Practical Issues > Fishing - Hunting Index

Thoughts on Hunting and Fishing
by Martin Balluch
Hunting destroys the social structure and culture of its victims

I would like to contribute a bit of my experience to the hunting debate. Because I have been a passionate mountaineer since I was 4 years old (honestly, this was when I did my first two-day mountain tour with my family), I was often confronted with hunters, especially since I often walked with my dog friend, who invariably attracted the attention of hunters who threatened to kill him on many occasions. For 6 years I have been regularly hunt-sabbing, not just hunting with hounds but also shooting, stalking and snaring.

I don't want to belittle hunters' emotions, but my impression is that for a start there is definitely exists a deep joy in killing a creature. It seems that many of them really enjoy seeing a creature fighting for its life.

Then there is the element of "wrestling with nature" and showing their superiority by actually winning the fight. It never stops to amaze me though that this feeling of being such a good "nature wrestler" is not completely spoilt by the fact that many of them use totally superior technology and often pay for the hunt to be arranged such that the "success" is absolutely inevitable. Often their victims aren't wild (and in that sense part of "nature") anyway. Aside from the hunting of zoo animals and livestock, I'm sure you all know that many hunted animals (in huge numbers) are actually reared in factory farms and similar more open holdings. The pheasants, for example, have all been reared in broiler units like chickens, including debeaking and having plastic blinders drilled in their beaks to curb their aggression, and are released a short time before the hunt. You should see it yourself when the hunters arrive: those poor birds don't want to fly away and often have to be thrown into the air to be shootable!

The hunters' view of humans is normally as the "superior carnivore" at the top of the food chain, somewhere close to lions and such, but even superior to them. Their view of "living in nature" often involves the need to kill anything that moves.

This certainly has lots in common with macho-ism. However, having said that, my experience is that this macho-ism is not restricted to men. I often encounter women hunting, with no different attitude and as little compassion as hunting men. Last August in Leeds I saw a very serious assault on a group of circus protesters by circus staff (Harlequins), which was started by three macho women with baseball bats before many more attackers joined in. All 11 protesters ended up in hospital, one had 12 stitches across his face. Anyway, it appears that this macho attitude has long since crossed the gender barrier.

Hunting for food and for population control is questionable as well. The former certainly raises doubts when done by members of a highly technologically developed civilization with its means. A hunter-hunted relationship is only in balance if the former depends on the latter to survive. If you survive somewhere else, i.e., in a civilization, then you lose the "emergency" and "natural balance" argument and it's back to butchery.

Hunting for population control is doubtful, because for almost all game animals I know of, the population control is mainly achieved by other means than a predator. The only game animal of European hunting I'm not sure about in this respect is red deer, since there have been contradictory studies on their population control. One says they control their predator numbers, the other says predators control them. Anyway, huntspeople normally ensure artificially high numbers of game animals by feeding, so that the argument of population control is really a smokescreen.

Beside thousands of anti-hunt arguments, let me mention one which is often forgotten. Hunting destroys the social structure of their victims' society. Let me explain this with the example of wild boars in Central Europe. I take this example because it has been well-documented in the scientific literature.

Wild boars can attain 30 or more years of age, if you let them. The females form tight social groups with a leading matriarch and offspring. The males have to leave the groups in adolescence, then form batchelor gangs and eventually become solitary. The solitary males are the ones who have the primary access to females for mating. The male wild boar develops big tusks, a heavily protected neck and generally a huge size. The social situation is very similar to the one of elephants in Africa. Normally, no male will be able to father offspring before he is 10 or even 15 years old. In turn, the matriarchs are old and wise females, who know their territory well and who have the experience to safeguard their group through climatic problems, droughts, long winters or even difficult births. This is, in short, the social structure, or culture if you want, of wild boars.

The influence of hunting is as follows. Firstly, a large percentage of members of the wild boar society is killed every year. This is compensated by feeding throughout the year and especially during winter. Often, primary targets for trophy hunters are the lonely males, and if not available than the older and bigger females. The only protected ones are the females with young.

As a consequence no wild boar is older than 6 years anymore! Most are between one and two years old! That means the structure of the society is totally destroyed. What remains is a group of youngsters, disoriented and unable to survive independently so that they become totally dependent on feeding by humans. The have not been given the chance to learn anything from their elders, because they are dead. And they have not the chance to get enough experience to forward to next generation, because they will likely die before they have matured. On average a wild boar in central Europe lives only about 2 years. And furthermore, they have become nocturnal animals. Being originally daytime active, they had to switch to the night to escape the attention of human hunters.

The population also feels the reproduction pressure put upon them by the high death toll due to hunting. Therefore the age of sexual maturation has decreased to almost one year of age in some cases. And the reproduction rate is much higher than is usual without hunting.

What we are left with is a bunch of immature youngsters, males and females of one to two years producing vast numbers of offspring, being totally unguided and incapable of independent survival. There is no social structure anymore. And in sheer numbers, the wild boar population is much larger than it would be were they undisturbed by hunters. Every conservationist appears happy: large number = healthy population. But the truth of the matter is totally different.

This analysis applies to many different animal species, which are hunted by humans, including foxes and deer for example. Beside the argument of unnecessary individual suffering caused for the joy and entertainment of a few bored humans, this argument against hunting, i.e., that it destroys the social structure, is a very strong one, in my opinion, especially in areas where the hunting pressure is high.

Let me finish on a brief personal note on fishing. When I was less than 8 years old my parents gave me a fishing tackle on my birthday. So I went fishing, but I didn't put anything onto the hook. I just put the line into the water and sat there content. I actually didn't want to catch anything. But suddenly something got caught on the hook and pulled slightly on the line. I pulled it out of the water -- it was a little fish, who was hanging on the hook. The hook was stuck in the face of the fish underneath the eye.

I was totally shocked and felt horrified at what I had done to this poor creature. First I thought he would suffocate quickly, so I left him outside feeling that would be the most merciful thing to do, but when he didn't want to die I put him back into the water (still on the hook) and screamed for help.

My granny came running and she freed the fish. He was floating half on his belly in the shallows, but he was still alive. I stayed with him for nearly two hours, sitting in the water and sheltering him from the waves who might have pushed him on shore. After two hours he turned more and more belly downwards and started to swim in circles. Shortly after, he left his little shelter and swam out into the lake again. I like to believe that he made it and survived my onslaught. After this experience I tore my angling stuff to bits and threw it away -- without telling my parents.

This was my only brief experience of bloodsports from the perpetrator's side. Ever since then I have sided with the victims.