New research gives insight into the minds of hunters

Sense of “achievement” is particularly dominant when hunters target carnivores.

A grizzly bear sits down in the shallow water on the BC Coast.

Photo by Alena Ebeling-Schuld.

Researchers from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the University of Victoria have shed new light on what satisfies hunters. Reporting in the peer-reviewed journal Wildlife Society Bulletin, our former Honours student, Alena Ebeling-Schuld, led our research, which found that appreciation (of nature) and affiliation (bonding experiences with friends and family) are common but less pronounced ‘satisfactions’ expressed by hunters. The dominant satisfaction expressed in online hunting stories is achievement.

We found that this pattern is especially strong when carnivores, like wolves, cougars or grizzly bears, are targeted.

86% percent of carnivore hunting stories (compared with 81% of ungulate hunting stories) emphasized achievement as a dominant theme. When carnivores were targeted, appreciation satisfaction was the focus in only 3% of stories.

Most notably, almost half of carnivore stories had only one satisfaction present, 100% of which exhibited only achievement satisfaction.

Alena Ebeling-Schuld, now a practicing Conservation Geographer and professional photographer, states, “If these patterns expressed on hunting forums are representative of hunters on a broader scale, then there are clear differences between satisfactions associated with ungulate and carnivore hunts.”

On the other side of the ledger, carnivores suffer and pay the ultimate cost.  Tweet This!

The greater level of difficulty associated with carnivore hunting might be key to understanding why achievement is more important than other satisfactions. These findings align with evolutionary theory I examined and applied with Evolutionary Anthropologists from the University of Utah last year in the paper “Why men trophy hunt”.

Seeking achievement evolved because successful hunts in our ancestral past – and nowadays – display qualities of interest to competitors and mates, like skill or wealth. Simply put, accomplishments bring status, which remains an all-important currency for men.

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Although there are clear wildlife management implications, I tend to think more about the more direct and practical ways that this information can be useful – today and in BC. By understanding a hunter’s satisfactions and motivations, we can ask bigger questions about our relationships with wildlife. Is a hunter’s feeling of achievement more important than, say, the life of a grizzly bear?

The reality is that hunters do not typically target grizzlies or other carnivores to feed their families. It is more about feeding their egos with the sense of achievement. We find ourselves in a moment of history when we are re-assessing our cultural and moral relationships to nature. These new results allows us to account for the benefits and costs that flow to those involved in hunting. Carnivore hunters benefit from a sense of achievement but not via not some basic need like food. On the other side of the ledger, carnivores suffer and pay the ultimate cost – with their lives.

To me, the path forward in BC is clear. Polling data have indicated that even hunters and those in rural areas, while supporting the privilege to hunt for food, are opposed to killing carnivores for trophy. A ‘fringe’ minority of hunters can no longer defend gratuitous killing of carnivores.

And other hunters interested in safeguarding a fragile social license afforded to hunting these days would benefit from speaking up. Their voices can join those presenting arguments from the perspective of ecology, economics, ethics and Indigenous law.

Chris Darimont on the coast.

Chris Darimont, PhD

Chris Darimont is the director of science at Raincoast, and the lead scientist at the Applied Conservation Science Lab at UVic. His work is in biology, evolution and ecology. You can find him on the coast, and sometimes in the waves, somewhere between San Diego and Haida Gwaii.

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