Most people understand why we hunt deer, elk, moose, or any other animal that seems to have a domestic counterpart. They know meat and for the most part, accept hunting as a way to acquire it but when an animal is hunted that is not typically eaten the approval for hunting drops.
This thinking is especially true with predators. There are a few exceptions, but predators typically are not hunted directly for food, but food is the reason we hunt them. We hunt them because we are in competition with them for food. Their food is our food.
In the United States and Canada wild game is a huge food source. Approximately 6 million deer are killed each hunting season, and each deer can provide anywhere from 40-100 lbs of meat. Conservatively, that works out to 240 million pounds of meat, and that’s just deer. We have yet to add in elk, moose, caribou, waterfowl, and other small game. So that number is a lot higher.
In other words, we have a massive renewable food resource that we need to protect. Like I mentioned before we compete with predators. Now, this does not mean that we plan on or want to wipe these animals off the landscape. Hunters understand that all creatures have a place in this world and it would be an egregious sin to hunt any creature to extinction purposely. That being said predators need to be managed.
To understand why they need management, let us talk a little bit about predator and prey relationships. Back in the 1920’s there a famous study on the relationship between rabbits and foxes. They found that as the rabbit population multiplied, they provided a food source for the foxes, which resulted in more foxes. When the increased number of foxes ate the rabbits, the food supply disappeared, which led to the foxes dying off. When the fox population dropped, the rabbit population rebounded, creating a new food supply for the foxes. It is a self-perpetuating cycle
This same cycle can be applied to other predator/prey relationships, for instance, wolves/ elk and moose/bear. The rabbit/fox cycle takes about ten years to complete which is surprisingly fast because rabbits breed like rabbits and they can recover relatively quickly. That cannot be said for the other animals mentioned. Elk and moose have one to two offspring a year; the cycle will take a long time to run its course.
I know what some of you are thinking it is a natural cycle and we should just let it play out. The problem with that is the millions of pounds of game meat that people use for food. That need is not going anywhere when game populations are in the extreme down part of the cycle, which could last for a decade or more.
In the absents of wild game to eat, people will turn to domestically produced meat. This means cattle operations will have to grow. Which leads to the clearing of more land, which means less habitat for wild animals.
So to protect a valuable food resource and protect habitat, predators need to be managed. What wildlife managers are trying to achieve is a steady population of both game animals and predators. They strive to keep game animals at populations that can both sustain human harvest and providing food the predators.
Predator populations can only be kept in check by hunters and trappers. A certain number of predators must be taken out of the ecosystem every year so the balance can be maintained. Wild food is a resource, and we must make sure that it remains sustainable.
If you found this essay helpful, I would like to invite you to check out my book, Why We Hunt: The Five Motivations of the Modern Hunter. In it I discuss not only preditor hunting but trophy hunting and how we can perserve hunting for the next generation.