The Animal’s Almanac: On Hunting

The Animal’s Almanac is a new feature of my blog, one in which I will draw on the past to shed light on the current relationship among people, animals, and food. 

In 1782, Hector St. John Crevecoeur published Letters from an American Farmer. In it, he surveyed life in British North America, commenting on everything from the behavior of Native Americans to the danger of the rattlesnake (“the only observation I wish to make is that the rattling is loud and distinct when they are angry.”) His thoughts on hunting are especially revealing.

We tend to mythologize the American frontier as a land of rough hewn Davy Crocketts, a land where a man lived by his gun and the game it provided. This nineteenth-century image is, however, belied by an eighteenth-century reality: British Americans, according to Crevecoeur, believed hunting to be a sign of degeneracy.

“Our bad people,” he wrote, referring to his fellow settlers, “are those who are half cultivators and half hunters.” He added, “and the worst of them are those who have degenerated altogether into the hunting state.” The idea that “hunting is but a licentious idle life” was widely shared in colonial America, a sign that settlers were failing to domesticate land and animals and, in so doing, becoming “savage” like the Indians.

Animal domestication–as I will show in the next almanac–led to a fundamentally different kind of relationship with animals than did hunting. Basically, farmers got to know animals as beings with distinct wants and needs. Hunting, by contrast, reduced an animal to a moving target (at least for the English settlers). Americans have done a much better job of inflating and glorifying the importance of hunting in American history than exploring the nature of the human-animal relationship in the context of domestication.

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About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

5 Responses to The Animal’s Almanac: On Hunting

  1. BlessUsAll says:

    I’ll be interested in following your Animal’s Almanac blog.

  2. CQ says:

    Just shared this with a blogger who when photographing wildlife often encounters hunters, much to her dismay.

  3. ingrid says:

    I came upon your blog through the suggestion of CQ, and am glad I found you. I’m very interested in this topic, and am intrigued by this particular perspective. Have you, by any chance, read Will Tuttle’s book, “The World Peace Diet”? Although he advocates for similar ends, he associates agriculture with a changing ethic toward animals (enslavement) — versus the hunter-gather societies which preceded. I imagine there is confluence of both ideas in an overarching ethic of compassion toward animals. I’m looking forward to the next installment, thank you for exploring these issues.

  4. Carolle says:

    Wonderful idea! Looking forward to reading more of the Animal’s Almanac!!

  5. Provoked says:

    Animal’s Almanac – An appropriate addition for sure.

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