That might strike you as an odd question, but I’m not saying the historical Jesus was a hunter. While white-tailed deer do live around Nazareth and Bethlehem (cities in modern Pennsylvania), they’ve never lived anywhere near Nazareth or Bethlehem (cities in first-century Galilee). So let’s suppose Jesus wasn’t from Nazareth, but from some other obscure town where people were deer hunters. Like his friends, Jesus would kill a buck in a heartbeat.
We’re not attempting to justify hunting. Hunting doesn’t need justification. Mankind has always hunted, and without hunting we wouldn’t be here today. We don’t make the mistake many people make, saying that hunters cause cruel and unnecessary suffering. The truth is that not hunting would cause much more suffering. Hunting is necessary because without hunting, everything in the wild would go out of balance.
You might say today’s supply chain puts our food in stores we can easily access, so people can survive just fine without shooting deer. True. But we don’t argue hunting is necessary for our survival; we argue that hunting is necessary for the survival of wildlife. Without the enormous support hunters offer for wildlife conservation, our woodlands would be bankrupt of wildlife.
Some people might say Jesus wasn’t an outdoorsman, but he said of himself, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20, English Standard Version). Jesus was more of an outdoorsman than most of us today.
We have no record of any contemporaries of Jesus being hunters, but we do know many of them were fishermen. In fact, Jesus called several fishermen to his inner circle, and he never spoke a critical word about them catching fish. More than once, he even helped them fill their boats with fish. After his Resurrection Jesus invited his disciples to a breakfast of fish he apparently caught and cooked himself, and asked them to add theirs. “When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught’” (John 21:9-10, ESV).
Jesus helped others catch fish, he caught fish, he cooked fish, and he ate fish. If he lived in a culture and a geography where people hunt white-tailed deer, why wouldn’t he help others succeed at hunting, shoot a deer, cook venison, and eat venison? Comparing the two contexts, we can see the difference between a fish and a deer is virtually nothing. Jesus ate fish, and he ate the Passover lamb at the Last Supper with his disciples. He was a surf and turf guy.
Now let’s fast forward to our modern world and imagine Jesus living in a North American deer hunting culture today. He would be playing the role of a steward of wildlife outlined in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (ESV).
Jesus would oppose cruelty and suffering, but as a student of the Old Testament and consistent with Genesis 1:26, he would also see that man would cause cruelty and suffering by not hunting. With wildlife being squeezed to more and more limited habitat, what is to keep wildlife from overpopulation? And within limited habitat, what will keep those deer from making more deer—too many for the habitat to sustain? And what will keep overpopulated deer from degrading the habitat they share with other birds and animals, causing themselves and other species overcrowding, disease, and suffering? In a modern world where deer have no predators other than man, hunters provide a vital service both to fellow citizens and to wildlife by limiting the number of deer to what the limited habitat can support.
It might seem nice to think Jesus, like St. Francis, was a friend to animals, but that’s a sentimental view and it’s not true. Jesus was a real person who lived in the fisherman’s culture surrounding the Sea of Galilee. If he were physically walking the earth today, and we found him at a hunting camp instead of a fish camp, he might be cooking venison over an open fire and inviting his fellow hunters to come and eat some chops from the 10-point buck he shot. He’d feed their bodies, and probably talk about the hunt as a way to share words of life for their souls.
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 give Steve the exact GPS coordinates of your favorite hunting spot, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015, 2018, and 2023 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.