Why do you hunt? Find the answer with science

A few years ago, I believed that hunting was one of the worst activities humans could do. I thought hunting was only represented by killing wild animals and causing pain and suffering in free animals. However, when I started my Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management, I began to explore the question: why do people hunt?

At that time, I could not wrap my head around people killing beautiful animals, such as red deer (Cervus elaphus) or sika deer (Cervus nippon). Meat can be produced through farming, so why would one want to kill wild animals?

I studied biology, anatomy, and other subjects related to wildlife. After three years, I knew much more about wild animals, but I hadn’t answered my question yet.

My first research project took place on a hunting ground in Italy, where I began to understand the world of hunters. I had the chance to get to know the culture, traditions, laws, and regulations central to the hunting world.

I continued to look for the answer to my question in Croatia, where I met hunters from all over the world; I also took part in hunting activities. I then understood that hunting is much more than just killing. In some cases, hunting data can be used as a tool to do wildlife research such as a study done on the effect of the creation of a border fence on animals’ movements. In other cases, hunting can help habitat renewal through land management. It was not until my master’s degree that I realised hunting activities can play an important role in achieving international nature conservation goals.

Male Axis deer (Axis axis) walking in a game reserve. Axis deer is an invasive deer in Hawaii and it is causing damage to the ecosystem. In this case, hunting can help to reduce the destroying effect of the animals on the forest. This photo is by Laura Centore and can be reused under the CC BY-SA license.

As I dug deeper into my question, I found a scientific paper that perfectly combined all the features of my question, called “What are they hunting for?”. This study, written by Geoff Kerr and Walt Abell of Lincoln University, explored the reasons that New Zealanders hunt. Kerr and Walt focused their research on sika deer hunters.

Sika deer were introduced over 100 years ago to the North Island of New Zealand. After their introduction, sika expanded their territory to almost 6000 square km in the Kaimanawa and Kaweka Ranges by 2000. The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) and recreational hunters work together to control sika deer and allow mountain beech seedlings to recover.

DOC completed an experiment in Kaweka mountain beech forest where they analysed the consequences of deer control on the tree recovery. The reduction of deer is expected to improve beech forest regeneration; but it is a difficult process to show.

The recovery of trees is slow in Kaweka forest and if a proper system to reduce deer numbers is not established, then the forest will be destroyed. Fencing trees, aerial hunting and recreational hunting are the methods used at the moment in Kaweka forest. The recreational hunting is considered the least effective method and this way of deer control must be improved.

It is important to understand hunters’ choices to improve the success of deer control made by DOC and the involvement of recreational hunters. The hunters’ decisions can drive management plans and contribute to resource allocation. This is why is important to understand the reason why people hunt.

Female sika deer browsing. Sika deer can create damages to beech forest if not controlled. Photo by Peter Pearson and this photo can be reused under the CC BY-SA license.

Kerr and Abell categorised hunters of sika deer into three groups: locals, occasionals, and enthusiasts. The results of the study showed that hunters have different kinds of interest. Those interests can improve the value of recreational hunting.

The local group do most of their hunts next to their home and their primary motivation was recreational.

The occasional hunters were those who travelled long distances to hunt, such as hunters from the South Island, that are aware of the presence of sika deer in the North Island and decide to travel north to hunt sika deer for the novelty value.

Finally, the enthusiasts were mostly rural residents who did multi-day hunts, were willing to travel long distances, and had the primary focus of trophy hunting.

The results of Kerr and Abell can help to plan an increase the role of recreational hunting for beech forest recovery. Understanding what appeals to the different groups of hunters can fine tune DoC’s strategies in controlling the deer. However, only with the combination of this knowledge with information of the forest and of the deer will it be possible to expand the understanding of the problem.

I have only skimmed the surface of the answer to why hunters hunt, but there are still many answers I seek. Hunting is not meaningless killing for me anymore, rather I see it as a powerful tool for conservation. In the case of sika deer in Kaweka forest, hunting can help the reduction of deer impact on the beech forest. Hunters and wildlife experts share common interests and they need to work together for the good of nature and animals.

For more information: Kerr N.G., Abell W. (2016) What are they hunting for? Investigating heterogeneity among sika deer (Cervus nippon) hunters. Wildlife Research 43: 69-79

The author Laura Centore is a postgraduate student in the Master of International Nature Conservation taught jointly at Lincoln University and University of Göttingen. She wrote this article as part of her assessment for ECOL 608 Research Methods in Ecology.

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