Reluctant killers: what hunters are really after

The mention of hunting brings to mind pictures of men with guns posing proudly amid a sea of animal carcasses. But the truth is somewhat different. Roelof Bezuidenhout reports on a study that found that often being merely outdoors is a greater consideration than actually killing animals.

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You have to go and find a specific animal of the right size and kind, and act as quickly as possible to get near that animal. It is much more interesting than game-viewing.’’ Recreational hunters are not the cold-blooded killers they are made out to be by anti-hunting groups. Many don’t even regard killing as a serious reason to hunt. That’s according to a survey conducted with a broad spectrum of 34 male biltong hunters in the Eastern Cape, a prime hunting area.
Although women occasionally accompany a hunt, they seldom partake in hunting and therefore men were chosen as respondents for this study. The research was done by Prof Laetitia Radder of the Department of Marketing, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth and Prof Tino Bech-Larsen of the Department of Marketing and Statistics, Aarhus University, Denmark. “With South Africa being the third most biologically diverse country in the world, it’s not surprising that hunting is perfectly legal, well-organised and popular here – not only among the estimated 200 000 or more biltong hunters, but also with the 7 000 or so international hunters who come on annual safari,” Radder says.

“Whereas the visitors want trophies, local hunters are generally believed to be more interested in the meat, particularly the biltong. However, some game ranchers contend that biltong hunters are really more interested in the social experience of the outing, than anything else. The findings tend to agree with that. Socialising, particularly with fellow hunters, is not only about having a good time; it provides an opportunity for communitas, learning from others and sharing the escape from daily life with the like-minded,” Radder says. Proven: it’s not about the killing In fact, the research showed that only 26% of those interviewed hunt primarily for the meat and that many don’t even like killing animals. More than 40% felt sad when they had to shoot an animal, and did not mind returning empty-handed.

Social reasons and the desire to be outdoors were much more important motivations for hunting. But Radder is quick to point out that fully understanding what drives hunting – which is obviously an adventure sport – is more complex. “We found that the respondents’ engagement in hunting is best explained by a personal values-based approach, made up of a sense of belonging, excitement, fun and enjoyment, warm relationships with others, self-fulfilment, being wellrespected, accomplishment, security and self-respect all playing a role,” she says. The survey included academics, managers, consultants, engineers, handymen, retired people and farmers. Other interesting points that emerged are: Male identity seems to be of central importance to South African recreational hunters.

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Although achievement does not appear to be directly linked to male identity, it is still significant. A sense of achievement comes • • from using hunting skills to successfully outwit the animal and being able to share stories of the hunt and show off the quarry. Although outwitting the animal appears to be important to many hunters, this seems to relate to tracking and the chase, rather than killing. Unsurprisingly, 72% of respondents were comfortably off with monthly incomes of R20 000 and more. The same percentage of respondents spent R5 000 and less on their annual hunting. A rugged 15% went hunting 51 times on an annual basis, which is at least 10 times per year per individual.

There seemed to be no direct correlation between age and hunting experience, as 27% of the respondents had been actively involved in hunting for 10 years or less, 20% had been involved for between 11 and 20 years, 20% for between 21 and 30 years and 33% for more than 30 years. The researchers believe further studies are needed to determine whether similar motives also drive other forms of hunting practised in South Africa, such as trophy hunting, bow hunting and bird hunting. Contact Professor Laetitia Radder on (041) 504 3818, fax (041) 504 3744 or e-mail [email protected]. This research was financially supported by grants from the National Research Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

What farmers think

Smallstock farmers in the Steytlerville district who recently hosted 24 springbok hunting teams of four hunters each are inclined to agree with the research findings. This annual fund-raising event draws biltong hunters from the Eastern, southern and Western Cape. Most of the entrants are so-called occasional hunters but there are also a good number of crack shots among them. Farmers often make use of their skills to cull a few extra buck once they have bagged the competition quota of eight animals per team. “I hosted a team for the first time this year,” writes Roelof Bezuidenhout, “after being assured that the cowboys had been weeded out over the years and I’d have no problems. I need not have worried.

The group I drew from the hat were well-behaved, neatly attired, safetyconscious and had excellent equipment. They didn’t shoot badly either, but it was clear they hadn’t come just to kill. Even when the last buck had been weighed and loaded up they were reluctant to leave the silent, serene Karoo plains to return to town for the braai. “Later on, around the fire at the showgrounds, I heard no serious complaints about the day during which at least 500 shots must have been fired. Perhaps some of the hunters squeezed off too many rounds and next time would pick their shots better.

Even so, very few buck were wounded. It was also noticeable that not all the hunters were keen on the meat. Many didn’t have the facilities to skin and butcher the carcasses at home and perhaps didn’t even know how to make biltong. At R180/kg, it could be cheaper to buy it.”