Sport Hunting — the Third Way (Part 4)

This is just one of the ways deer populations conflict with human populations. Without sport hunting we would see much more of it, until even deer populations would crash from disease or malnutrition.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Most people understand subsistence hunting. History teaches us about the primal, natural struggle of our ancestors to nourish themselves off the land. We even tend to romanticize that lifestyle.

Many understand market hunting, the industrial age effort to profit from the apparent endless abundance of wildlife. Market hunting lasted only a century or so, but it caused extinctions and near extinctions. People sometimes mistakenly blame those negative outcomes on sport hunting today, but sport hunting is what saved wildlife from destructive market hunting.

As a third way, sport hunting balances the ancient heritage of hunting with vast human populations of the present. Sport hunting is now the key to keeping wildlife abundant, accessible, and in balance with the limited habitat that sustains it. Yet sport hunting has become a dirty word, and those who oppose it spare no criticism.

We read and hear people criticize hunting almost every time they talk about it. “Let nature live in peace!” Never mind that nature is crueler than humans are. “Bring back the natural predators!” Never mind that humans are predators, and have been a part of nature throughout history.

“Natural predators kill only the weak.” Having been indoctrinated with the principle of “survival of the fittest,” we have learned only that the weak lose. Have we failed to learn that the strong also become weak and unfit to survive? If a deer is spared early death from disease, injury, or malnutrition, he will not crawl into some thicket and die in peace. He will suffer, perhaps by being eaten alive by merciless predators. Life in the woods is a constant battle.

“Stop hunting, or soon we won’t have any wildlife left!” Never mind that just the opposite is true. If we stop hunting deer, they will double or triple their population in a few short years causing other species to suffer. One example — they will overbrowse and destroy songbird nesting habitat. Sport hunting insures species will exist for perpetuity through scientific regulation and professional management. Sport hunting has never caused the extinction of even a single species. In fact, it has rescued species from the brink. Sport hunting is the tool used in North America to fund wildlife management, wildlife education, wildlife law enforcement, scientific wildlife study, and wildlife appreciation on many levels — even millions of meals for the hungry. Non-hunters benefit from all this, too.

Critics don’t seem to understand what sport hunting is. Do they know that sport hunting is a response to unregulated and devastating market hunting? Do they appreciate that without sport hunting, more species would have become extinct or dangerously diminished? Do they grasp that expanding human populations and shrinking natural habitats are the real threats to wildlife? Do they realize that sport hunters play an indispensable role, and the primary economic role, in keeping wildlife healthy and in balance with its habitat? And that hunters keep conflicts between wildlife and people (crop damage, auto collisions, and much more) to a minimum? Do they see that sport hunting allows wildlife to thrive, so future generations can enjoy it?

They do not. Few people know hunters foot the bill for keeping wildlife abundant and healthy. Consider this. Every time a hunter purchases a firearm (along with ammunition, archery gear, and other equipment), a built-in excise tax of 11% flows to the federal government under the Wildlife Restoration Act, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937. That money is distributed annually to the states based on the number of hunting licenses sold. Eliminating hunting will eliminate billions of dollars for wildlife conservation.

Hunters not only pay up through these taxes, hunters do more fundraising and much of the physical work on habitat projects through the National Deer Alliance, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, the Ruffed Grouse Society, and dozens of other conservation groups. No comparable funding source exists to provide billions in tax dollars plus all those grass-roots volunteer efforts. Non-hunting conservation organizations do little by comparison.

“Yeah, but they use all that money just to keep deer populations high so hunters can kill them!” Not so. Of more than $1.1 billion in Pittman Robertson funding for 2022, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (one example) received more than $38 million and by law must use its funds to keep 480 species of birds and mammals healthy. Hunters are funding the management of both game and non-game species. The bottom line is that sport hunting is essential to wildlife.

Next time, we’ll look at why it’s called “sport hunting.”

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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.