The Compassionate Hunter

Learn the benefits of harvesting wild meat as a more sustainable, humane, and healthier approach to meat consumption.

  • A black-tailed deer doe munching on fireweed.
    Photo by Miles Olson
  • A unique and comprehensive, fully illustrated guide to the complexity, ethics and spirit of the hunt, "The Compassionate Hunter" by Miles Olson is a must-read for beginning and experienced hunters alike. It will appeal to anyone who wishes to delve more deeply into the complex, humbling and ultimately profound reality of our relationship with the food that nourishes us.
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

Wild meat, hunted in a responsible way, is one of the most healthful, sustainable foods possible. Depending on how it is done, hunting can be as local, intimate and humane as it gets. And aside from this, it demands the hunter enter a world of awareness, wildness, life and death that we have lost connection to as a culture.

The Compassionate Hunter's Guidebook (New Society Publishers, 2014) by Miles Olson is a guide for those that come to the act of hunting with pure intentions, motivated by a desire for healthy food that comes directly from the land where they live. This practical manual suggests that hunting is not a "sport" and the animals whose lives are taken are not "game." It combines a deep, philosophical exploration of the ethics of killing with detailed instructions on every step of the process.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Compassionate Hunter's Guidebook.

Compassion and hunting

A friend recently told me how ironic it is that some of the most impressive conservation work being done in the US is funded by organizations made up of hunters. How bizarre, she remarked, that the people preserving and protecting habitat for wild creatures are the very ones who make a pastime out of killing them. As a hunter, I didn’t find this bizarre or surprising at all; hunters have more directly invested in the preservation of healthy wild ecosystems than most other people. As someone who at one time was not a hunter, and who still remembers the popular conceptions and misconceptions around what that label means, however, I completely understood what she was saying.

Many people have a picture of the hunter in their imaginations that looks a bit like this: a macho, male, aggressive, over-stimulated, gun-toting redneck who likes to blow the heads off of innocent wild creatures for kicks: someone with no respect for nature or life. Now, I have to acknowledge that this image is based on a certain level of truth. The fact is, there is a spectrum of hunters, a spectrum of what hunting can be and can mean. On one end of this spectrum are people who head into the bush to shoot something just for the thrill of it. That’s all. They might have a picture taken posing proudly beside the grizzly bear or bull moose they have slain to document their impressive feat. They do not eat any of this animal, they just take its life for fun, as if it was a character in a video game. While this kind of conduct represents just a tiny fraction of hunters, and is illegal in many states, it does still happen. Then you have hunters who actually take the meat from the creatures they kill for eating, and at the very other end of this spectrum you have those who use all of the meat, bones, fat, organs and skin of their prey, when possible. These subsistence hunters aren’t hunting for “sport,” and the creatures whose lives they take are not part of a “game.” They are hunting so they can eat, and taking personal responsibility for all that entails with humility and respect. They have a deep respect for the animals they kill, since their own sustenance depends on those very animals. This book is about those hunters and that kind of hunting.

Hearing stories about disrespectful hunters and declaring that hunting is wrong is about as thoughtful as seeing pornography and deciding that sex is wrong. Both acts can be beautiful, sacred things, but both can also be senseless, oppressive and outright ugly. Which direction they go in has less to do with the simple, mechanical act itself and more to do with how it is approached; the integrity, empathy and respect of those involved. Hunting itself is neither inherently good nor bad. It can be a very humane and responsible way of getting food. It also has an inherent potential to crack the heart of the hunter open, to stir up from the depths of their being huge questions about the nature of life and existence. But it can also be as shallow and disconnected from emotional and energetic reality as pornography is. This all depends on perception and empathy; on whether or not the hunter is open to seeing their prey as a sentient being worthy of respect, feeling the depth of what is really going on when they choose to take its life and fully honoring the sanctity of that life.

Patty Miller
9/6/2020 6:17:41 PM

THERE IS NO HUMANE WAY TO KILL SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT WANT TO DIE!!!!! I don't care how you try to sugar-coat it in "compassion". They all have the same right to be here as you and I. Animals should not require our permission to exist on the planet. They had permission long before humans arrived. The Life Force in them is the same as the Life Force in you and me, and despite how we have been programmed, we do NOT have the right to steal theirs from them!! There are here WITH us, NOT FOR US to use, abuse, in any way exploit, torture, or destroy!!

12/9/2019 4:45:16 PM

If only the majority of hunters felt this way-I've lived in rural Ohio for 50 years and it's sad to say that 99.9% of the hunters I interface with are only in it for the fun of the kill, the trophy and bragging rights. I am also a life-long wildlife rehabber and the saddest thing of all is that I get to deal with the broken, maimed, arrow-impaled deer that end up at my bird feeders...there needs to be a movement for and by hunters that emphasizes respect and the sacredness of life and then maybe non-hunters would have a different opinion. The hunters I know, sadly, know nothing of such things and I can't even walk on my own property for fear of being shot. Also, wild game is only as pure as what it feeds on and I would not touch it-considering that most fields are covered in GMO pesticides and most bodies of water are also tainted. The end of hunting for sport will be achieved by the hunters themselves, by their own thoughless actions.

Steve Bennett
11/23/2019 2:57:45 PM

Great article, although worth adding some perspective on your comments around "catch and release". I fit in this article in two ways. First, I am a conscientious deer and turkey hunter, only hunt for meat and try and show as much respect and gratefulness when harvesting an animal in every way possible. Interestingly enough, I am also an avid fly fisherman and most often practice catch and release. My experience has been that you will not meet a more dedicated group of individuals dedicated to conservation than those in groups like Trout Unlimited. And similar to your comments around a "spectrum of hunters", the same thing applies to fisherman. For many different types of fish, their species are in decline. In addition to the critical need to maintain clean water and healthy habitat, restrictions are also needed to limit the number of fish that people take (kill) - very similar to deer tag limits in most states. When practicing catch and release, the most ethical fisherman take steps to minimize impact to the fish. Everything from the size and weight of gear they use, to how carefully and/or quickly they fight the fish, to very carefully handling the fish and/or not touching it at all if possible, to making sure a fish is revived properly before releasing it (especially trout). These same fisherman contribute to local and national stream restoration efforts, committing both their time and money. I've been taught all these things from other fishermen (and fisherwomen) - that catch and release is a respectful, unselfish, act of conservation. If no one practiced catch and release, and instead, always, killed and took fish, we would lose this precious resource. So I'm a little taken back by your comments and characterization of catch and release. Although I understand what you're saying about fish feeling pain from a hook, the perspective feels a bit narrow so I wanted to share a different perspective.

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