With endless attacks from antis, it’s easy to make excuses for taking part in our sport. But Jonny doesn’t shy away from talking about the enjoyment factor...

credit: Archant

There is a cloud over the hunting community, and that cloud is shame. On the whole, we seem ashamed of what we do. We dress it up as conservation, wildlife management, population management, crop protection and some act almost as if it is a chore, but the bottom line is, if we didn't enjoy hunting animals, we wouldn't. There is a plethora of other things we could be doing with our time - golf, cosplay or knitting - but we choose to hunt and kill animals.

The shame cloud comes from the vast majority of the modern world not understanding what we do, and why we do it. It is a question that nobody can seem to answer in long form - is hunting and killing animals for pleasure acceptable? This has been shown more clearly than ever in the mess surrounding the general licences. Along with anti-shooting/hunting people (the antis) saying that hunting for pleasure is wrong, that we should get with the times, that we should feel guilt for the enjoyment in our hunting activities.

To start any journey, it is necessary to take in all sides of the argument - a quick search of the subject will garner endless pages of 'killing animals is evil', so here are some of the antis' points, and I shall address them as we go, before presenting my argument.

1. "Hunting causes suffering and death"

The second part of the statement is obviously true. Animals do die when a hunt is successful (if hunting success is indeed measured in killing animals). However, the suffering of an animal is quite the opposite of why we hunt: clean and quick kills are our aim. One could argue that a hunted animal, that dies on the same land that it has lived its entire life, suffers less stress than livestock being loaded and sent to slaughter.

credit: Archant

2. "Like humans, animals want to live - they also love and feel pain"

Indeed, in terms of evolution, an animal exists to live and reproduce, but I disagree with the second part of the statement. Anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal or object) is for writers, my basset hound and people who haven't spent enough time around animals. While animals do feel pain - a response to a certain set of stimuli necessary to continue life - they are not emotive creatures with a conscious train of thought. They are lacking the one thing that makes a human, well, human: a large prefrontal cortex in the brain.

Animals feel pain to force them to leave a harmful situation. They have a reward system in place for eating, fornicating, staying warm - this does release dopamine, the hormone proven to make us happy, but, in my opinion, there are no conscious thoughts to go with this sentiment.

To assume that an animal feels love or pain in any way like a human does is naive, but it is the opinion of our opposition that humans and animals are equals in every way. I do not deny that humans are physiologically animals - we live, we eat, we defecate - but we are vastly different morally. Morally, we are NOT animals. We sent people to the moon - because. We invented the iPhone - because. We mastered flight - because. We are vastly different to all other animals, intellectually superior to nearly all, and as such I find it almost insulting that people can think that a pigeon can love in the same way that I do.

According to the Ancient Greeks, humans can love in seven different ways: Eros, the love of the body (sexual desire and attraction); Philia, the love of the mind (brotherly love, of a platonic nature); Ludus, playful love (a flirty kind of love); Pragma, longstanding love (love sustained in a marriage); Agape, love of the soul (a selfless love, unconditional love based on altruism); Philautia, love of the self (selfish, pleasure-seeking love); Storge, love of a child (the love between parents and their children).

I am not going to dispute an animal's capability to present Storge - animals do have oxytocin, the chemical created when mothers breastfeed, or clean, or nurture their child. This is necessary for the survival of a species. No species could survive if their mothers weren't to ensure their young survived.

However, the other six loves are up for debate. Birds don't marry, and it's only in rare instances that they couple for life; if they do mate for life, there wasn't an agreement between them to do so, as they have no thought track to be capable of this. Birds don't have the concept of altruism, they wouldn't give their resources to another bird with no gain to themselves, it just wouldn't make sense in a survival of the fittest. They kill each other's eggs to make way for their own, which disregards Philia as a type of love entirely.

Either way, this is where most heads butt on either side of the argument. If someone says to me that killing an animal and killing a human is the same, I just agree to disagree. Short of exposing them to animals (other than their dog, cat or fish) over a period of time, there's not much I can do.

credit: Archant

3. "Hunting can lead to violence against other humans"

No true hunter/shooter would ever want to hurt animals. Hunting an animal increases your respect for it many times over. I have been chastised for stalking deer many times, but not one of the chastisers upon questioning had ever even sat out in nature and watched deer, let alone done thousands of hours of it. I love animals, as I will get into later. Deriving pleasure from taking an animal's life outside of an evolutionary standpoint is wrong. I am not, and never will defend animal abuse, being cruel for cruelty's sake is inexcusable, and unsurprisingly is not something that hunters are known for.

credit: Archant

4. "Hunters say hunting keeps nature in balance, but that's not true"

The idea of rewilding and my opinions on it are far too extensive to write here. Needless to say, as long as humans exist in their modern format, we will have an effect on nature, let alone the thousands of years gone by in which humanity has carved the earth into its current form. As it stands, the world is out of natural balance (which is largely our fault), and we, as the guardians of the countryside, the dominant life form on planet earth, do need to try and manage it to the best of our ability.

There are several libraries-worth of study, both domestic and foreign, that link quality biodiversity with hunting practices, whether this is indirectly influenced by hunters or not. Examples of this are many, but one simple report is the quantity of hen harriers on grouse moors vs the amount found on land that is not managed for hunting.

One final point on this is that it is only humans that have an ethical code when pursuing their quarry. No other animal has the capacity for codes of conduct, fair play and an understanding of wider wildlife management. A fox does not prey only upon creatures like itself, in fact they aim for animals where chance of success is near absolute. I am not saying that we are not at a huge advantage, but what we do is take into consideration how necessary any kill is before pulling the trigger. No other creature shows mercy, caring only that its prey should not escape; and the prey is often devoured while living.

So, why DO we hunt?

So with anti-hunters painting a picture of us as evil, psychotic, unsympathetic wildlife destroyers, and doing a very good job of making sure everyone knows it, there is no wonder we feel ashamed to openly enjoy hunting. I am about to try and give my reasoning as to why there is nothing wrong with hunting (and ultimately, killing) animals for pleasure! I shall start by saying that it is far too simplistic to remove any of the other reasons we hunt away from the 'fun' aspect. Saying that any hunter goes out purely for fun with no other reasons is an over-simplified view often put around by anti-hunters.

Why do we take pleasure in hunting?

Since the dawn of time, human beings have been known to be hunters. We evolved as omnivorous hunters, and as much as society has changed unrecognisably since then, our brains haven't changed very much at all.

Our minds are wired to release dopamine (the feel-good chemical that plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behaviour) when we do something good for our survival: food and sex being the two big ones.

When humans were first developing, they needed to hunt in order to survive. The experience of hunting (without guns, or knives, or much of an upper hand) was dangerous, enduring and incredibly hard work.

But, we needed to eat, so our brain became hardwired to stimulate the release of dopamine when hunting - this made the experience linked to pleasure - especially when a successful hunt led to eating.

Alongside this, the danger element caused the sympathetic nervous system to kick in - that's a release of adrenaline, blood pumping, pupils dilating, heart rate raising. Fear? No - excitement! It is worthy of note that dopamine release is a key element in addiction: Smoking? Dopamine. Gamble and win? Dopamine. Gamble and lose? Well that's fine, might win next time, and that creates, you guessed it… dopamine!

In my experience, people are hooked on hunting animals after their first try. Yes, hunting is addictive! I could finish the argument here - stating that it is as natural to hunt, and to enjoy it, as it is for a cow to be skittish. You can tame something and put it in the 'perfect' environment, but hardwired in its head is a million years of evolution that it cannot ignore. I have not yet seen someone involved in hunting who didn't yearn to be involved again. Hunting is a natural thrill. It is something we are built for and something in which every primitive society partakes.

In our society of privilege, many choose to get their adrenaline and dopamine fixes in other ways (sport, TV, fine wine, holidays), but we all came from the same swamp, and not long ago (evolutionarily speaking) we were all chasing the same mammoths. Killing for no other reason than feeding this fix is wrong, however I cannot think of many species that one can hunt where there aren't other ecological, economical or sociological reasons to do so attached.

What anti-hunters always seem to forget when saying we are just there for the kill, is how many hunts end with no game, and that actually, the kill, when it happens, accounts for a few seconds of a hunt. The sport is in the opportunity of potential success after all.

Other psychological aspects, other than the basic evolutionary response, can also help to explain our enjoyment in hunting:

Sense of achievement: This requires very little explanation. You went out to complete a task, and you completed it. This feels good, and as such is enjoyable. Animals are neither innocent nor helpless. It takes great skill and patience to hunt them and to do so successfully is an achievement in itself. To achieve a stable and healthy population of any species provides this same feeling, protecting one's crops or food source gives this feeling and coming home with meat does the same.

Sense of affiliation: It has been proven multiple times that humans are social creatures and that a sense of belonging is good for our mental health. A person's need to feel a sense of involvement and 'belonging' within a social group is fed through being a hunter.

Even with more solitary hunting styles, there is a sense of community, and when talking about the more sociable hunting sports, it is most of the reason people do that style of hunting.

Sense of appreciation: Appreciation and gratitude feel in short supply sometimes in the modern world; in fact, research suggests that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing these things, the more it adapts your overall mindset.

Both appreciation and gratitude are feelings present in hunting and killing: to the land, to the animal, and to your fellow hunters, so, it is only natural that it feels good. What's more, if you hunt more, it is possible that you will subconsciously act more positively towards others as a result.

All the other reasons...

We are all aware of the other reasons we hunt. Crop protection, population control, disease control, wildlife management, protein gathering - but the bottom line is that it feels good. Is it wrong to exercise these base desires? No more so than wanting to sleep in shelter, eat food, have sex or breathe.

I know hunting is part of who I am, and to try and deny that would be to deny my soul what it wants. If that makes me a dinosaur in the eyes of the critics, then so be it. In a world that changes its mind as to what is and isn't socially acceptable as frequently as the weather, something as pragmatic as hunting probably doesn't have a place in most people's minds. But at the same time, it takes nothing to see how many of humanity's other carnal desires are popularised nowadays. I personally note how sexualised TV, music and film have become, which is perhaps also something we should have moved on from if we use the same arguments used by anti-hunters.

The hunting and killing of animals does, in some cases, need to be done, so I for one shall do it, and I shall enjoy it. Be a good ambassador for shooting, don't feel shame and, if you want to share what you do, remember to do it justice.