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From 23 February 2003 Issue

Why Hunting Is Not a Sport
By David Cantor - Djcgside@aol.com 

Claims by hunters, officials, and outdoors columnists that hunting is a sport have long caused segments of the public to accept that notion. Yet an activity is not necessarily a sport just because those who practice it claim it is or because authorities reinforce the notion.

It is very much worth questioning whether hunting is in fact a sport -- since hunting is a life-and-death matter with irrevocable results and many people deplore the deliberate killing of wildlife legally owned by all of us in common. The relevant facts lead to the conclusion that hunting is not a sport.

Consider activities universally accepted as sports, and you can see they share several qualities. Team sports like soccer, football, hockey, rugby, and basketball and sports of mainly individual effort like pole vaulting, shot put, marksmanship, skiing and tennis involve only participants who choose to take part and understand the object, skills, rules of the sport.

That cannot be said of hunting since key participants -- the nonhuman targets of the human participants -- do not know they are participating and do not choose to do so. They do not know the object is to kill them or the rules or regulations that govern hunting. Animals may sense danger, but that is a far cry from knowing they are participating in a sport. The more accustomed to human presence an animal is, the less "sporting" some hunters consider it to shoot that animal, but that does not mean shooting animals is a sport -- it just means hunters choose to use that terminology.

Even in the most violent of sports, killing participants is never the object. Even though some people believe boxing should be illegal due to brain and other injuries often inflicted and deaths sometimes caused, inflicting injury or causing death is not the object of boxing. Hockey players, though castigated or ejected for undue violence, seek to get the puck into the opposing team's goal and prevent it from entering theirs, not usually to harm or kill opponents.

In those sports as in others, all participants know their sports, know the risks, and choose to participate. Not so with hunting, in which the aim is to kill nonhumans forced to participate unbeknownst to them and in which severe wounding without death or with slow, agonizing death often occurs. Of course, no veterinary "trainers" rush onto the field to help wounded Canada geese, deer, mourning doves, or others while an aggrieved audience hopes for the best. After all, killing is the objective.

The only way around this argument that hunting is not a sport is to claim human beings are the only participants -- that the animals are not participants. In support, one would have to claim hunting could take place without animal "quarry" or that animals are not conscious beings capable of participating in anything. Both would be patently ridiculous assertions. The first contradicts the definition of hunting. The second contradicts scientific knowledge that animals are in fact conscious beings and that they participate in many things, such as seeking food and cover, watching for predators to protect self and social group, building nests, raising young, and more.

If, by calling hunting a sport, hunters simply mean they have fun doing it, sure, that fits one definition of "sport." But that would acknowledge hunting should not be respected like sports involving challenge, competition and sportsmanship including all participants' knowledge and consent. And killing for fun, smacking of the utmost disrespect for life, is always discouraged in a civilized society.

That is not to say some hunters, wildlife officers, elected officials, and members of the press do not honestly believe hunting is a sport. But they are seriously mistaken. They misunderstand as countless people have always misunderstood things. But in the case of hunting, their error is a basis of terrible suffering in animals and of distress in people who care about animals. Therefore, it must be understood that hunting is not a sport.

David Cantor, executive director of Responsible Policies for Animals, Inc., lives and works in Glenside, Pennsylvania. He has advocated for animals and published articles and letters on animal protection since 1989.

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