Sport Hunting Is Conservation Hunting (Part 5)

Every state has crafted meticulous regulations that govern every aspect of hunting. Regulations change because habitat constantly changes, population dynamics are continually in flux, and science improves. Regulations are not simple, and require hunters to study carefully. (Photo by Steve Sorensen)

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

In recent weeks we’ve looked at the three main types of hunting history has given us in North America. They came one after the other, and all three are clearly different.

Subsistence hunting was need-based. For our remote ancestors, hunting was a matter of survival, a reaction to basic human hunger. Market hunting was profit-based. Our forerunners who were market hunters reacted to an economic opportunity, providing food not just for themselves but for others willing to buy it. Subsistence hunting and market hunting are easy terms to understand.

It’s not as easy to understand why modern hunting is called “sport” hunting, so it’s time to answer that question. In the nineteenth century a sport was someone who participated in a diversion, a pastime, a recreational activity not integral to survival. Card playing and golf were common pursuits, and a “sport” was a person who engaged in them. Although we seldom call people “sports” today, this older meaning is preserved in certain phrases such as, “a poor sport.”

As the nineteenth century was about to give way to the twentieth, hunting had no rules and wildlife science was in its infancy. Clear-eyed American hunter-conservationists (President Theodore Roosevelt among them) recognized that market hunting would destroy wildlife. They saw that hunters could no longer be reactive, focused on their own immediate needs. It was time for hunters to become proactive, to find a way to conserve wildlife for future generations.

We can thank these early conservationists for rejecting Europe’s model of wildlife management where wildlife was the property of wealthy landowners and hunting was only for aristocrats. America was different. In a democratic society, wildlife was not just for the upper classes. To restore American wildlife and to insure its survival, wildlife had to be valuable to everyone.

Sport hunting is what made that happen as the states took on the mission to regulate wildlife through managed hunting. Now that we are well into our second century of scientific wildlife management combined with sport hunting (the two go hand-in-hand), hunting clearly has some things in common with other sports.

Consider parallels between baseball (or any other sport) and hunting. Both have seasons. Both have playing fields. In baseball, the bat, the ball, the glove, the bases, the boundaries, and even the clothing players wear meet well-established regulations. In hunting, regulations govern firearms and ammunition, archery equipment, clothing, places to hunt, and much more. Regulations also call for bag limits, hunting hours, and accountability through reporting. They make hunting an egalitarian pursuit, promoting fairness and equity among participants and insuring that wildlife survives and reproduces. Regulations limit hunters and benefit the species.

Yet today, some people say hunters “make sport” of animals, trivializing them, but hunters don’t trivialize wildlife just as the Braves don’t trivialize the Yankees or the game they’re privileged to play. Some think sport hunters kill out of raw bloodlust, but most hunters honor the animals they kill. Sport hunters are important agents of scientific wildlife management who enjoy hunting and obey the rules.

Some people may still object. “But I hate those photos where hunters gloat and act like they’re heroes because they killed something.” That’s a totally subjective viewpoint. We don’t accuse a baseball player of self-promotion because his picture is on a baseball card. We don’t vilify him for pumping his fist after hitting a home run. Success is celebrated in every area of life, and no one can judge how another’s goals should be applauded.

Hunters have created a unique system that makes sport hunting objectively positive. It finances the management of wildlife. It insures the abundance and accessibility of wildlife. It places limits on hunters, who take only what can be annually replaced. Modern hunting is conservation.

If you enjoy wildlife, but don’t like “sport” hunting, call it what it really is — “conservation” hunting, and it will take on an entirely new perspective. No alternative to modern conservation hunting will keep wildlife abundant, well fed, renewable, in balance with its habitat, and pay all the costs of making that happen.

Conservation hunting is irreplaceable. Conservation hunting saves wildlife for everyone, including future generations, and makes hunters the most important conservationists in history.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, He is a field contributor to Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, insights and occasional humor. His byline has appeared in the nation's top hunting magazines and he is a field contributor to "Deer and Deer Hunting" magazine. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at to invite him to speak at your next sportsman's dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).