The History of Hunting as a Sport

No one knows about the pre-historic sports because of the paucity of the relevant archaeological record, but it is likely that the first athletic events were contests of the physical skills most important in fighting, hunting and warfare. Combat sports and contests of hunting skills (e.g. Archery, target shooting) remain common, athletic events. Hunting in its pure form is not a popular spectator sport because of the contingencies involved and for obvious ethical reasons. It is, therefore, one of the sports that have failed the test of time. Or has it?

A group of hunters posing with their hunted ducks. Photo courtesy –


Before the onset of civilizations, the human race survived on their skills of scavenging and hunting. The men held daily hunts to put food on the table for their families. Unlike today, all hunting was for survival and none for sport. From bones to pelts, all the materials, thus obtained from killing, was used. Occasionally, the skulls were kept as decorations or as symbols of the clan or family group. It was also a method to determine the bravest, although this mindset became more prevalent in the later eras.

Read: The History of Hunting

As living became more organized and civilizations really began, the role of hunters got refined. Agriculture became a primary source of food. There was a need for people with varied skills. New occupations such as craftsmen and weavers and tradesmen came into being so that everyone could have an access to everything they needed; therefore, hunting too became a task only for those who were most suited for the profession. This was also the point when hunting came to be recognized as a sport. Animals were captured alive for sale or gladiatorial competitions by the Roman civilization. Eventually, hunting for sport saw a paradigm shift and acted as a foundation for modern day competitions.

In the middle age, following the growth of civilization, the first real restriction on hunting was imposed: no hunting in the King’s forest. Even though it was a primary mode of survival for many, Man eventually progressed from relying on scavenging to cultivating his own farms and plantations. Hunting ultimately became the leisure activity for the nobility during the period and was used to establish a hierarchy in the society. Popular weapons used were different forms of slings and spears. Guns were also developed although it hadn’t reached its potential like present day.

With the onset of the industrial era, the evolution of machines brought about great changes in this sport. Large farms became very popular. The practice of hunting wild animals took a beating, and it was downgraded to a part-time activity. Archery, which was primarily a method of hunting, eventually became a test to determine strength and hand-eye coordination.

Deer hunting is survival hunting or sport hunting for deer, which dates back tens of thousands of years. Source



Hunting as a sport has received maximum criticism in the last two centuries and therefore, regulations have been imposed to prevent endangered animals from being extinct. However, these restrictions haven’t prevented manufactures from creating a large range of weapons for hunting. Special guns and equipment are designed for hunting different animals. E.g. Moose Hunting has different supplies from those required for deer hunting.


In recent times, various schools of thoughts have developed promoting hunting as a ‘rich heritage that shouldn’t be forgotten’. However, hunting acts as a sole survival method for the numerous rural group in the contemporary world and enables wildlife population control. Any hunting operation allows only a small number of animals to be taken annually. During this process, biological data is recorded and submitted to wildlife service in order to keep a close tab on the overall health and population of the species.

The supporters of this “sport” have also developed tranquilizer guns in order to merge leisure with animal welfare. Wagner, a Fort Worth businessman, bid $23000 in an online auction for an opportunity to participate in the world’s first “catch and release” hunt of a bongo (an endangered animal of Africa). This auction was organized by Bisbee’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund. The proceeds of which were earmarked for research and conservation, effort in Africa. “I got a bigger thrill out of it (over traditional hunting) because the animal got up and lived for another day,” said Wagner.

Conservation societies and organizations have begun the paradoxical attempt to bring some of these species back from the brink by legalizing hunting of them for hefty license fees. These fees are spent on conservation supplies, equipment, technology, and personnel. Animals are often hunted within the law in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.

South Africa, home to the critically endangered black rhino, has elected to sell some of the animals to professional hunts at very high prices. In 1996, a man named John Hume bought three of them for $200,000, then sold the hunting rights to two of them to two other men. They requested anonymity because of death threats, but they paid $150,000 each to hunt the animals. Hume hunted the third himself. He was one of the very first to pay money to a conservation society for the privilege of hunting a black rhino.

The exorbitant fee generated from hunting a few is channeled towards the conservation and safeguarding of many. Also, more often than not, the animals sold to these groups are old, sick or rogue. Therefore, the defenders of these hunts maintain that they spare the animal the miserable death of starvation and further leading to the threat of extinction.

The endangered Black Rhino from Africa Picture Courtesy:


Tewksbury, director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute of the World Wide Fund for Nature, points out that Southeast Asia’s Mekong River Basin, through its fisheries, supports 60 million people while in the United States, shark-watching results in $314 million per year, directly supporting 10,000 jobs.

According to Rogers, a researcher in Rice University’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, 73 percent of visitors to Namibia are nature-based tourists, with their money accounting for 14.2 percent of its economic growth.

“Whale watching in Latin America alone generates over 275 million dollars a year. Multiple studies have demonstrated how turtles are worth more alive than dead,” said Tewksbury.

Lemurs, the famous big-eyed primates found only on the island of Madagascar are one of the critically endangered species on Earth. Like lions in Zimbabwe, Lemurs are a huge tourism attraction for Madagascar and will always generate more profit for more people alive, than dead.

Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug dealing billionaire once owned four African hippos and when his estate was liquidated, the hippos became proved too dangerous to even approach and were left to roam freely. They bred to a total of 16, one of which was later shot in self-defense. The rest are still in Magdalena River.


The killing of Cecil, one of Zimbabwe’s most loved wild animals is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to thousands of animals taken by poachers every year. Some are taken by hunters, others by organized criminals who want to sell different parts (Rhino horn was reported to be selling for $65000 per 2.2 pounds making it more expensive by weight than gold, diamond or cocaine). Sometimes it’s impoverished people looking for an easy catch or a square meal. Either way the animal ends up being dead. Whatever is the poacher’s motivation, they are elbowing these iconic animals to brink.

Walter Palmer who shot dead Cecil – one of Zimbabwe’s most loved lions Picture Courtesy:

Humans have caused 322 animal extinctions over the past 500 years with two-third of those occurring in last two centuries. This rate of extinction has been unprecedented since dinosaurs ended their reign 65 million years ago.

The most comprehensive survey data stated that 100,000 African elephants were poached across the continent between 2010 and 2012. According to those figures, in 2011 alone poachers killed roughly one in every 12 African elephants. We know they’re terribly endangered, but their total number still stands at between 450,000 and 700,000 today. In 1900, there were 10 million. Most of them were killed by legal trophy hunting before African nations began protecting them in the mid-20th Century. Today, most of those killed are the result of illegal poaching. Though ivory is internationally banned, it is still popular among the wealthy, especially in Asia, and poachers make $5,000 per pair of tusks.

Humans are killing tigers faster than they are destroying their habitat. The haunting proof that poaching is the greatest threat to tigers: “Empty Forest Syndrome”. Roughly 620,000 square miles of what should be tiger habitat currently lies unoccupied.

For all sea turtles, including the leatherbacks and green turtles that also find themselves on the receiving end of poachers’ deadly attention, poaching is potentially catastrophic. The animals take so long to reach breeding age — more than 30 years, in some cases — that many are killed before they ever have the chance to reproduce.

Hunting animals to establish respect in society, hunting for leisure, and hunting for smuggling exotic species to earn big money are practiced in many parts of the world, especially among the elite groups or parts of Africa.

When hunting is unnecessary, it is barbaric. Sometimes, hunting falls into the category of necessary evil. But when the aim is just the pleasure of stalking and killing, or the pride of a “trophy”, the necessity is absent and you’ve to ask yourself, what’s left, and what’s next?

Written by Vedika Singhania.

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