The killer for sport has no . . . comprehensible motive. He prefers death to life, darkness to light. He gets nothing except the satisfaction of saying, “Something which wanted to live is dead. There is that much less vitality, consciousness, and, perhaps, joy in the universe. I am the Spirit that Denies.”To which Krutch adds, “To me it is inconceivable how anyone should think an animal more interesting dead than alive. I can also easily prove to my own satisfaction that killing ‘for sport’ is the perfect type of pure evil for which the metaphysicians have sometimes sought . . . ” (Krutch 1969, 148). Anti-hunters like Krutch commonly argue that hunting is unjustifiable because it is violent, unethical, and barbaric. Hunters enjoy a "damnable pleasure" that is pure evil. (Hell, while we’re at it—hunters are pure evil.)
Joy Williams’s essay, “The Killing Game,” is a similarly dramatic ad hominem against hunters. “The American hunter is blood-thirsty, piggish, and grossly incompetent," Williams writes. The main problem with recreational hunting, she argues, is simply the fact that hunters “kill for play, for the thrill of it.”
Therefore, "it’s time to stop actively supporting and passively allowing hunting and time to stigmatize it."
Hunters’ self-serving arguments and lies are becoming more preposterous as nonhunters awake from their long, albeit troubled, sleep. Sport hunting is immoral; it should be made illegal. Hunters are persecutors of nature who should be prosecuted. They wield a disruptive power out of all proportion to their numbers, and pandering to their interests–the special interests of a group that just wants to kill things–is mad. It’s preposterous that every year less than 7 percent of the population turns the skies into shooting galleries and the woods and fields into abattoirs. It’s time to stop being conned and cowed by hunters, time to stop pampering and coddling them, time to get them off the government’s duck-and-deer dole, time to stop thinking of wild animals as “resources” and “game,” and start thinking of them as sentient beings that deserve our wonder and respect, time to stop allowing hunters to be creditable by calling it “sport” and “recreation.” Hunters make wildlife dead, dead, dead. It’s time to wake up to this indisputable fact. As for hunters, it’s long past check-out time (Williams 1990, 265).It’s pretty clear that Williams dislikes both hunting and hunters!
In contrast I believe that recreational sport hunting pursued for its own sake is morally justifiable. What’s more, I specifically embrace the use of the terms ‘recreational’ or ‘sport’ hunting to defend hunting. The reality of recreational sport hunting is that hunters are motivated not by need or utility but by a desire for the pleasures and enjoyment of the hunt. When viewed in this way, in this specifically non-utilitarian or even aesthetic sense, sport hunting can be interpreted, defended, and justified as an art form.
The idea of calling sport hunting an art form is not crazy. In a thoughtful book about boxing, for example, novelist Joyce Carol Oates speaks of “the awareness of life’s tragic ambiguity that serious art provides” and argues that the sport of boxing is a serious art (Oates 1994, 137). In a similar book about bullfighting, Bruce Schoenfeld writes, "Bullfighting at its best forces everyone who sees it to become keenly aware of his own mortality, which arguably should ennoble his being and enhance his life. It's serious stuff" (Schoenfeld 1992, 91).
Exactly. Hunting is serious stuff as well. As a voluntary leisure activity hunting has the potential to ennoble one’s being and enhance the lives of those who practice it.
One of the problems with discussing hunting today is the terminology we use. Traditionally, the term ‘sportsman’ has conveyed the normative side of recreational hunting by helping make distinctions about fair and unfair methods of hunting. But more recently, the very idea of the hunting as a sport has itself been called into question. Some defenders of hunting believe that the use of the term ‘sport’ to describe hunting trivializes hunting. Others respond by saying that justifications of hunting as sport should be abandoned in favor of utilitarian justifications such as food-getting.
The term ‘sport’ however continues to convey accurately the sense of sporting ethics that has distinguished non-subsistence hunting as a recreational activity for thousands of years. Abandoning the term ‘sport’—or, at the very least, forgetting the reasons why hunting should be classified a sport—would be a mistake in my view.
It may just be that conceptualizing hunting as a sport provides the only possible basis for a meaningful hunting ethics. Aldo Leopold argues that hunting for sport is an "improvement" over hunting for food because the entire notion of "sport" brings with it not only an emphasis on skill but also an ethical code that hunters must uphold "without the moral support of bystanders" (Leopold 1933 (1986), 391). Those who argue that hunting is best defended as a means to getting food are left without a rationale for why hunting should be conducted in an ethical or sporting manner as opposed to the most efficient or expedient manner.
We might also consider the question asked by José Ortega y Gasset in Meditations on Hunting: Does hunting have an essence? Even though many philosophers tend toward skepticism about "essences" of anything, hunting as a concept helps organize different human experiences and identify what is common to all of them. The philosophic literature on play, games, and sport, provides a theoretical basis or framework for understanding what Ortega refers to as the "essence" of hunting. Is play or "sport" the essence of hunting? There are good reasons for believing so.