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Why People Hunt: The Psychology of Killing Other Animals

A new study identifies achievement as prominent among multiple satisfactions.

I just learned about a new and very interesting study on why people hunt by Alena Ebeling-Schuld and Chris Darimont called "Online hunting forums identify achievement as prominent among multiple satisfactions." Because hunting plays a role in wildlife management practices and is related to the integrity of diverse ecosystems, their results have significant practical applications.

The entire essay is available online, so here are a few snippets to whet your appetite for more. In the abstract were read:

Understanding hunter satisfactions can lead to improved wildlife management policy and practice. Whereas previous work has suggested that hunters often seek multiple satisfactions (achievement, affiliation, appreciation), little is known about how satisfactions might vary with target species. ... We used directed qualitative content analysis to analyze hunting narratives for satisfactions by coding 2,864 phrases across 455 hunting “stories,” and compared patterns of dominant (most frequent) and multiple satisfactions between target species type (ungulates and carnivores) using forums from 3 regions: British Columbia, Canada; Texas, USA; and North America-wide. We found that achievement was the dominant satisfaction in 81% of ungulate and 86% of carnivore stories. Appreciation was nearly absent as a dominant satisfaction in carnivore stories. We found that 62% of ungulate and 53% of carnivore stories had multiple satisfactions present, indicating that appreciation and affiliation play important secondary satisfaction roles even when achievement is dominant.

As pointed out in this essay, previous research on why people hunt is limited because they focus on a particular geographical region or on a single or only a few different species. The present study was much broader in scope. It's also significant that the comprehensive data set was carefully analyzed statistically, and achievement, rather than affiliation and appreciation, emerged as the dominant satisfaction factor. The authors write, "The 3-way combination of achievement, affiliation, and appreciation satisfactions was the most common multiple-satisfaction grouping, occurring in 46% of multiple-satisfaction ungulate stories (n = 107 of 235) and 35% of multiple-satisfaction carnivore stories (n = 14 of 40)."

Hunting and wildlife management

All in all, the present results are consistent with other research projects. And, there is an important practical side to this research. If the data collected in this study represent the general hunting population, the authors conclude, "ignoring achievement in wildlife management would have significant consequences." They also note that future research needs to concentrate on the nuances of how the three satisfactions—achievement, affiliation, and appreciation—co-occur.

"Pleasure" smiles are greater when hunters pose with dangerous corpses

Consistent with this conclusion, in an earlier study called "Hunting for Trophies: Online Hunting Photographs Reveal Achievement Satisfaction with Large and Dangerous Prey," researchers K. R. Child and C. T. Darimont with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Applied Conservation Science Lab concluded, "that the odds of true 'pleasure' smiles are greater when hunters pose: (a) with versus without prey, (b) with large versus small prey and, (c) with carnivores versus herbivores (among older men)." They go on to write, "We emerge with a generalizable achievement-oriented hypothesis to propose that the prospect of displaying large and/or dangerous prey at least in part underlies the behavior of many contemporary hunters." All in all, "pleasure smiles" are greater when hunters pose with dangerous corpses. For more details about this study, see "Trophy Hunters' Smiles Show How Much They Like to Kill."

While there most likely are a number of different tenable explanations of why people hunt, I highly recommend "Online hunting forums identify achievement as prominent among multiple satisfactions" to people interested in the psychology of why people go out and kill other animals on hunting forays. This is because of the researchers' comprehensive review of available data from a large number of other studies, the careful statistical analyses of the data they collected, and because their large data set comes from a broad array of hunters in different geographical areas.

I look forward to more research on human hunting behavior. Studies such as Alena Ebeling-Schuld and Chris Darimont's are sorely needed.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), and Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; learn more at

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