When you mention sports, hunting usually is not the first thing that comes to your mind. It is defiantly different than football, basketball, or even curling. It has no equivalency in anything that most people think of when they think of sports.
The reason for this, not that hunting is put into the wrong category, but that the definition of sports has somewhat changed throughout the years. Back when the term was first coined in the 1400’s it meant “to amuse oneself by active exercise in open air or to take part in some game.” Another definition can be summed up as any outdoor activity done in leisure.
Hunting defiantly fits that definition, but as I dug deeper into the evolution of the word sport and how it relates to hunting it, what I discovered was very interesting. The reason sport became so attached to hunting was because people needed to show the difference between hunting as a profession or substance and hunting done in leisure.
In the 1800’s there were essentially three types of hunters the subsistence hunter, the market hunter, and the sport hunter. The subsistence hunter hunted to put food on his table. As for the market hunter hunting was his profession and Sportsman (Sport Hunter) who only hunted during his time away from his normal job as a leisure activity.
The way these three hunters went about hunting was very different. The market hunter practiced a sort of no holds barred type of hunting where anything goes. For example, market hunters used to float up to giant rafts of duck at night armed with a punt gun. One shot would kill hundreds of ducks.
The subsistence hunter hunted to fill his pot. His goal in hunting was not to sell to market or provide an escape from his life. Hunting was a necessity that provided him with food, and as long as he got the meat, he needed it probably did not matter much to him as to how he got it.
The sport hunter is different. They followed a code. There were rules involved in hunting that were put in place to give the animals a reasonable chance of escape. For example, it was considered unsportsmen like to shoot a duck that was sitting on the water. The hunter must first flush the bird before making his shot.
Today the subsistence hunter has merged with the sport hunter, and the market hunter is now gone. We hunt for food in our leisure time. Most are not bound by the necessity of having to hunt for meat but enjoy having it. In fact hunting has become an escape from the modern world and philosophically resembles the sports hunters of days gone by.
Even still many hunters do not like to think of hunting as a sport. It seems to be a difference of old world verses new world. By this I mean they picture sport hunting as a very European flair. They picture old English fox hunts with nobles dressed in red riding horses through the countryside. It is a type of hunting that belonged to the elites.
I believe that when settlers came to the new world, they harbored resentment of how Europeans managed their game, and they set up a system in contrast to it. In American hunting is not just for the elites it is for the common man.
The American hunter draws on this distinction and derives his identity not from the sport hunter he closely resembles, but from the subsistence hunter and the market hunter. He sees himself as a modern-day mountain man going off into the wilds to seek his fortune and filling his freezer with its bounty. By hunting, he can escape the stresses and constraints of the modern world and submerge himself in nature.
The identity of today’s hunter is wrapped up in all three. As I see it, he claims the legacy of the market hunter but embraces the practicality and ethics of the sport hunter all while enjoying the meat of the subsistence hunter.
So is hunting a sport? By the original definition, yes, but for many, it has transcended that moniker and has become a way of life.