October 21, 2011

Why Hunting is not a "Sport"

Two interesting pieces of writing popped up this morning.

In a blog post, Galen Geer questions the very term "sport hunting." I tend to agree. (It comes after the part about checking his blood pressure in the duck blind to prove something to his physical therapist.)
[At a recent Orion institute seminar there] was a lot of free discussion about the present state of recruitment to the outdoors but I heard something that was, to me, very important for the future of hunting, and it was the simple statement that hunting would be referred to as “hunting” and not “sport hunting” or have any other adjectives affixed to it.  This is something that I totally agree with.  I believe that we must stop the practice of trying to hide hunting under a pile of adjectives.   I make this argument even after a great deal of research has shown me that the basis for “sport hunting” goes back to ancient Greece when the phrase “hunting for sport” actually appears in the writing of Xenophon.
Meanwhile, in an interview on the Huffington Post, Holly Heyser discusses the difference between male and female hunters, advice for beginners, and her philosophy on eating wild foods.
Yeah, I may be a bit of a radical with some of my thinking on this subject, but what the hell, here goes: When I decided to take up hunting, my secret fear was that I would become callous toward animals. Surprise, surprise - the opposite happened. My respect for animals has grown exponentially, as has my love for them.

I can hear the shrieks of horror already. "Respect? Love? But you kill them." I know it doesn't appear to make sense at all. Work with me: Most human relationships with animals are with domestic animals, and whether they're pets or food animals, they've all been reduced to a perpetual state of childhood, not just in their dependency, but often in terms of their mannerisms and behavior. The more I saw wild animals, though, the more respect I had for their amazing capabilities (and the more respect I had for wild humans, too).
(If you hear echoes of Paul Shepard there, you are right.)

Plus there is a list of outstanding contemporary books on hunting, and I was happy to see that I have an essay in one of them, A Hunter's Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport, David Petersen, ed.

But there is that "sport" word again. Galen has been researching its employment and concludes that it no longer fits. (It's like the term "sports coat," a 19th-century British coinage fossilized in the menswear industry.) Today the term "sports" means organized athletics, people wearing numbers on their backs.
We don’t box with, play tennis or football with, or any other organized activity, the animals we hunt.  We don’t need to lie to ourselves or to the non-hunter by falling back on euphemisms to soften our language.  We can start by removing one word and simply saying that we hunt, we go hunting, we are hunters.


Peculiar said...

Also, it's not bull fighting, motor racing or mountaineering. But it's certainly not a game. The traditional term "hunting" seems pretty solid.

Darrell said...

Oh, I dunno... what about fishing? A guy can have fun hunting or fishing, and never catching a thing. Then again, "sport" fishing or hunting might represent those going after trophy animals, not just meat.

In the end, it's recreation. If it isn't work, it's not vocation, it's avocation. Sounds like sport to me. :)

Galen Geer said...

Actually "sport fishing" was discussed (via Email) and there is agreement that "sport fishing" is also one that is falling out of use and truly has no place in contemporary society, with the same argument applied (we go fishing, etc.) except its source is not rooted in ancient Greece. In the minds of many people "sport" fishing is more firmly linked to big game fish rather than the somewhat smaller freshwater fish.
Through the 1600s to early 1800s to go "sporting" had meanings that ranged gambling to hunting (only slightly including angling), thus the connotation was linked to aristocracy and was negative. When sport began to be associated with organized sports the connotation began to change.
The whole thing is quite interesting--really. :)

Heather Houlahan said...

One take is that it is only sport if your opponent is playing the same game, and agreed to do so.

It may be a game to a human hunter (though it is not to me), but it's not shits 'n' grins for the animal.

I think the tendency to tack "sport" and various permutations thereof onto hunting started as a way to distinguish gentlemen from market hunters and the dread subsistence killers, aka poachers. it denoted class, and an absence of need. Culminating in Elmer Fudd announcing that he is a vegetarian, he hunts wabbits for the sport of it.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if hunting or killing fish for fun is a sport, if any deer or fish ever won the game and what did they win?

Chas S. Clifton said...

Dear Anonymous,

I think the thrust of the post itself plus Galen's and Heather's comments pretty well answered your trollish rhetorical question before you even wrote it.