Slow down. Before you call PETA to request they send a hitman, hear me out. A majority of people eat meat, so why is farming a better source of meat than hunting? Turns out it’s not, at least in terms of their respective “green” scores. When done for sustenance and not just for sport, hunting can actually be an environmentally friendly activity.
Let’s be clear – this statement only applies if you are following a specific set of guidelines. You are consuming or using every part of the animal you kill, to the best of your ability, and are not just killing for the sake of killing. The population of animals you are hunting is one that actually requires control, and that control is professionally and/or properly managed. You are also making every effort to ensure the animal is killed humanely and that the weapon you use to do so is efficient.
Think Jake from Avatar, not Uncle Jimbo from South Park.
With all that in mind, consider that hunting has been part of the human story for countless generations. It is an ancient source of nourishment, connecting us to our wilder selves, and to nature. It might be surprising, but here are 5 ways hunting is actually environmentally friendly.
1. It Maintains and Controls Animal Populations
In the US at least, hunting is a highly regulated activity. Laws are in place at local, state, and federal levels that keep numbers of prey animals in check. These efforts help us do things like cut down on deer-car collisions and protect our agricultural products from grazing wildlife, helping us co-exist. At the same time, the overall health of the species is also protected in most places because of conservation laws limiting which animals can be hunted, when and where you can pursue them, and how many you are allowed to take.
The process has and will always need constant management, so animal populations that are popular with hunters may have a leg up, since they will be more vigilantly monitored for conservation as well as for the sake of preserving the sport.
2. It Bypasses Livestock Farming Practices
Entire books have been written about the environmental debacle of large-scale livestock farming. Let’s just cover the basics. We use 30% of the land on Earth to grow vegetables used to feed livestock like cattle, chicken, and pigs. We only use 10% to feed ourselves directly. We also use one third of the Earth’s fresh water hydrating our farm animals. Not to mention that methane emissions from livestock farming, produced as a by-product of digestion, account for at least one-third of all agriculture-related greenhouse gases.
Just like any other mass-produced food, commercially farmed meat often goes to waste. Supermarkets, restaurants, and consumers alike purchase more than they need and end up throwing too much of it away. And unlike the habitats of animals in the wild, livestock farming has already required the destruction of millions of acres of carbon-absorbing forests worldwide, accounting for as much as 15% of global carbon emissions.
While smaller-scale and “backyard” farms are great alternatives to large-scale commercial sources of meat, hunting is also a viable option. Deer, elk, wild hog, duck, and rabbit are all good substitutes for traditional livestock.
3. No Added Ingredients
One of the best things about eating game meat is knowing that it tastes just how nature intended. And you might be surprised to learn that much of our commercially-raised livestock actually does have added ingredients.
Agricultural livestock animals are often given small doses of antibiotics. Not to stave off infection, as you might think, but to promote growth, an accidental side effect discovered in the 1940s. This is a problem because the practice leads to the emergence of antibiotic-resistance bacterial strains. Though the potential impact on human health hasn’t yet been quantified, the possibility of a future outbreak certainly exists.
US farmers often give livestock animals steroid hormones or synthetic equivalents to promote growth and metabolism of feed into meat. The FDA claims these chemicals are safe for human consumption, but studies have shown they are excreted in feces, where they can make their way into the water systems, causing endocrine disruption for fish and other wildlife, and possibly finding their way to us.
Unless you’re buying organic or grass-fed, the meat you purchase at the store was likely raised on GMO feed. Genetically modified animal feed is made from plants that either produce pesticides themselves or are bred to withstand heavy applications of nasty chemicals designed to kill bugs. Those chemicals aren’t being removed from the plants before they’re given to livestock. Instead, they’re collecting in the animals’ fat, which we then cook up and eat, exposing ourselves to substances that cause cancer, reproductive problems, and many other health issues.
As long as you aren’t hunting in an area with a known environmental contamination, you won’t have to worry if your game meat is full of nasty things whose names you can’t even spell. Nope, just pure, natural, chemical-free cuts of tasty goodness.
4. The Sport Keeps Itself Wild
Hunters are among the most active conservationists. It’s logical – in order to enjoy hunting as a sport, the land needs to stay wild. Without a well-preserved habitat, game species simply won’t thrive, and access to them will become limited.
People who purchase hunting gear also make a huge financial contribution to protection of hunting habitats. In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Pittman-Robertson Act, allowing an 11% tax on firearms, ammunition, bows, and arrows. The piece of ingenious legislation has been a steady and unbroken source of conservation funding ever since, amassing over $18 billion total. The money is distributed yearly to states to spend how they choose – education, research, restoration, or however they see fit. The results, such as the resurgence of bighorn sheep populations in the southern Rockies, have been well worth it.
Fees paid for obtaining a hunting license or tag also assist in conservation efforts. States use the revenue to lease land for hunters to access, keeping it at least temporarily undeveloped. They also use it to run fish hatcheries, fight invasive species, keep wildlife populations healthy, and to offer special programs and education. In Colorado, the Parks & Wildlife Department estimates that 62% of its funds dedicated to wildlife efforts come from licensing fees, with all taxes and grants combined only contributing 34% (donations and direct sales made up the rest).
In short, hunting pays for itself. Hunters as a group give back more than they take by paying higher taxes and fees on products and services associated with hunting, and by promoting a use of the land that requires it stay just the way it is.
5. It Creates a Lifetime Appreciation of Nature
Learning to hunt with skill can give you a solid appreciation of both animal behavior and the rules of the wild. It teaches you respect of the land and the animal, of the cycle of life and death, of our dependence on other life forms for survival.
Hunting a deer is an all-day endeavor, at minimum. It just isn’t possible to spend that much time in nature and not connect deeply with it. Hunters learn to work with the land, instead of against it, to achieve their goals, and their enjoyment of their time outdoors leads to a naturalist passion that knows no bounds.
Are you a hunter? Has hunting brought you closer to nature? What other ways do you think hunting can be environmentally friendly?