Friday, 25 March 2011 06:53

A Profile of Hunting and Trapping in the 1990s

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Overview of the Sector

Hunting and trapping of wild animals are two very old human endavours that persist in a variety of forms throughout the world today. Both involve the capture and death of target species living in wild or relatively undeveloped habitats. A wide variety of species is hunted. Small game mammals like hares, rabbits and squirrels are hunted throughout the world. Examples of big game commonly pursued by hunters are deer, antelope, bears and the large cats. Waterfowl and pheasants are among the commonly hunted game birds. Trapping is limited to animals having fur with either commercial or some practical value for use by the trapper. In the north temperate zones, beaver, muskrat, mink, wolf, bobcat, and raccoons are often trapped.

Hunting is the stalking and killing of individual wild animals, usually for food, clothing or recreational reasons. Recently, hunting in some situations has been viewed as a way of maintaining the cultural continuity of an indigenous culture. Subsistence bowhead whaling in northern Alaska is an example. Hunters usually employ projectile weapons like shotguns, rifles or bow and arrow. Trappers are more specialized and have to obtain numbers of fur-bearing mammals without damaging the pelts. Snares and deadfalls have been used for millennia. Leghold traps (both padded and unpadded) are still commonly used for some species; killing traps like the Conibear are more widely used for other species.

Evolution and Structure of the Industry

In a few traditional societies throughout the world today, hunting continues as an individual survival activity, essentially unchanged since before the evolution of either animal husbandry or agriculture. However, most people hunt today as some form of leisure time activity; some earn partial incomes as professional hunters or trappers; and relatively few are employed in these occupations on a full-time basis. Commerce in hunting and trapping probably began with the trade of surplus animal food and skins. Trade has gradually evolved into specialized but related occupations. Examples include tanning; hide and fur preparation; clothing manufacture; production of hunting, trapping and outdoor equipment; professional guiding; and regulation of wildlife populations.

Economic Importance

In recent centuries the commercial search for furs influenced the course of history. Wildlife populations, the fate of indigenous people and the character of many nations have been shaped by the quest for wild furs. (For example, see Hinnis 1973.) An important continuing characteristic of the fur trade is that demand for fur, and resulting prices, can fluctuate widely over time. The change in European fashion from beaver felt to silk hats in the early decades of the 19th century brought an end to the era of the mountain men in the Rocky Mountains of North America. The impact on people dependent on fur harvest can be sudden and severe. Organized public protest against the clubbing of harp seal pups in the western North Atlantic in the 1970s wreaked severe economic and social impact on small communities along the Newfoundland coast of Canada.

Trapping and hunting continue to be important in many rural economies. The cumulative expenditures for these activities can be substantial. In 1991 an estimated 10.7 million big game hunters in the United States spent US$5.1 billion on trip and equipment expenditures (US Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census 1993).

Characteristics of the Workforce

Professional hunting is now rare (except for guiding activities) in developed nations, and confined generally to culling operations (e.g., for predators or overcapacity hooved animals) and nuisance population control (e.g., alligators). Thus, hunting is now largely for subsistence and/or recreation, while trapping remains an income-producing occupation for some rural residents. Most hunters and trappers are men. In 1991, 92% of the 14.1 million people (age 16 or older) hunting in the United States were male. Hunting and trapping attracts independent and vigorous people who enjoy working and living on the land. Both are traditional activities for many rural families, where young people are instructed by their parents or elders in hunting as they are for preparation of food, skins and clothing. It is a seasonal activity used to supplement food supplies and, in the case of trapping, to obtain cash. Consistent success depends upon in-depth knowledge about wildlife habits and competence with a range of outdoor skills. Efficient transportation to good hunting and trapping areas is also an important requirement.

Major Sectors and Processes

Hunting requires locating and closely approaching a wild animal, and then dispatching it, under a combination of formal and informal rules (Ortega y Gasset 1985). Transportation to the hunting area is often a major expense, particularly for recreational hunters who may live in urban centres. Transportation is also a primary source of occupational risk. Automobile, light aircraft and boat accidents as well as mishaps with horses, all-terrain and snow-travel vehicles are all sources of risk. Other sources are weather, exposure and terrain difficulties. Becoming lost in rough country is always a hazard. Injury from wounded dangerous game like bears, elephants and cape buffalo is always possible for hunters seeking those species. In small cabins or tents, fire, carbon monoxide and propane gas all present potential hazards. Both hunters and trappers must contend with self-inflicted injury from knives and, in the case of bowhunters, broad-head arrow points. Firearms accidents are also a well known source of injury and mortality to hunters despite continuing efforts to address the problem.

Trappers are generally exposed to the same hazards as hunters. Trappers in circumpolar areas have more opportunity for frostbite and hypothermia difficulties. The potential for breaking through ice-covered lakes and rivers during the winter months is a serious problem. Some trappers travel long distances alone and must safely operate their traps, often under difficult conditions. Mishandling results in bruised or broken fingers, perhaps a broken arm. Bites from live-trapped animals are always a potential problem. Attacks by rabid foxes or problems with large animals such as bears or moose during the breeding season are unusual but not unknown. Skinning and fur handling expose trappers to knife injuries and, sometimes, wildlife diseases.

Hunting Techniques


Firearms are basic equipment for most hunters. Modern rifles and shotguns are the most popular, but hunting with handguns and more primitive muzzle-loading firearms has also increased in some developed countries since the 1970s. All are essentially launching and aiming platforms for a single projectile (a bullet) or, in the case of shotguns, a cloud of small, short-range projectiles (called shot). Effective range depends on the type of firearm used and the skill of the hunter. It can vary from a few to several hundred metres under most hunting conditions. Rifle bullets can travel thousands of metres and still cause damage or injury.

Most hunting accidents involving firearms are either accidental discharges or vision-related accidents, where the victim is not identified by the shooter. Modern manufacturers of firearms used for hunting and trapping have, with few exceptions, succeeded in producing mechanically safe and reliable equipment at competitive prices. Much effort has been expended at refining mechanical safeties to prevent accidental discharges, but safe operation by the firearm user is still essential. Manufacturers, governments and private groups such as hunting clubs have all worked to promote firearms and hunter safety. Their emphasis has been on safe storage, use and handling of firearms.

The International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) defines a hunting accident as “any event which is attributed directly or indirectly to a firearm or bow, and causes injury or death to any person or persons as a result of a person’s actions while hunting” (IHEA 1995). In 1995, 17 million people purchased hunting licenses in the United States (excluding Alaska). For 1995, the IHEA received reports of 107 deaths and 1,094 injuries from hunting accidents in the United States. The most common type of accident occurred when the victim was not identified by the shooter. The use of blaze- or hunter-orange clothing has been shown to reduce visibility-related accidents in states requiring its use. More extensive use of blaze-orange clothing is recommended by the IHEA. Forty states now require use of blaze orange, but in some of them, it is limited to use on public lands or only for big-game hunting. The IHEA reports that self-inflicted injuries are the second most common cause of hunting firearms accidents, accounting for 31% of the total number in 1995.

Governments encourage hunting and firearms safety in various ways. In some European countries, hunters must pass a written examination or demonstrate proficiency in hunting a particular species. The United States emphasizes hunter education, which is administered by each state. All states except Alaska require some form of mandatory hunter education card before allowing hunting in that state. A minimum of 10 hours of instruction is required. Course subjects include hunter responsibility, wildlife conservation, firearms, hunting ethics, specialty hunting, survival skills and first aid.

Other hunting techniques

In recent decades, refinement of the compound bow has made archery hunting available to millions of recreational hunters. Compound bows use a system of pulleys and cables to minimize the strength and training once needed to hunt with traditional bows. Bow hunters use razor-sharp broad-head arrows; cuts from broad heads and falling on unprotected arrowheads are two types of accident common to this hunting specialty. Effective bow hunting requires extensive wildlife knowledge and stalking skills. Bow hunters normally have to be within 30 metres of their prey in order to be able to shoot effectively.

Trapping Techniques

Most of the wild fur production in the world comes from two areas: North America and the former Soviet Union. Trappers normally operate a line or series of sets, each with one or more devices intended to restrain or kill the target species without damaging the pelt. Snares and traps (including box, leghold and body-gripping humane traps) are most commonly used. Traplines can vary from a few sets in a creekbed behind a residence to hundreds set out along several hundred miles of trail. The Alaska Trappers Manual (ATA 1991) is a recent description of trapping techniques currently in use in that region.

Pelt treatment techniques

Trappers normally skin their catches and sell the dried pelts to a fur buyer or directly to an auction house. The pelts will eventually be sold to a manufacturer who dresses or tans the skins. Afterwards they are prepared into garments. Fur prices vary considerably. The price paid for a pelt depends on size, desired colour, fur condition, the absence of defects and market conditions. Experienced trappers have to catch furbearers and prepare the pelts for sale in a manner that makes the entire process profitable enough to continue operating. For a thorough discussion of the wild fur industry see Novak et al. (1987).

Environmental and Public Health Issues

Technological advances since the Second World War have improved the lot of hunters and trappers in many ways. These improvements have alleviated, at least in the developed countries, the isolation, gruelling physical labour and occasional malnutrition that once had to be endured. Improved navigation and search and rescue methods have improved the safety levels of these occupations generally. Alaska Native walrus and whale hunters, for example, now almost always return home safely from the hunt.

In the 20th century, two major issues have seriously challenged these occupations. They are the continuing need to maintain healthy wildlife ecosystems and the ethical questions resulting from the way hunters and trappers interact with wild animals. Government-sponsored research and regulations are usually the front-line approach to addressing the very old problem of human exploitation of wildlife. The scientific discipline of wildlife management emerged in mid-century and has continued to evolve into the broader concept of conservation biology. The latter seeks to maintain ecosystem health and genetic diversity.

Early in the 20th century, habitat destruction and commercial exploitation in the United States had contributed to depletion of fish and game resources. Hunters, trappers and other outdoor advocates secured passage of legislation that created the US Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. This act imposes a 10 to 11% excise tax on the sale of rifles, pistols, shotguns, ammunition and archery equipment. The money is then used to augment revenue obtained from the sale of state hunting/trapping licenses, tags and stamps.

Since the late 1930s, US federal aid has directed millions of dollars into wildlife research, conservation, management and hunter education. One result of these efforts is that North American wildlife populations actively used by hunters and trappers now are generally healthy and capable of sustaining consumptive uses. The federal aid experience suggests that when wildlife has a constituency willing to pay research and management costs, the future for those species is relatively bright. Unfortunately there are many ecosystems and wildlife species throughout the world where this is not the case. As we are about to enter a new century, habitat alteration and species extinction are very real conservation issues.

The other continuing challenge is controversy about animal rights. Is hunting and trapping, especially for recreation or non-subsistence purposes, a socially acceptable activity in a 21st century world of growing human population and shrinking resources? This social debate has intensified in recent decades. One positive side of the dialogue is that those who participate in these activities have had to do a better job of articulating their positions and of maintaining high standards of hunting and trapping performance. Activities offending the sensibilities of the general public, such as the clubbing of baby harp seals off the coast of Newfoundland, have sometimes been eliminated—in this case at enormous social and economic cost to the Newfoundlanders who had for many generations participated in those activities. A recent ban threatened by European communities on importation of fur taken by steel leg-hold traps has intensified the search for practical and more humane methods of killing certain furbearers. This same proposed ban threatens a rural North American subsistence lifestyle that has existed for a long time. (For more details see Herscovici 1985.)



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Hunting References

Alaska Trappers Association (ATA). 1991. Alaska Trappers Manual. Fairbanks, AK: ATA.

Herscovici, A. 1985. Second Nature: The Animal Rights controversy. Toronto: CBC Enterprises.

Hinnis, HA. 1973. The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Economic History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

International Hunter Education Association (IHEA). 1995. 1995 Hunting Accident Report. Wellington, CO: IHEA.

Novak, M, JA Baker, ME Obbard, and B Malloch (eds.). 1987. Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America. Toronto: Ontario Trappers Association.

Ortega y Gasset, J. 1985. Meditations on Hunting. New York: Scribner’s.

US Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. 1993. 1991 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-associated Recreation. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office.