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What Makes Hunting Ethical?

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Hunting has been a diverse topic among many different groups of people, all of which have their own opinions on the matter on whether hunting is ethical or not. Not everyone is understanding of what hunting is actually about. Hunting is not a sport, as many people come to believe that it is. There are different practices to hunting, and how these practices are used among hunters determines if the actions are ethical or not. No one hunter is going to be exactly the same, each one has their own values and morals when it comes to the hunt. That is why there are laws, regulations, and hopefully good morals an individual will follow by to make a hunt as ethical as possible. But, the hunt is not the act that can lead to unethical choices. It’s also what someone does with the animals after the hunt has just as much weight on ethics than the hunt itself. Everything that one does from the moment they decide to go hunting all the way up to using parts of the animal are choices that a hunter will make. Pending on those choices that are being made will determine just how ethical the action was.

Is it Ethically ok to Kill an Animal?

The biggest question that is debated when it comes to hunting would be is it ok to kill an animal? Like, what was mentioned before, not everyone has the same opinions when it comes to hunting. To most hunters and people, it is ethically ok to kill an animal within considerations. Most people believe that it is only ok to kill an animal if they intend to use the resources the animal gives you to the full extent of it’s benefits. But, to others they do not believe that it is morally right to take another living creatures life no matter what it is used for. Not everyone has the same ethically values and morals as another. When interviewing a management hunter, and he was asked this question, his response was one that most people would receive from his kind of hunting. Mr. Strickland said “Yes, I do believe that hunting is ethically when it does the proper way. One must not just kill an animal for fun, but for the sole purpose to use the animal to its full potential. To use as much of its resources, and to make sure one is not causing further harm to others (animals or humans) or the environment in which these species reside in.” (D. Strickland, personal communication, October 19, 2019).So, these big questions tend to stir up debates and controversy among people. In the end, the question does not have a fully right and wrong answer. The answer of whether it’s ethically right or wrong to kill an animal lies deeper into the decisions and actions of the hunter themselves and how to intend to use to the animal.

Why is This an Ethical Issue?

Hunting tends to bring out some of the biggest diverse topics and debates amongst people. Another main question that gets asked about hunting besides is it ethically ok to kill an animal, is why has this become an ethical issue debate? There are multiple answers to this question from multiple different people who have their own views on the situation. When interviewing Mr. Strickland, he had mentioned “No matter how well someone follows the laws, and morals when it comes to hunting. Someone will always find a flaw within a hunter and say they were unethical in practice.” (D. Strickland, personal communications, October 19,2019). One person that has a lot of insight on hunting is a game warden himself. They are in the front of everything, to upholding the laws, finding justice within the laws, and how to justify if someone committed an unethical act. When interviewing Sgt. Dan Vogel, and asked about the ethical debate on hunters and what his experience has been. He mentioned “Throughout my years as a warden, I have come across many different cases. But, the one that I will always remember the most that really shaped me was when I had received a call about a youth hunter who had killed two turkeys with one shot; one of which was a hen, which is illegal. When I arrived on the scene, and did my investigation I knew that even though killing the hen was illegal, I could not write a citation. Instead, I had a small conversation with the young man and told him that I wanted him to remember that the ethical thing he had his dad call the warden about the issue, and he did not just continue on and lie about taking the hen. I did end up confiscating the hen as evidence, but I did leave him with his tom (larger bearded male), congratulated him and told him to keep thriving and flourishing as a hunter. By all means I was in the right to give him a citation, but I did not want him to remember that and discourage him. (D. Vogel, personal communication, October 20, 2019). This is a debate that will never be settled, there will always be disagreements amongst other hunters, and other organizations that ban together in hopes to bring hunting to an end. The only thing that can be done is to keep teaching people ethical ways to hunt and use the resources to their full advantage, and punish those who do not obey the laws, and try to make sure that their punishment is ethical and justifiable as possible.

Disobeying Hunting Regulations


Though there tend to be multiple people who support hunting, there are also many reasons that have given hunters and the practice of hunting such a bad name. Many of these reasons are because of the people who do not follow the laws that are set into place to manage wildlife to ensure it keeps flourishing for years to come. One of the common issues that may corrupt the hunting society and make it unethical would be poaching. Poaching is the illegal killing of an animal that is not in season or is considered endangered or protected. Poaching can cause an unbalance within ecosystems, and can cause an imbalance within the populations of different species who benefit from each other. An example of poaching an animal that is not in season based on the timeframe that is specified could be a deer being killed in July. This is considered poaching because almost all deer seasons start in September and go through December unless it is urban archery. Also, this would be considered unethical especially if it was a doe because they are either still pregnant or they have just given birth to their fawns. This would be unethical because if someone kills a pregnant doe then they’re killing not only her, but also the unborn fawns. If she already had her fawns, and someone was to kill the doe, then the fawns would not be able to fend for themselves at such a young age and would be vulnerable to the elements and predators. There are other illegal and unethical hunting practices, other laws must also be obeyed in order for a hunter to engage in ethical hunting.

Tag Limit

Another illegal and unethical hunting practice that sometimes gives hunting a bad reputation is not obeying the laws and going over tag limits. According to the, (N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission) each hunter with a registered license has a tag limit of six deer, only four of which can be antlerless deer also known as a doe or a button buck because they do not have protruding antlers, and two antlered deer also known as a buck because of protruding antlers (p. 62, 2019). An example of a hunter going over their tag limit would be if they have already filled up both of their antlered tags and killed another buck and didn’t claim it. This is unethical for multiple reasons, one, the hunter has gone over their tag limit, this would be considered unethical because when taking more bucks than the two a hunter is given which varies from state to state, the hunter is causing an imbalance in the buck to doe ratio which causes an imbalance to the population. The second reason is that the hunter did not report the buck that was harvested, and three, the hunter has ultimately affected the population for the future. Another example would include if a hunter has already filled all six of their tags and then decided to harvest another deer. This would also fall under the same unethical reasons as stated before. If a hunter becomes dishonest when reporting an animal then it becomes an issue not only for other hunters because when more deer are being taken than can be counted for, the effect on the population within that area is being depleted, and if more hunters are taking deer whether that be legal or non-legal kills the deer population can diminish faster than the Wildlife Commission would expect it too. This is based off of the Wildlife Commission using the tags that are being called in to calculate the populations of the intended animal in that specific region which will determine if the tag limits need to change for the upcoming seasons so the populations can still flourish. Emmanuel Kant stated “a lie always harms another, if not another human being, then it does harm to humanity in general” (Albanese, 2016, p.31). In other words, if a hunter lies about a kill, then he is being unethical and is also creating an underlying problem for the future populations of animals whether that be deer, turkey, bear, etc…

Different Usage of Deer


Well, it has already been discussed about how to use the meat of a deer to its fullest potential. But, how can one use something that cannot be eaten, such as the antlers of a buck. The antlers do not actually rot or waste as they are technically bone. Some may not know, but they can be used for knife handles, decor items, and many other useful objects. Since antlers are a bone, they are harder in material, and that is why they are used as knife handles since they will be sturdy and not easily broken, with the bonus of the nice look they bring as a finish. Another, good use that has been done with antlers is making them into household items. There have been decor items where they are used a toilet paper holders, etc… These are good uses of the antlers because one is still using as much as possible off of the deer, and using them to their needs.

Buck Velvet

The velvet on a buck has become very valuable to consumers, like the tusks and horns on an elephant or rhino. It has been discovered that the velvet a deer has on their antlers when they’re growing has growth hormones in them that many bodybuilders and pro-athletes like to use as a supplement. Anabolic growth factors have been found in deer antler velvet and they are like insulin growth factors. One that can be found is IGF-1, which “stimulates new cell growth and has been shown to improve muscularity, healing and recovery times, decreases in body fat, and an increase in lean muscle mass” (Carmody, 2019). Another growth factor that has been found in the velvet is IGF-2 also stimulates tissue growth. These supplements that are being made from the velvet is 100% natural, and almost has the same effects that anabolic steroids have on one’s body. Some studies that have been done on the effects of antler velvet have shown improvement in athletic performances. Also, including improvement in one’s physical ability but also improvement in one’s own mental capacity as well. (Carmody, 2019).

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Different Types of Hunters

Management Hunter

Now, that there has been some background on hunting and some reasons why it can be considered unethical it is time to discuss the different types of people within hunting who can either make it ethical or unethical. One of the people who would be considered ethical to most people is the management hunter. A management hunter is someone that would fall under the ethical category because they hunt to keep the population under control and keep all the ecosystem within balance. A lot of times a management hunter will also hunt places that do not have a high predator area. This is because with a lower number of predators within a region, the higher the prey will be which can put the area at an imbalance (Turtenwald, 2019). These types of hunters want to ensure that their land has the most beneficial deer to keep the populations flourishing. This means that they will take out any deer that will not help, which includes, does that cannot produce fawns anymore, or if a deer does not have the proper genetics then they will be taken out as well. Also, many of the times they will use the meat of the animals as a food source, or they donate the meat to shelters for other people to use instead of leaving the meat to waste and rot. These types of hunters have morals and values in respecting the wildlife and following the laws.

Meat Hunter

Next, a meat hunter is someone who hunts animals strictly for the use of their meat. This type of hunter is someone does not care about the size of the antlers, or what gender the deer is. Along those lines, a true meat hunter is considered to be someone that lives by the saying “if it’s brown, it’s down”. They generally will kill anything that comes in front of them whether it be a yearling, a mature deer or anything in between. Their main purpose when hunting is getting as much meat into their freezer as possible to have an abundance of a food source to provide with. Though, they are considered an ethical hunter because they use the meat, and try to use as much of the deer as possible. But, they do have some waivering values which could be considered unethical to some people.

Trophy Hunter

Lastly, a hunter that is on the lower end of values to most people is the trophy hunter. A trophy hunter is someone that only wants the largest rack on a buck, one that has the most scoring and value for record books. These hunters can respect the laws to a certain extent and sometimes their values do not meet those of a meat or population management hunter. Also, another form of a trophy hunter would be someone who goes out to Africa, and does safari hunting. An example of safari hunting would be if someone paid to go on some form of a Safari hunt killing a lion, giraffe, etc… There was a big controversy back in 2015, when a dentist had killed a very beloved lion. The dentist had paid a large amount of money for this guided trophy lion hunt in Africa, which led to the death of the beloved lion. Many people were furious about this, and giving death threats to the dentist. His family and him eventually had to go into to protection due to the massive amounts of death threats he was receiving which was a price he had to pay due to the mistake the guide made by letting the dentist kill the lion. Based off of these hunters, and the decisions that they make whether they be ethical or not determines how they influence the environment these animals live in, how the populations can be affected by this, and also the values of future hunters.

In the end it doesn’t really matter what type of hunter you are, though some may disagree. All hunters have their own opinions, and values when it comes to hunting animals. The most important and ethical thing when it comes to taking and processing a deer is to have as minimal waste as possible. Whether that be all the meat is being used us as a food source to provide for either the hunter and their family, or for other families if the meat is being donated. The antlers on a buck is being used, either as decorations like some people use them for, or for more usable things such as tools, knife handles, etc… Ultimately, the most ethical way to use a deer is to use up as much of the resources the animal gives you and to have as minimal leftovers of the animal as possible, only then is someone getting the most benefits out of it.

Philosophers Opinions

Emmanuel Kant

Emmanuel Kant is a philosopher who focuses on one’s duty (Albanese, 2016, p.27). This means that Kant mainly focused on the motives and intentions that lead someone to do something that was either ethical or unethical. For many hunters, they all have different intentions and motives when it comes to hunting wild game; Not all intentions are the same. Insert here the motives of meat and trophy hunters. Would Kant agree with motives? Overall, with everything that Emmanuel Kant believes in with his code of ethics, he would not agree with hunting being an ethical practice. That is because hunting cannot be grouped and fall under one universal law. Emmanuel Kant is not the only philosopher who would have an opinion on hunting. Some philosophers may even disagree with Kant, and believe hunting is ethical to an extent. Which leads us to a second and final philosopher that has a different view than Kant does.

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill is a philosopher who focused on utility (Albanese, 2016, p.38). This means that Mill mainly focused on the consequence that resulted from someone’s actions. This is the opposite viewpoint from Emmanuel Kant who focuses on one’s motives and intentions. For many hunters, Mill would be able to understand and relate more because they all have different intentions when it comes to hunting, so basing it off of the consequence can be easier to determine if the hunter is ethical or not. An example of scenario that Mill would agree with would be, if a hunter was unethical with going over their tag limit and not reporting a harvest, that when the game warden found out and wrote him a citation for his this. That it would be acceptable. The consequence that the hunter faced with lying on his tags would be getting a citation when busted. An example that Mill would disagree with would be if a hunters motivation was to just kill animals for their value. This is because Mill does not base his ethics code off of motivations. The consequence to that scenario though would more than likely be that the hunter just harvested the games values and left everything out to rot and waste. Overall, with everything that John Stuart Mill believes in, and based off of his code of ethics he would agree with some of the hunting practices, but he may not agree with all of them.


All things considered among the very controversial topic of hunting, it can be seen how people could consider this to be an ethical issue. These different practices and how a hunter uses them has a significant role in the determining of the ethical practice. When practices are doing being done properly and the resources that are being provided are ignored is when ethics start to be questioned. This is not a sport and to most this is not a competition either. Hunting is used mainly for the sole purpose of providing for one’s family, and making sure to the balance of the species does not get out of ratio, along with keeping a good balance within their ecosystem, and the habitat in which they reside in. Everything must be taken into consideration, and how there can be a domino effect by the actions that a hunter takes when hunting is involved.

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What Makes Hunting Ethical? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from
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