rigidity disguised as philosophical fluidity…

    • Jim Tantillo says:

      “Ahh, the aroma of mental rigidity disguised as philosophical fluidity…”

      “The primary purpose of sport is not to win the match, to catch the fish or kill the animal, but to derive pleasure from the attempt to do so and to afford pleasure to one’s fellow participants in the process.”

      Keating, J. W. “Sportsmanship as a Moral Category.” Ethics 75 (1964): 25-35, at 29.

  34. Kevin says:

    So says Keating, and those who rely on others to define the terms used to describe their personal experience…

  35. Hoosierbuck says:

    Wow. I’m going to go shoot something and eat it, or maybe skin it. You folks sort this out and let me know what to call what I’m doing, okay? I seem to have lost the forest for all the trees. 🙂

    • ingrid says:

      I get the spirit of this comment (smiley noted). But I appreciate the issues Tovar is willing to discuss at this blog, sometimes at great length, and in opposition to fellow hunters, as the comments here attest.

      As one of the few (only?) non-hunters and animal advocates who stops by his blog regularly, I think it helps the perception of the sport (or non-sport) of hunting to know there are hunters who are willing to publicly challenge difficult issues surrounding hunting… and possibly even change some of the more contentious practices. Cultural norms evolve with new understandings. And tradition is too often used as a defense of existing norms.

      • Hoosierbuck says:

        I agree, Ingrid, that there is import in examining the wherefores and the whys of hunting and those who hunt. That’s why I stop by here and read. Sometimes I like to get away from the theory of the thing and engage in the practice. My comment was merely a reflection that I had reached my quota on theory for the day, and was ready to live it rather than think it. Cheers!

        • Tovar says:

          Thanks very much for your appreciation and support, Ingrid.

          And thanks for your good humor, Hoosierbuck. Later this fall, I should be able to carve out at least a few mornings to get out there and “live it,” as you say…

  36. douglas says:

    Just in from a day huckleberry picking on the local mountainside. I t occurs to me that, for myself, gathering wild berries is not substantially different from hunting deer. i would class neither as a sport, but rather an attempt to step outside the “wage-earner” cycle, and however briefly, deal directly with the local environment to gather/take/harvest a portion of my food needs.

    I read an interesting take on sport in a book about sea kayaking years ago. The author (George Dyson) was discussing the value of sport (in this case kayak racing), as an artificial means of creating the intensity of effort that might come naturally in a hunter/gatherer society. We trick our minds into thinking that it is REALLY IMPORTANT to paddle faster than the other guys in their boats. For myself, hunting is not an abstraction, designed to induce the inner sportsman to push himself to the limits. If anything it is the opposite, an inducement to slow down and really take in my surroundings with all my senses.

      • Tovar says:

        Come to think of it, there are a couple places in the book where I link my foraging experiences — both as a kid and as an adult — with my fishing and hunting experiences.

        I like your paraphrase of Dyson’s discussion of sport as “an artificial means of creating the intensity of effort that might come naturally.” And also your reflection on pushing to the limits versus slowing down and taking things in; that really resonates for me.

        • douglas says:

          Thanks Tovar, Dyson’s thoughts must have struck a chord with me. It would have been in the mid 1980’s that I read Dyson’s book,and his thoughts on sport have been stashed away in my head ever since!

            • douglas says:

              Thanks Tovar, I did take a few minutes to comment on Jim’s comments concerning my comment!

              In brief…”hi jim, what I found interesting about Dyson’s comment was the notion of sport as an abstraction, and we as eager participants in this abstraction. Contrast this with hunting, in which the “goal” is a dead animal suitable for consumption. Hardly an abstraction.”

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for those thoughts and the link to Ted’s column, Chas. (Note to other readers subscribed to this thread: The link is now embedded in the comment above. Chas also sent me this PS: “You might more accurately say that Williams is endorsing other writers’ use of the term?”)

  37. Jim Tantillo says:

    interesting article in The Atlantic, “The Locavore’s Mistake: Deregulating Animal Slaughter,” at

    I think meat-based defenses of hunting are open to some of the same moral criticisms that appear in the article.

    Another reason why I believe that recreation-based defenses of hunting might be more effective (and more honest) in the long run.

    • Jim Tantillo says:

      if you seriously are denying that you hunt for recreation, then yes, I will stand by my statement that admitting we hunt for recreation is “more honest.”

      I disagree with the relativist implications of your argument that somehow “hunters hunt for recreation” is true for Jim Tantillo whereas “hunters hunt for recreation” is not true for anyone else who simply dislikes that proposition.

  38. ingrid says:

    I still maintain, as I said earlier, that the words don’t matter in the end. The actions do. Many hunters who engage in hunting and who write about it, do so in very sporting terms, from the slang used, to the behavior exhibited in the field. Holly, even in your blog, hunting is often presented in competitive terms that suggest sport … even if the end result is meat in your freezer. And yet you seem to want non-hunters to abandon the idea of hunting as sport when, from the outside, it clearly looks like sport and behaves like sport, no matter what verbal dressing you put on it. It may be that removing the word “sport” does, indeed, persuade people to feel differently about hunting. But that’s only because they haven’t been out there in the field to see what hunting entails in many instances. Saying that hunting is not sport because you’re acquiring meat is simply an ends-justifying-the-means argument — which presents a host of problems on moral and ethical terms.

  39. The fact that I am a competitive person who seeks to excel in everything I do – even if it’s only to beat myself – does not make hunting the equivalent of tae kwon do or running, both of which I have done as sport.

    I have been invited to join trap and skeet leagues more times than I can count, but I always say no. Why? Shooting is not a game to me. I shoot at flying clay disks only to maintain the skills required to hunt animals. I own shotguns and rifles not because I think it’s super-duper fun to shoot them, but because they are tools for hunting.

    The importance of meat to me is not verbal dressing, and for you to call it that, Ingrid, is insulting. This is not a game to me, and if you think it is, you are reading very selectively, and willfully overlooking all the evidence to the contrary. I really didn’t expect that from you.

  40. ingrid says:

    First, Holly, my comment about “verbal dressing” was to say that even if you choose to verbally dress “it” — meaning hunting — with certain terms, it does nothing to change what hunting is. You know that’s what I was saying, c’mon.

    Second, your argument here seems to suggest that one’s methodology can’t be addressed at all if meat is the end result. And I disagree with that. I don’t think having meat at the end of the hunt gives anyone an automatic moral high ground. The reason you personally can lay claim to the respect you get is because of your hunting practices, Holly, and your attention to clean kills — your attention to outdoors ethics. Plenty of hunters end up with meat on the table, but they acquired that meat through some pretty dubious and unpalatable hunting practices. So the meat argument alone isn’t that strong for me, even though I realize it persuades many non-hunters that hunting is not “sport.”

    From reading your blog these many, many months — from discussing hunting with you and Tovar and the others here — of course I’m not saying it’s all a game to you. You’re pulling a straw man on me to suggest that. But there are elements of game and sport in it, and you and many others write about those aspects openly. And because of that, to me, it feels like hunters want to have it both ways. Hunters often treat hunting with a lot of gamesmanship — high fives, smiling over trophies, detached words for the animals, euphemisms for the kill, making jokes about how an animal “outsmarted” them, when, in fact, that animal was running for it’s life and so on and so forth. And then, hunters want people like me to consider hunting a sober and pragmatic effort, devoid of sporting elements. That’s what feels disingenuous to me.

    I don’t know that you’re seeing the disconnect that those of us on the outside do. And because of that, getting back to my original point, I just don’t think taking the word “sport” out of hunting will have any effect, except on those not familiar with hunting or not exposed to hunting. Maybe that’s enough. If 60 percent of people support hunting for meat as long as the term sport is left out, then I’m clearly in the minority in how I view it. Perhaps that’s why I’m always the only non-hunter in these comment sections. I am finding that people I meet seem to be more supportive of hunting, ever since the idea of “happy meat” took over the popular lexicon. As long as the animal was happy before it died. That’s a whole different argument.

    I can understand why, if someone loves hunting, they wouldn’t necessarily love skeet. I’ve shot skeet and it’s precisely because there is no kill involved that someone like me could even stomach it. It doesn’t include other elements of the hunt, either, such as the outdoor immersion. I get that. But just because skeet and running and tae kwon do are sports, doesn’t mean that hunting isn’t also a sport — even if it’s not “equivalent” to the above three. That’s logical fallacy: A (tae kwon do) is C (sport) and because B (hunting) is different from A (tae kwon do), it’s not C (sport).

    btw: I’m not blind-siding you with this one, Holly. You know this is one of the areas where you and I have disagreed in the past, and where I’ve had a tough time with the gamesmanship of the talk and the practice. We’ve discussed this issue in the past, so I’m not sure why you are so surprised by my comment.

  41. Al Cambronne says:

    Tovar, you are an incredibly gracious host. I’ve come to really look forward to the fascinating conversations that occur in this space. And each time, I look forward to hearing from some of the same voices. Your blog is becoming something I once thought an oxymoron: an online community.

    You are both insightful and inciteful. (Wow. Just checked, and that really is a word.) Still, despite the sometimes spirited exchanges that take place here, things are almost always quite civil. I very much hope that continues, even if things almost began to take a different turn this time.

    I haven’t had breakfast yet, and I’m still on my first cup of coffee. So please forgive me if I can’t do any better than a pathetic imitation of Rodney King. But… “Why can’t we all just get along?”

    Maybe it’s the topic. So here’s a new question, one to consider but perhaps NOT discuss: Is blog commenting a sport? Or is it something else? A competitive activity? A primitive territorial behavior? In an ideal, totally enlightened, but not necessarily vegan world, what would it be?

    • douglas says:

      Ha ha, good one Al! I have to say that in my limited experience with online “chit chat” sites, this is the most civil site I have participated in. My limited experience includes sites discussing hunting, photography, and bagpiping. Believe it or not the bagpipe site was the worse for virtual vindictiveness!

      I’ve been mulling this topic as i stroll around in the woods (working) lately. If hunting is not a sport is it; a craft, a chore, a hobby? As I mentioned somewhere above, I would lump hunting in with huckleberry picking in terms of “type of activity”. I could also include other seasonal chore/hobbies such as firewood gathering, canning, and gardening.

      There have been some comments equating hunting with a sport because it (hunting) is an enjoyable or exciting activity. I find my work (Forestry) enjoyable and exciting…does that make it a sport? There are “logger sports”, but so far they don’t include silviculture prescription development as an event.
      …time for more coffee!

      • Tovar says:

        Thanks, guys. You both got me smiling and chuckling.

        Al: I’m going with “a primitive territorial behavior.”

        Douglas: Gotta watch out for those bagpipers. 😉

      • ingrid says:

        Douglas and Al, I’m gratified by how much dissent is accepted here, as evidenced by some of my comments, left to burn freely. And I’m surprised by how rarely ad hominem attacks occur in these threads, relatively to the amount of content, some of it quite contentious. Most blog discussions descend into character assassination quickly. In fact, I’ve tried on various occasions to engage discussions at other hunting/farming/locavore sites and the vitriol was unbelievable. I’ve stopped trying.

        (oh, and btw, yeah, the fanboys at photography sites can be the worst. This is coming from an off-brand photographer. You wouldn’t believe what I have to hear about my Olympus gear sometimes.)

        I’ve threatened to quit Tovar and Holly (Norcalcazadora) multiple times and I’m sure they wish I would follow through … just once. But it’s testament to the community sense you mention, Al, that a niggling gnat like me hasn’t been forced out.

        Douglas, you make a great point about how enjoyment doesn’t necessarily constitute sport. That’s sort of the reverse of the argument I was making earlier — that hunting for meat doesn’t necessarily mean it’s NOT sport, either. In the end, “sport” is just a problematic term. With respect to hunting, I still think it will be difficult to convince non-hunters like me that it’s not sport, when so many elements of sport and recreation are involved. I can understand a hunter saying that he or she doesn’t hunt for sport alone. That’s obviously true about many, many hunters. But it sure seems that recreation is almost always a component of hunting in a modern context.

        As a nature photographer, you get asked a lot if you’re a pro or a hobbyist. It’s probably a similar distinction, but there’s no baggage associated with the answer because, in the end, the animal lives another day after you photograph him or her. The outcome of hunting — death to an animal — makes it subject to greater scrutiny from the non-hunting public. And, from my perspective, it deserves scrutiny for that reason. I hate to refer to animals as resources because it depersonalizes our association with other living beings. But wildlife is, indeed, a shared “resource” and some of us have a tougher time than others, accepting, without question, the voluntary aspects of most hunting activities.

        • Tovar says:

          As I’ve said before, Ingrid, I wish more non-hunters engaged in these conversations. If we lost your voice, I’d be convinced I was doing something wrong here. I’ve never aspired to preaching — if I ever did, the choir would hardly be my sole intended audience.

          To affirm your last line, I see no reason why hunting should be accepted “without question.” I think questions ought to be asked, by hunters and non-hunters alike.

        • douglas says:

          Hi Ingrid, I think that your participation is welcome largely due to the fact that the points you make concerning animal welfare are the very points I grapple with constantly as a “late learner” hunter. This largely boils down to the question, “who am I to decide if some ungulate lives or dies”? The counter to this question for me is, “who are you to think that you exist outside of nature”? So far the second question has won, but it is an ongoing inner debate.

          BTW I love my Olympus too! Most of the time I am a (hobby) wildlife/nature photograher, not a hunter. If you are interested, my photos are sometimes featured on a friends web-site

          BTW (2) most bagpipers a very sick of Amazing Grace!

          • ingrid says:

            Douglas, awesome photos and experiences! I will be visiting your blog regularly, thank you for the link. That flock of waxwings image must have been tough to get.

            So, which Olympus and lens are you shooting with … if I can be a gear head for a minute? I’ve been with my E-3 for several years, but it’s now at the Olympus hospital. I don’t know what the repair estimate will be, I hope it’s reasonable because I miss him. (I’m using my husband’s E-520 in the interim. And I’m still shooting with a budget 70-300mm lens which has its aesthetic limits but which suited my checkbook at the time.)

            I’d love to know how you think your experience as a photographer/hobbyist colors your experience of hunting. Do you think it changes the way you approach hunting, versus someone who may have been hunting from an early age … or vis a vis other hunters you meet? I can understand the quandary you present because right now, at this point in time, I can’t imagine making that shift. But I’m always careful to say that I don’t know what I will be in the future. I hope to remain a non-hunter, but I do have the ghillie suit and the blind already. 🙂

            In response to your questions about our ‘rights’ as nature participants, I have a third question which probably drives my own choices, and that is: who am I to say that being a part of nature necessitates taking the life of that ungulate, when I have the capacity to make an alternative choice?” It’s quite possible (from my point of view) that since we evolved with a consciousness that allows for such choice, our ideal “natural” state of being might actually be to refrain from killing. But that’s a complicated mess of a hypothesis that I’ll drop here and now.

            Anyway, my own perspective cannot negate the conclusions you’ve drawn for yourself. I know the realities of consciousness and natural imperative complicate matters from a philosophical and ethical standpoint. They have for years, in both animal rights debate and in practical behavior.

            • Tovar says:

              Ingrid: In the process of becoming a hunter, I definitely wrestled with the question you pose about being a part of nature, taking life, and having “a consciousness that allows for such choice.”

              If you ever put your ghillie suit and blind to said “other” use, I will be (1) flabbergasted, (2) understanding, and (3) ready to accompany you in the field. 😉

          • ingrid says:

            p.s. I didn’t, at first, see Alistair’s byline on the various blog photos. Sorry for that oversight in my reading. Am now seeking out your images. What a lovely site!

            • ingrid says:

              Okay, Douglas, I’m seeing the images now. Bobcats! Do you know how long I’ve sat in the high grass of Marin (with ticks) waiting for a cooperative bobcat to meander on by? What a series you captured. And thanks again for directing me to the website/blog. Now that I’m in Washington, I’m inspired to travel your way. I lived in Vancouver years ago, but did not have a chance to spend time in your area. I believe the Canadians have deemed me of suitable moral character to cross the border. But you’re getting a little tougher on us US-ians. [:-)

              • douglas says:

                Hi Ingrid, glad you are enjoying the site! Alistair is a remarkable photographer, and an inspiration due to his unending curiosity concerning the world around him. He is also a pretty mean bagpipe player!

                If you go to the main web site you will find several of my photos included under elk, deer, bears, pikas, mountain goats and marmots. I spend a lot of time in the bush, and try to carry my camera at all times. The camera is an E-410, chosen due to its light weight and compact size. I also have a 70-300mm zoom, chosen for price and light weight. I splurged on a 12-60mm zoom, which is a delight!

                The over-lap of nature photographer and hunter is (strangely) my unending fascination with observing animals in their natural habitat. The skills I have developed as an enthusiastic observer of animals are of course the very same skills that allow me to get close to the animals that I am hunting. Because I tend to do a lot of random bush-wacking in the local mountains (for fun and work), I also get a sense of where the animals are hanging out during the various seasons.

                Certainly part of my “moral struggle” with hunting comes from this odd combination of gaining pleasure from watching the animals going about their lives, and deriving sustenance from the flesh of these same animals. My rationale for this violence is the “local food” argument…better for the environment to gain food locally than to ship it across the globe. While this is a handy argument, it doesn’t entirely absolve me of feeling a bit mercenary.

                If you do come up this way give me a call! Depending on the season I could take you to some of my favourite haunts.

                • Tovar says:

                  Douglas: I know another hunter (also an ex-vegetarian, as it happens) who worked as a wildlife photographer and videographer. He got very intimate with animals and couldn’t imagine that he could ever harm one of them. The “moral struggle” remains for him, though he feels that the killing is part of the karmic price for his current omnivorous diet (which is, he feels, crucial for his health).

                  • ingrid says:

                    Oddly enough, Tovar, I get that. And I truly empathize with him. If I was forced to kill for my well-being, I fear I’d be in permanent, emotional crisis. I can’t imagine what that choice would be like. I have more understanding for that decision than some of my comments here would suggest. If I had to move toward total self-sufficiency with animal protein, I hope I could at least live seaside, grow a few layers of baleen, and start by sifting through some plankton and krill, rationalizing that I was staying low on the food chain — and that my buds the whales would do the same. From there, it would be a slippery slope to wild hog bacon hunting with Phillip, right?

    • Al Cambronne says:

      Foolishly, I clicked. That was a little violent for my tastes. Didn’t precisely match my taste in music, either. Should one be wearing a kilt or a ghillie suit while listening to those guys??? But no, that definitely was not Amazing Grace. (Never mind hunting. For extra credit: Is boxing a sport? Why or why not?)

      On a lighter note, I’m another Olympus user. The Canikononians may look down on them, but they’re OK. A 620 with kit lenses was what fit my budget at the time. Some other nice features, too. And, as Douglas noted, they tend to be a little smaller and lighter. Nice if you’re out for a stroll in the hills. But you can sure do more with them than you could with a P&S.

      Reminds me of a line I saw on some photo blog: “Buying a _______ doesn’t make you a photographer. It just makes you a ________ owner.”

      • Ingrid says:

        Dear Al, I’m sorry about the link and content. I was trying to think of a band that used bagpipes — that would be at the other extreme from Amazing Grace … as a point of humor. I wasn’t aiming to disturb, and feel quite badly that I did.


          • ingrid says:

            I could have posted that famous and lovely scene from Raging Bull. But there would have been no bagpipe accompaniment. 🙂

            My husband Hugh has an E-520. I’m using it now because mine is in the hospital. Great camera. 620 is even better.

  42. Ingrid says:

    For the record, I can’t stand boxing. My husband worked a few boxing matches in his early days, and he was horrified by what you experience closeup. Perhaps the only thing that justifies it is the voluntary aspect of the participants. Animals in other sports can’t opt out. Of course, it could be well argued — and has been argued — that economic considerations involved do not make boxing a truly elective endeavor. It does bug me that humans find any form of violence entertaining. I often feel like I don’t belong on this planet.

    • Jim Tantillo says:

      “It does bug me that humans find any form of violence entertaining.”

      This is a puzzle that ancient philosophers found perplexing as well; in fact Aristotle’s entire theory of tragedy revolves around the ambivalence felt about deriving enjoyment from depictions of the suffering of others.

      At the risk of appearing academicky, “learned,” or self-serving, I did write an article on the tragic pleasure aspects of the hunt, which can be found online at “Sport Hunting, Eudaimonia, and Tragic Wisdom.”

      I’d be curious, Ingrid, to hear what you think, here or by email.


  43. douglas says:

    Also, “not your fathers bagpipes”, but less pugilistic and more fun!

    Stuart is one of the premiere pipers of our times, and a rare party animal to boot. I watched him play this tune at 2am, while one of his band compatriots poured a beer down his throat. Must of been circular breathing!

    There is a disturbing breed of hunter who brings a fascination with violence to the killing of animals. If a farmer gained as much excitement from slaughtering livestock as many hunters do from shooting wildlife, the farmer’s friends might just have him committed. Somehow in the context of hunting (at least in certain circles), this bloodlust is accepted.

  44. lieing wolf says:

    It seems to me that “market” hunting still exisits behind fences, with pricing per antler inch or by the pound, or the guide saves the best spot or animal for the $ clients. Most of the “Industry” surrounding “hunting” seems out to collect your $ and “our gadget will fulfill your dreams!” Only furthering the non huntings images negitively. The transitions in hunting careers and the personal developing growth are left out sadly, as are the older hunter’s down hill slide. The “connecting” often changes. The son want’s to connect with dad and has things to prove. Dad want’s nature, food, and family. Grampa wants reassurance he still can and he’s still alive. What a great post by all!

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