Ahhhh, the age-old question…is hunting a sport? Hunting, like so many other hobbies, includes many different elements. Just like there are different kinds of hunting (rifle hunting, bow hunting, etc.), there are also different types of activities that can be included in the hobby. Some activities are just for fun, or for the thrill of the chase, while others are used to harvest a specific ingredient or animal. Some activities are considered sports, while others are not. Should hunting be considered a sport?
So, is hunting a sport? Yes. By every modern definition, and especially the origins of the term “sport”, hunting is a sport. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of “Sport” entails “a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment or as a job”. Additionally, the term “sportsman” which is a term widely applied to hunters, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a person who engages in sports such as hunting and fishing”.
The question of whether hunting is a sport is a fascinating topic because of both the history of the term and it’s practice, as “sport” originally referred to the act of pursuing game, and because of the passion with which both hunters and anti hunters make their arguments. Let’s take a look at what makes humans’ original occupation not only a bona fide sport, but something that transcends our modern idea of the term.
|Attributes of “Sport”, per Cambridge English Dictionary||Olympics, Ball Games, etc.||Hunting|
|Physical Effort||✅||✅ Hiking, endurance, stamina|
|Skill||✅||✅ Marksmanship, woodsmanship, tracking, etc|
|Rules/Ethics||✅||✅ Regulations, sportsman’s ethic|
|Enjoyment||✅||✅ Intense appreciation of the experience with or without success|
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Is Hunting a Sport? (The Evolution of Hunting from Subsistence to Sport)
It is arguable that humankind’s first profession and first teams were hunters. For eons, hunting was less a sport in the modern sense because it was simply the means for survival. However, from the beginning, it was not balls, sticks, or games depicted in cave paintings at Lascaux France or the Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was hunting scenes, stags and bison, and spear and bow wielding pharaohs in chariots.
This early obsession of man’s mind and our artistic representations of it show the reverence and importance we paid to hunting as more than subsistence. It shows an early fascination with an activity that perfectly fits the Cambridge definition of sport, as early humans clearly held hunting in high regard for the physical effort, danger, and skill that was needed.
As humans increasingly turned to agriculture and hierarchical societies, we really see hunting evolve as a sport, as hunting by the wealthy and powerful became shows of status, agility, and ethics. While the nobility of early Europeans enjoyed fox, stag, and bird hunts on private hunting preserves, the Roman Colosseum entertained with the pitting of slaves and heroes alike against dangerous game.
Still many many more simply continued hunting to feed themselves.
All of these pursuits point toward the psychological importance of the hunt to our collective identities, and it is likely here that the first “rules” and ethics of the hunter first appear, as the nobleman refused to murder a holding quil, waiting instead for it to fly, both to showcase the ability of wing shooting, and presumably to level the playing field with the bird.
As many British with impressive resumes as soldiers and statesmen made their way back to Africa as explorers and conquerors, they sought adventure, danger, and fame. Here again we see the ethos of hunting continue to develop, as famed writer Peter Hathaway Capstick sums up nicely in his foreword to “Death in the Long Grass”…
“Any bloody fool can, without encountering the smallest modicum of risk, murder a bull elephant at 200 yards with a lung shot. This is not elephant hunting but elephant killing. Yet to walk for a week, thirsty and foot-sore over hot, dry, thorn-spiked terrain, disappointed a dozen times by small or broken tusks, frightened witless by the female of the species, or seemingly unshootable bulls, and then finally to track down a big tusker in heavy cover for a confrontation at less than fifteen yards–well, that is elephant hunting. That is man against himself, the last and purest of the challenges that made us men, not animals.”– From Death in the Long Grass by Peter Hathaway Capstick
Modern Hunting is a Sport and Much More
To again quote the great Captstick,
“Getting the golf ball into the hole is the conclusion of the challenge; how one gets it there and how many strokes it takes is the challenge itself. The putt is to golf what the shot is to hunting.”
These words convey both the ethics of hunting and the transcendence of hunting beyond sport evermore-so with the passing of time. We see this as the modern hunter spends thousands and thousands of dollars just to drive by dozens of golf courses, gyms, and softball fields, to drive towards the horizon or fly to remote corners of the world to pit themselves against nature and its magnificent game.
As is so with any sport, there are casual practitioners and hardcore, elite, enthusiasts and experts. Just as baseball sees participants ranging from middle aged beer league softball players with a hotdog in their back pocket all the way to Derek Jeter, so too Hunting sees the beginner in a deer stand or duck blind for a few hours on a Sunday, to the jet-setting Jim Shockey with millions of viewers on the Outdoor Channel.
An important aspect of sport intersects these two crowds. Just as a 10 year old recognizes and calls out the same foul in a pickup basketball game at a park as Lebron James recognizes in the NBA finals, Hunters everywhere share similar agreed-on ethics.
The duck hunter painstakingly sets out decoys and masters calls and identification instead of shooting a duck already sitting. The sheep hunter hikes soaring cliffs, refusing to shoot young rams, and waiting on the perfect shot where his quarry can be retrieved. This ethos belies an intense respect for unwritten rules as well as the written ones.
The modern hunter spends this money, time, and discipline, all while adhering to an astonishing number of rules and regulations, to experience the ultimate sport.
They practice with rifle and bow religiously, battle the elements, themselves, and match wits with the animal, mostly in front of a crowd of no one. That is what makes hunting not only a sport, but so much more.