Pros and Cons of Hunting: Ethics, Culture, and Conservation

hunters camouflaged in the woods

Hunters camouflaged in the woods

Today the question of hunting is brought to the forefront more than at any time in history. Is hunting ethical, necessary, outdated, or any other of a dozen philosophical questions?

Some would argue that hunting today is just a cultural thing, that most folks hunt only because their father, grandfather, or any number of past friends and relations have done so. That is certainly true in many cases; most good hunters had a mentor sometime in the past to show them the ropes.

For those of us who grew up outdoors hunting and fishing, the need to articulate and justify our will to continue this custom can be perplexing. After all, it is part of our core and soul, something that few can understand unless they can understand hunting as something other than a repulsive act of taking the life of a wild animal.

In an effort to dispel some misconceptions surrounding this popular pastime, let’s take a hard look at both the pros and cons of hunting.

Is Hunting Ethical?

If you think about it, today’s society would have never existed had it not been for hunting. Hunting is the primary way Native Americans survived. Subsequently, the European explorers, mountain men, and settlers survived and established civilizations that eventually reached the very ground your home is sitting on right now.

Do not be too quick to judge those who continue to hunt today. If you consume meat, sit on a leather sofa or chair, carry leather handbags, or wear leather shoes, you are utilizing a product that at one time was a living, breathing creature.

Hunting is in our blood, passed down from generations and countless centuries before us.

Yes, hunting is ethical. And in today’s world, I would even say absolutely necessary.

Wildlife Populations Have Increased Due to Conservation Efforts

Looking back at the market hunting days of the 19th and early 20th centuries, we can see how over-hunting caused huge losses of wildlife populations. Those were different times and circumstances.

The good news is that the sportsman/hunter saw the need to manage game populations and enacted laws that today are responsible for the greatest success story in wildlife conservation ever known.

In the early 1900s, several wild game populations were near extinction. By contrast, take a look at the following numbers provided by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

  • Elk: only 41,000 remained in North America; today there are over 1 million
  • Whitetail Deer: only 500,000 remained in North America; today there are over 30 million
  • Wild Turkeys: only 100,000 remained in North America; today there are over 6 million
  • Pronghorn: only 13,000 remained in North America; today over 1 million
  • Wild Ducks: near extinction in many parts of North America, today over 40 million

The Role of Hunters in Conservation

These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg and only a small example of what collaborative efforts by hunters, conservation groups, and wildlife agencies have done for wild populations. And most of this through hunting dollars. Do not think for a minute that the efforts of these groups only benefit game populations. 

Habitat conservation and preservation not only benefit game animals but by association, non-game species as well.

A point to remember, hunters are the primary force behind the revenue that goes into conservation and wildlife management programs via license fees and volunteer programs such as Mule Deer Foundation or Ducks Unlimited, to mention but a couple.

Want to worry about the ethics of hunting and its impacts on wildlife? Rather worry with the ethics of serious poaching (driven by the demand for ivory, rhino horn, and other animal products in Asian markets), climate change, and habitat destruction we are seeing today on a catastrophic global basis.

Related: You’re a Conservationist if You Hunt or Fish: What’s Your Cause?

Cultural Influences on Hunting

Woman hunter in the woods

There is little doubt that a person’s culture, where they came from, and how they were raised has a substantial influence on whether they hunt or not. Having been raised in a hunting home, naturally, I continue to have a drive towards hunting. Many today continue to depend on hunting to supplement their food stores and protein for the year.

In days gone by, hunting was mainly considered to be a man’s pursuit. But today, women are the fastest-growing segment of new shooters and gun owners, and the newest increase of the overall population to the hunting field.

The younger generation is where the future of hunting, conservation, and wild places will really be determined. Young people today need to experience the outdoors, even if it’s to observe and go hiking. They need to realize that the food they use to fuel their bodies does not magically appear in the grocery store or at the fast-food place.

Hunting forces a connection, understanding, and respect of nature and wildlife that is hard to grasp in any other way.

As long as hunters continue to follow prescribed laws and bag limits in conjunction with state game and fish agencies using sound biology when setting these game laws, wild populations should continue to thrive for generations.

The most serious threat to all wildlife, as already mentioned, is habitat destruction and severe poaching, as we see in the case of elephants and rhinos in Africa today.

Cons of Hunting

The slob hunter, who is really no hunter at all, is the one that gives hunting a bad name. These are the culprits that give hunting and hunters such a bad name, those who:

  • commit game violations at every turn
  • are indifferent to the rules of fair chase
  • have little regard for private lands or other boundaries
  • and parade their kill around with little consideration for those that find such displays offensive

There will always be those who will never support or agree with hunting. However, while not hunters themselves, most folks understand that regulated hunting is necessary for the long-term survival of many species.

Pros of Hunting

Many anti-hunting groups are floating around today that will disclaim the preceding statement. Still, the facts are well documented and can be traced back to establishing the Pitman-Robertson Act of 1937.

Again, take a look at some statistics provided by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation when it comes to funding for wildlife conservation:

  • Through state licenses and fees, hunters pay $796 million a year for conservation programs.
  • Through donations to groups like RMEF, hunters graciously add $440 million a year to conservation efforts.
  • In 1937, hunters requested an 11% tax on guns, ammo, bows, and arrows to help fund conservation.
    • That tax generates $371 million a year for conservation.
    • So far, the tax has raised more than $8 billion for wildlife conservation.
  • All together, hunters pay more than $1.6 billion a year for conservation programs. No one gives more than hunters!
  • Every single day U.S. sportsmen contribute $8 million to conservation.
  • Hunting funds conservation AND the economy, generating $38 billion a year in retail spending.

These fees, taxes, and contributions, along with modern-day conservation efforts by state and federal wildlife management agencies, have long outpaced any stated efforts by those claiming hunting is always a bad thing.

What do these conservation efforts and funds equal to in real terms? It means lands set aside and purchased for wildlife habitat, water improvements, travel corridors (over, under or around major roadways), supporting state game and fish agencies and anti-poaching programs, re-establishment of wild populations, and education programs to mention but a few.


Remember this, humans have hunted since the beginning of time. All cultures relied on hunting in one way or another for survival. Humans have forged a connection with wildlife and the lands that support them over countless centuries. As a hunter, I have no interest or intent of seeing wild populations become extinct, whether game animals or not. 

My desire to hunt has somewhat diminished as I have grown older. Today I can enjoy viewing wildlife as much as I do hunting. But deep inside, I still have that fire and drive to hunt. It was established thousands of years ago by our ancestors. It will always be there, even in generations to come.