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 1964, 29).The intention of hunting is not to kill per se, but to derive pleasure from the attempt to do so; and often, if not most of the time, the hunter's attempts to kill an animal will end in failure. This likelihood of failure is necessary to maintain the tension and enjoyment that arises from the game's fundamental uncertainty. Because much of the modern criticism of hunting is crucially intertwined with questions of fair play, hunting’s defenders need to be reacquainted with the connections between sport, sportsmanship, and the sporting ethics of hunting.
If food were the primary object of our intentions in hunting and angling, then it would be just as easy to go to the grocery and be done with it. As a prudential argument for hunting, food getting hardly constitutes a moral justification for hunting or fishing. There are easier, faster, and more efficient means of getting food. There are also countless forms of hunting and angling where food as such is hardly an overwhelming consideration in proportion to the time, money, and effort the individual puts into the activity. One does not quail hunt for food, for example, although certainly one may enjoy quail as a meal. If food were the main concern or “proper object,” quail hunters would choose to raise quail in a pen and slaughter them as they would chickens for the table.
Instead, quail hunters hunt; it is the quail hunt itself that is the proper object of the hunting.
This is not to say that food is never a motivating consideration when one hunts. Certainly 300 pounds of elk meat in the freezer from a single elk puts the three ounces of meat from a single quail into perspective. Many big game hunters do hunt partly for the meat. But if meat were the sole objective, it would be just as easy to purchase domestically raised venison or ranch-raised elk meat as it is to go through the process of hunting. It is the hunt one enjoys when going after elk or other big game.
Food-getting accounts also tend to underestimate or downplay the importance of pleasure in the eating of meat as food. As Elizabeth Telfer observes in “The Pleasures of Eating and Drinking,” no one is required to eat fish, for example. There are clearly alternatives to eating fish (Telfer, 1993). But people who enjoy eating fish derive considerable pleasure both from the eating but also from the cooking and preparation of fish. Thus for Telfer pleasure motivates the eating of fish no less than the angling for fish. In other words, even the justification for different kinds of food preferences indicates moral choice and a tacit acceptance that elaborate meals are morally acceptable.
Making food the only proper object of hunting and angling would also not justify the potential risk of losing an animal that occurs from time to time in hunting and fishing. Regrettably, one of the more serious aspects of the “game” of hunting and fishing is the chance that an animal may be wounded but not recovered, or that a fish may be hooked, injured, but then freed by breaking the line. Here certainly the importance of the game itself, i.e. the importance of hunting and angling to its practitioners, helps to justify the risks involved; just as in other sports the risk of possible injury to the participants—sometimes serious injury—is accepted as a condition for participating in the activity. Hunters and anglers seek to minimize that possibility of “crippling losses” of the animals pursued, but the possibility is always there. If food were the primary or “proper object,” then, the only ethical way of obtaining one's meat would be from a fish farm or an abattoir, where the circumstances surrounding the death of the animals can be highly controlled.
This is why recent calls to defend hunting not on the basis of sport but on “utilitarian values” such as food miss the mark. Wildlife managers Walt Gasson and Larry Kruckenberg recommend to hunters:
Don't defend hunting as “sport.” Remember that, despite what we might think, most of the American public opposes “sport” hunting. Instead, emphasize the personal values of hunting. We hunt to get close to nature; we hunt to enjoy experiences with friends and family. These are acceptable values. Most hunters eat their kill, so it's fair to defend hunting from this angle. Emphasize the utilitarian values of hunting (i.e. consumption of meat) whenever possible (Gasson and Kruckenberg 1993, 38).This argument is repeated by many others (Geist, 1997; Kerasote, 1993; Organ and Muth, 1998; Moyer, 1998) Although each of the other motivations that Gasson and Kruckenberg mention clearly do influence the decision of many hunters to hunt, note what results if the enjoyment of the activity itself is downplayed or ignored. There are other ways to get close to nature than hunting. One could choose to play cards with friends and family if that is one’s goal. One can eat meat without killing animals by hunting. Each of these putative justifications for hunting miss the point that the goal or purpose of hunting is to hunt. Hunting is an elaborate, rule-bound game for pursuing and killing an animal. And because the game in this case is a physical one, “sport” is the accurate philosophical concept to be used in association with hunting.