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This article is about the hunting of prey by human society. For other uses of the word "hunting" see Hunting (disambiguation). For other meanings of the word "hunter" (which redirects here), see Hunter (disambiguation).

Hunting is, in its most general sense, the pursuit of a target. It is most commonly applied to the practice of pursuing animals to capture or kill them for food, sport, or trade in their products. Beasts so hunted are referred to as game animals. Hunting is also done to control varmint populations or as wildlife management to reduce animal populations which have exceeded the capacity of their range or when individual animals have become a danger to humans.


In ancient societies, before the widespread domestication of animals, hunting was generally vital for survival as part of the Hunter-gatherer lifestyle. For most humans before the development of agriculture, hunting would have provided an important source of protein to augment the foraged plants and vegetables that made up the majority of their diet. The earliest hunting weapons would have included rocks, the Atlatl and bow and arrows.

Even when animal domestication became relatively widespread, hunting was usually a significant contributor to the food supply available to a population. In addition, animal parts such as hides and horns were utilized in clothing and tools, and not all of these products could be provided from the domestication of animals. The importance of hunting in ancient societies can be seen in common religious figures such as the Horned God.

With domestication of the dog and falcon, various forms of animal aided hunting developed, including falconry, coursing (sight hound hunting) and venery (scent hound hunting, one modern example being fox hunting).

Specialization and Hunting for Sport

As hunting moved from a strictly necessary activity for survival to one of many staples of society, two trends emerged. One was that of the specialist hunter - a position previously held by just about every able-bodied male (usually) in the society. As domesticated farming and herding took hold, hunting became one of many trades to be pursued by those with the necessary training.

The other trend was the emergence of hunting as a sport. As game became more of a luxury than a necessity, the pursuit of it could equally well be considered a luxury pursuit. In medieval Europe, it was common for upper-class families to claim the sole rights to hunt in certain areas of territory. Game in these areas was certainly used as a source of food and furs, often provided via professional huntsmen; but it was also expected to provide a form of recreation for the aristocracy. The importance of this proprietary view of game can be seen in the Robin Hood legends, in which one of the primary charges against the outlaws is that they "hunt the King's deer".

In later times, this aristocratic type of hunting lost its roots as a source of food and supplies, while retaining its nature as a sport. The practice of English fox hunting is a case in point; the fox is not eaten, and the skin is rarely preserved in any usable form. Fox hunting originally developed as a means of vermin control to protect livestock. In Victorian times it also became a popular sport of the upper classes. It now attracts followers from all walks of life. Mounted followers join in on horseback and foot-followers walk or cycle, others follow by car, stopping to view the hunt from suitable vantage points. Fox hunting attract strong feelings. Some animal right supporter feel it causes suffering to the fox and is both cruel and unnecessary. Many members of the farming and rural communities in which it takes place feel it is an integral and useful part of rural life, keeping down fox populations and providing an important contribution to social life for local people.

In the 1800s European hunters often pursued game only for a trophy, usually the head or pelt of an animal, to be displayed as a sign of prowess. The rest of the animal was often wasted. Hunting in North America in the 1800s was done primarily as a way to suppliment food supplies. The safari method of hunting was a development of sport hunting that saw elaborate travel in Africa, India and other places in pursuit of trophies. In modern times, trophy hunting persists, but is frowned upon when it involves rare or endangered species of animal. Other people also object to trophy hunting in general because it is seen as a senseless act of killing another living being for fun.

Hunting Today

In the United States, hunting is no longer associated with any particular class. Today's hunters come from a broad range of economic, social, and cultural backgrounds. American hunters usually see themselves as more in tune with nature and often see themselves as environmentalists or conservationists. Almost all hunting organizations in the United States donate large amounts of money as well as time to conservation and habitat protection. Although other types of environmentalists would dispute the hunters' green credentials, many would nevertheless agree that hunting an animal in the wild is more humane than keeping the animal under factory farming conditions. One spokesman for this form of hunting has been the former rock star Ted Nugent. Hunting in the United States has been associated with the issues of gun control.

One task of park rangers and game wardens is to enforce laws and regulations related to hunting and to enforce laws which ban hunting in some areas.

Hunting Regulation

Varmint hunting is the killing of animals seen as a nuisance. Often no use is made of the carcass after killing. Which species this includes depends on the circumstances of the area involved. Varmint species are often responsible for detrimental effects on crops, livestock, landscaping, infrastructure, and pets. Rabbits are varmints in Australia but game in other countries. Common varmints include coyotes, crows, foxes, and prairie dogs. Laws concerning hunting nuisance animals are often more liberal than those concerning game animals. Some animals once considered varmints are now protected, such as wolves.

Animal management authorities sometimes rely on hunting to control certain animal populations. These hunts are sometimes carried out by professional hunters although other hunts include amateurs. Overpopulations of deer in urban parks and bears which have attacked humans might be hunted by animal management authorities.

Depiction in Popular Culture

While there are numerous hunting shows and merchandise, popular entertainment often condemns sport hunting.

This is most obvious in animation which often depicts hunting from the hunted animal's point of view and furthermore has the audience's sympathy as the animal either usually escapes or successfully defends itself. This can range from the humorous such as Bugs Bunny fighting off Elmer Fudd to the dramatic as in Bambi. In contrast, filmed depictions of hunting by aboriginal cultures like Native American ones are treated with much more sympathy with the implied idea that they are hunting for what they need to survive and no more.

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