Brian Luke’s “A Critical Analysis of Hunters Ethics”


1.       Luke’s overall argument: Ethical values in hunting code of ethics–that we have direct ethical responsibilities to animals–show that hunting is immoral

2.       Sportsman’s Code

          a.       SC1: Safety first

          b.       SC2: Obey the law (“poachers” violate this)

          c.       SC3: Give fair chase

          d.       SC4: Harvest the game

          e.       SC5: Aim for quick kills

          f.       SC6: Retrieve the wounded


          g.       Note: According to Luke, 1st three are anthropocentric (for the sake of humans), next three nonanthropocentric (for the sake of wildlife)


3.       Different kinds of hunters:

          a.       “Slob hunters” routinely disregard 1-6

          b.       “True sportsman” obey all


4.       (1) Safety is anthropocentric

5.       (2) Obey law

          a.       Could be nonanthropocentric, but it is typically justified as a way to insure that future hunters have “game” to harvest (and this interpretation is anthropocentric)

6.       (3) Fair chase

          a.       Restrictions on means of hunting, so hunters occasionally succeed and animals generally avoid being “taken”; this gives animals a chance; be fair to animals by refraining from totally overwhelming them with technology

          b.       Unfair chase: hunting animals who can’t escape due to water, deep snow, fences, chasing with a vehicle, electronic tracking, automatic weapons

                    i.        Defenders of Wildlife information and video against aerial hunting of wolves    

          c.       Luke claims this is superficial fairness

                    i.        Does not really show a measure of respect for the animal, for not in interest of animals to be hunted “sportingly” but instead not at all

                    ii.       Not a balanced jolly game of mutual satisfaction: “I get to shoot you and you get to be dead”

          d.       Worries about Luke’s analysis

                    i.      True, its not a game both sides choose to play; Still, giving the animal a chance to escape is to compromise its interests less than if you overwhelm it with technology

                    ii.     It may be a measure of respect: Like a Native American capturing a white man and giving him 10 minutes head start before trying to find and kill him, this might show a level of respect–if you’re good enough, I’ll let you get away

                    iii.     It’s also a way of insuring hunters kill less skilled animals (this counters the anti-hunting point that hunters don’t shoot sick and weak animals but the big strong ones)

          e.       Fair chase mainly to develop hunting skills: A main goal of fair chase is the anthropocentric one of insuring that the hunter gets to develop hunting skills

                    i.        To maximize sportsman’s pleasure requires hunting not always fail nor always succeed.

          f.       Luke thinks fair case involves no particular respect for animals or prima facie case against hunting


7.       (4) Harvest the kill: Essential to use what is killed; no waste; greater the use, more ethical the hunting

          a.       Shouldn’t hunt animals if not eat them

          b.       To waste the animal is to show “deficient perception of value of animal life

                    i.        As if jack rabbits were “nothing more than motion to try to stop”

          c.       This requirement assumes:

                    i.        Animal life has intrinsic value and is a good; it is better for the animal to be alive than dead

                    ii.       Killing destroys a good and so there needs to be a proportionate good that gives adequate reason for deliberate loss

          d.       “Hunting is a prima facie wrong act of ending a healthy animal’s life”

                    i.      Use of animal’s body is attempt to provide such a reason to overcome the prima facie wrong; to make up for prematurely ending animal’s life

          e.       Worries: This isolates one part of act of hunting (eating/using what one kills) from the entire act; there are other goods involved in hunting that can be used to help justify the loss of good involved in the death of the animal (e.g., development of hunting skills, thinning herd, participation in natural processes, etc.)

          f.       Implications for trophy hunting?

                    i.        Is eating flesh better than framing head use? Why?

                              (1)     Most Americans support hunting for meat and oppose for trophies

                    ii.       Is eating flesh and framing head better than just eating?

          g.       Implications for catch and release fishing? (Killing not involved)


8.       (5) Quick kill: Work toward instant death

          a.       Thus, hunter must be familiar with weaponry, choose weapons appropriate for prey, practice to be a reliable shot, pass up shots may only wound animal

                    i.        This can increase the challenge of the hunt, but not done solely for this

          b.       Done out of recognition of importance of minimizing suffering that one is inflicting on the animal

          c.       Problems: This conflicts with fair chase (“sportingness of hunt”)

                    i.        Consider Bow hunting


9.       (6) Retrieve the wounded (duty even if chance of success minimal)

          a.       Shows a sense of personal responsibility toward individual animal

          b.       Hunters don’t like idea of game animals suffering; they desire to minimize the suffering that they cause to the animals hunted


10.     Only (1) safety, (2) obey law and (3) fair chase can be interpreted anthropocentrically

11.     (4)Harvest game, (5) quick kills, (6) retrieve wounded presuppose following nonanthropocentric principles:

          a.       Recognition of intrinsic value (IV) of individual animal’s life

          b.       Sense of personal responsibility for minimizing one’s imposition of suffering

12.     These principles put into question acceptability of hunting

13.     Commitment to IV of animal life implies should avoid unnecessary killing altogether (not simply required to avoid killing w/o finding a use for corpse)

          a.       Worries: This does not necessarily follow. It depends on one’s moral theory.

                    i.        Consider consequentialism (e.g., utilitarian) view; from a maintaining consequentialist perspective (=one should not diminish the amount of good in the world through one’s actions), IV of animal life only requires that the good gained from hunting be as great as the good lost. This is quite compatible with hunting not being “necessary.”

                    ii.       On the other hand if one took Regan’s rights view, then perhaps it would follow.

14.     Commitment to avoid causing unnecessary suffering implies leaving healthy animals alone (not just more careful shooting)

          a.       Worries: Not clear code prohibits imposing any unnecessary suffering, but only suffering unnecessary for the purposes of the ethical hunt.

                    i.        Would a warrior’s commitment to avoiding unnecessary suffering in the enemy commit him to leaving the enemy alone? (No)

                    ii.       “Unnecessary” is a fudge word that needs to be explained. Unnecessary for what? Survival, health, spiritual health, unnecessary given one’s ends?

                              (1)     For example, if rats are leaving scat on the porch, is it “necessary” to trap them? If coyotes are eating one’s sheep, is it “necessary” to shoot them?

15.     “Code as a whole entails a strong principle calling for minimization of (unnecessary) harm done to nonhuman individuals”

          a.       Not plausible to think code calls for rescuing wild animals from other animals, feeding starving animals in winter, but this follows from minimization of harm if one believes one can harm by inaction

16.     Code indicates a significant ambivalence by hunters about their killing

17.     Code entails it is prima facie wrong to hunt; gives a prima facie case against hunting

          a.       Prima facie: “On the face of it” “at first glance” “a presumption that must be rebutted or it is valid)


          (That could be given in response to this prima facie case against hunting)

18.     (1) Meat procurement argument for hunting

          a.       Good to hunt own food and take responsibility for it

          b.       Far better to hunt and eat what one kills then buy meat in grocery store

                    i.        Causes less suffering

                    ii.       Involves one in the process instead of letting others do one’s killing; this is good as gives one a better sense for what is involved in one’s food choice; it’s more responsible

          c.       Luke’s reply: Perhaps, but this is not a justification of hunting, for it ignores the possibility of vegetarianism

                    i.        That it is better to hunt for one’s meat than buy if from factory farms, doesn’t show it is okay to hunt

                    ii.       He grants that if veggie diet makes one ill or if one kills more animals by eating veggies than by hunting one elk a year (Kerasote and Pollan’s argument), then hunting may be “necessary” infliction of harm

                    iii.      So does necessity for Luke mean required for health, required to cause less suffering to animals?


19.     (2) Atavism argument for hunting

          a.       Atavism: Recurrence of a characteristic typical of ancestors

                    i.        A reappearance of an earlier characteristic

          b.       Modern hunting an expression of instincts that humans acquired during most of their existence (before the agriculture revolution)

          c.       Hunting thus links civilized “man” with his prehistoric origins

          d.       Hunting thus

                    i.        Not subject to moral evaluation as it is instinctive

                    ii.       Necessary today for emotional stability, fulfillment, happiness

                    iii.      Repressing hunting instinct leads to neg consequences–drug use, violence against humans

          Luke’s reply

          e.       Little empirical evidence for evolution of such an instinct

          f.       Humans evolved as foragers and scavengers, as much as hunters

          g.       Hunting instinct unlikely given most people don’t hunt and given that they are as well adjusted as hunters are

          h.       Urge to sport hunt better explained as cultural/learned phenomenon

          i.        Even if sport hunting expresses a predatory instinct, sportsman’s code indicates hunters also disposed against killing and inflicting pain

                    j.        Humans not natural predators, but conflicted predators

                    k.       Unlike wolves, humans worry about their killing

          l.        There is as likely to be an instinct against hunting (compassion towards animals, especially evident in children and lst time hunters) and so unclear how emotional fulfillment can come through engaging in a behavior about which there are conflicting instincts

                    m.      Might there be a reason for exploring those conflicting instincts by hunting?

          n.       The restrictions on hunting resultant from sportsman’s code make it highly implausible that what modern hunters can do is act as their paleolithic forefathers did

                    i.        For prehistoric hunters hunted out of necessity and without restricting their means of killing

                    ii.       These two acts of hunting are not sufficiently alike to be fulfillment of same instinct.


20.     (3) Hunting as a means of conservation of habitat

          a.       “Without hunters there would be few wild animals”

          b.       “Hunters as a group are one of most effective pressure groups working to preserve natural habitat”

          Luke’s reply

          c.       Code commits hunters to minimize unnecessary harm on individual animals

          d.       Other ways to generate funds for conservation beside sale of hunting licenses and taxes on weapons and ammunition

          e.       Conservation can more effectively be served by using general tax revenues than by charging hunters

          f.       Worries

                    i.        This is not realistic or practical; Hunters would not support tax raises for conservation (in general) like they support fees for hunting habitat

                    ii.       Also, more money likely if do both, license fees for hunters and general taxes for conservation as well

          g.       “When hunters say we will conserve animals only if we can hunt them, they are denying the intrinsic value of animal lives, as something of value independent of their utility”

                    i.        Worry: Why can’t they grant that the animal’s life has intrinsic value but claim the value they get out of killing the animal outweighs the animals intrinsic value

          h.       In so far as hunters support eradication of predators (e.g., shooting wolves in Alaska so there will be more elk/moose to hunt), this shows they are not true conservationists


21.     (4) Hunting as a means of wildlife management

          a.       Because of the absence of nonhuman natural predators, hunting is necessary to maintain healthy, sustainable population levels of animals

          Luke’s reply:

          b.       Applies only to a few hunting situations: Deer are only 2% of animals killed each year by N.A. hunters, no pop problems with remaining 98% (doves, rabbits, squirrels, quail, pheasant, ducks, geese)

                    i.        What about elk? Moose?

          c.       Deer hunters can’t see themselves as euthanizing deer to save them from death by starvation, because they select healthy adults, those most likely to survive winter

          d.       So human hunters don’t replace natural predators, as these animals kill old, weak, sick, young.

          e.       Further, hunting is responsible for too many deer: Deer are artificially overpopulated by feeding programs, habitat modification, destruction of predators and other management techniques to insure that there is a “surplus” of deer to hunt

          f.       Even w/o natural predators, un-hunted deer herds tend to reach stable populations and these are below levels fostered by wildlife managed for hunters.

                    i.        Yes by starvation, disease, winter die off and degradation of habitat (perhaps also by having fewer offspring)

          g.       Wildlife management is primarily for the sake of hunters and this reason can’t be used to respond to the ethical objections to hunting raised by hunters’ code of ethics


22.     The Hunter’s Code requires hunters to hunt in way that recognizes moral burden of killing and importance of minimizing infliction of pain.

23.     Hunters aim to kill and can’t help inflicting pain (at times)

24.     Code raises strong prima facie case against hunting and arguments in favor of hunting haven’t overcome this case

25.     Hunters ethics are paradoxical

          a.       Hunters become more ethical by hunting in a way that is sensitive to animals interests in avoiding pain and continuing to live

          b.       This very sensitivity and respect for animals entails hunting not justifiable and thus

          c.       Even true sportsman are not acting ethically