When you hear ethical arguments for veganism, the focus is usually on the evils of factory farming. And that makes sense, as factory farms are the main source of meat, dairy, and eggs eaten today. But what do vegans think about hunting and fishing?
Most vegans view hunting and fishing as morally wrong, due to the suffering and death they inflict on animals. However, most vegans also acknowledge that factory farming is worse. So hunting and fishing is a “lesser evil” comparatively. Still, many vegans find it disgusting.
Below, I’ll explain the main vegan arguments against hunting and fishing. I’ll also explain 3 common views that vegans have of hunters. And I’ll share an interesting form of hook-free fishing that may appeal to vegans with a nostalgia for fishing!
Do Vegans Support Hunting?
Most vegans would acknowledge that in human history, it was useful and necessary to hunt animals for food. However, today our understanding of human nutrition makes eating animals unnecessary.
Since hunting and fishing result in animals experiencing pain, stress, and death, this means they cause unnecessary suffering.
But of course, different vegans have differing views on hunting and fishing.
As we cover this topic, I’ll explain how the views of “health vegans” differ from “militant vegans,” which also differ from my personal views.
Let’s start with my personal view.
Vegan Arguments Against Hunting
As a vegan of 13 years, my view of hunting doesn’t have to do with the deer population, whether hunting is good or bad for the environment, or anything like that. It simply has to do with empathy for individual animals.
Just imagine you’re a deer walking through the woods… maybe with your family (papa deer or mama deer, etc). Then suddenly, someone shoots you or your family member.
In that moment, you’re terrified. You may be in horrible pain. Maybe you witness your family member die. Let’s say your only parent dies. And then you’re alone after that—an orphan.
Now just imagine, after you experience this, the hunter explains to you: “Hey, sorry—but don’t worry about it—we’re going to eat your dad’s whole body, with the utmost respect. Also, deer are overpopulated, so this is good, in the scheme of things.”
Does that explanation make everything okay, if you’re the deer? Or would you still be terrified, alone, in pain, missing your family, etc?
Being hunted is bound to be terrifying for animals, even when it’s done “with respect.”
Maybe ethical hunters wouldn’t shoot in my imaginary scenario where a baby deer is walking with its family—but I think even a deer walking alone could be traumatized by being shot at.
With the knowledge of nutrition we have today—and with the technology we have today—it’s just not necessary to hunt and kill animals. At least not in the developed world. It’s an unnecessary form of violence and killing.
More Vegan Arguments Against Hunting
You may have noticed that my personal explanation (above) is not very philosophical. I just told told a story about deer feeling scared. But you can approach this issue more philosophically.
As I outlined in my huge post on vegan ethics, there are many different ethical theories that can be behind veganism. And most of these also apply to hunting. These include:
- Utilitarianism: This is an ethical theory that focuses on the consequences of our actions (consequentialism). Specifically, this theory identifies happiness as good and suffering as bad. The philosopher Peter Singer argued in Animal Liberation that nonhuman animal suffering is ethically relevant, too, and that unnecessary animal suffering should be prevented. And hunting causes unnecessary animal suffering.
- Animal rights: Another philosopher, Tom Regan, argued that nonhuman animals have rights because they are “subjects-of-a-life.” In the same way that Peter Singer extended the ethical theory of utilitarianism to include animals, Tom Regan adapted Immanuel Kant’s ethical philosophy to include animal rights. Read more in Regan’s book The Case for Animal Rights.
And there are other versions of animal rights, as well. Another prominent writer and thinker in the animal rights movement is the lawyer Gary Francione. What does he say about hunting? Let’s see…
Hunting Is Not Necessary
In a recent blog post, Gary Francione explains how most people in society actually do agree with the ideas of veganism—but they just don’t apply it to their lives.
Francione explains that the “common view” about animals today is that our treatment of animals does matter morally—but it just matters less than how we treat humans. Most people agree we shouldn’t inflict unnecessary suffering and death on animals.
Then Francione explains: If the word “necessary” means anything in this context, it should certainly at least mean not just for pleasure or entertainment. So we shouldn’t cause animals suffering or death just for pleasure or entertainment.
And as Francione emphasizes, eating animals (and hunting animals) is in fact a matter of pleasure or entertainment. Why?
We know today that meat is not necessary for health. In fact, veganism is often healthier—or it can be. So eating meat is something we do for pleasure, tradition, and entertainment. And many vegans would argue, that’s not enough to justify animal suffering and death!
Why Don’t Vegans Hunt?
First off, can a vegan hunt? Is hunting vegan? Well, it depends on your definition of “vegan”… But most vegans certainly would not choose to hunt!
Part of why it’s hard to say anything absolute about vegans is that they differ so much. You can be “vegan” for different reasons, and you can pursue different levels of strictness:
- Some vegans mainly do it for health benefits. These “health vegans” avoid most animal foods, but they may still have non-vegan cheat days, or they may indulge on holidays or special occasions (see “The Paris Exemption“), etc. These vegans actually could hunt… But they wouldn’t want to eat much of the meat, for health reasons.
- Some of us are ethical vegans but not really “militant” about it. This is where I fall. I avoid all animal foods, consistently, for ethical reasons. However, I’m not as picky about tiny ingredients as some other vegans. And I’m not as opinionated about non-vegans, either. I simply wouldn’t hunt because I’d feel bad killing the animals!
- And then you have the militant vegans. These vegans are ethically opposed to killing animals, they passionately believe in converting other people to vegan, they want to achieve a vegan world, etc. These vegans would not hunt because they legitimately believe it is evil and morally disgusting!
So that’s why each kind of vegan wouldn’t hunt. Now, what do vegans think of hunters?
Do Vegans Hate Hunters?
Again, it’s hard to generalize vegans here. So let’s look at the same 3 categories of vegans mentioned above, and how they each tend to feel about hunters. Obviously, opinions can even vary within these categories:
- “Health” vegans: They may not feel any strong opinion about hunting or hunters. After all, they’re simply avoiding meat for health reasons. They probably respect hunters in most cases.
- Ethical but non-militant vegans: Again, this is me. I personally try not to judge hunters personally. I know they typically grew up in a culture of hunting, and it was usually a family thing. I know they’re not “bad people” or anything. That said, I do feel moments of frustration or anger toward hunters for hurting and killing innocent animals.
- Militant vegans: These vegans are most likely to judge hunters poorly. Some militant vegans probably do “hate” hunters. Or at least they feel consistent moral disgust at their actions and worldview. These vegans may also find the connection between hunting and traditional masculinity to be disgusting.
Can Vegans Eat Wild Game?
Some people also wonder if vegans can eat wild game since it’s not raised in cruel factory farm conditions. This is a similar question as whether you can eat a chicken that was raised in a nice backyard setting.
Generally speaking, vegans will not eat wild game. The only exception is someone pursuing a plant-based diet solely for health reasons. But even in that case, they wouldn’t want to eat it regularly (due to the health effects).
Can a Vegan Go Fishing?
Can vegans fish for sport? Is fishing vegan?
Well, again it may depend on what kind of vegan you are. But most vegans wouldn’t want to go fishing.
Even catch-and-release fishing can be stressful and painful for fish, leading to physiologial shock and a decreased chance of survival after being released. (source)
That said, hookless fishing—or “hook-free fly fishing”—provides an interesting approach for vegans who feel nostalgia for fishing. The Seattle Times ran an interesting piece on it a few years ago. And here’s another profile of a guy who does it.
Is PETA Against Fishing?
PETA is against fishing in all forms. Their primary reasoning is the same as what I’ve explained above regarding hunting and fishing both: It is unnecessary, and it causes suffering to animals. It’s really that simple.
Industrial farming and fishing may be a lot more cruel than a father-and-son trip to go fishing or hunting… but if you take the perspective of the animals you’re hunting or killing, they’re not a fan of either one!
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