Killing with kindness – when hunters want to let you know they care

Author: Erica von Essen and Michael Allen


The article explores the increasing use of “care” language by hunters in relation to their interactions with wildlife. It examines contemporary hunting media and discusses two case studies of sport hunting that highlight various dimensions of care.

The study finds that hunters’ use of care language can be both problematic and revealing of new relationships and scopes of care with wildlife. The authors suggest hunters may use care language opportunistically rather than as part of a consistent philosophical stance. The article concludes by discussing the potential role of care language in influencing public acceptance of hunting.

The Challenges of Care Ethics and Hunting

Care ethics is a perspective that emphasizes empathy, compassion, and the importance of relationships. Although advocates use care ethics for contemporary hunting, it has not formally embraced hunting as an expression of care.

The general perception among care ethicists and the public is that killing healthy animals for sport is incompatible with caring, leading to the view that sport hunting is cruel and outdated. As a result, hunters find themselves in a position where they need to demonstrate to society that they care to offset their negative public image and re-legitimize hunting using the language and concepts embraced by their critics.

The Use of Care Language in hunting and its Potential Drawbacks

Care Language as a Relegitimization Strategy

Hunters’ use of care language to re-legitimize their practice will likely fail. By trying to defend the inherently implausible position that killing healthy animals for recreational purposes is caring, hunters are left vulnerable to criticisms from their opponents.

Their critics may become the actual beneficiaries of this linguistic strategy, using the opportunity presented by hunters to expose the uncaring nature of highly commercialized practices, such as those discussed in the paper.

Here are some challenges with using care language for delegitimization:

  1. Inherent contradiction: The primary challenge is the inherent contradiction between care ethics and hunting. Hunters find it difficult to convincingly argue that killing healthy animals for recreational purposes aligns with the principles of care, empathy, and compassion. This contradiction makes it hard for the public to accept hunting as a caring activity.
  2. Public skepticism: Due to the perceived cruelty and outdated nature of sport hunting, the public is often skeptical of hunters’ motives. Therefore, using care language might be seen as a self-serving strategy aimed at improving their image rather than genuinely caring for animals and the environment.
  3. Exploitation by critics: Using care language, hunters may inadvertently provide their critics with ammunition to attack their practices. Critics can point out the inconsistencies and contradictions in hunters’ arguments, further damaging their credibility and public image.
  4. Commercialization of hunting: The commercialization and mass exploitation of nonhuman animals in modern hunting practices create distance in the hunter-prey relationship. This distance contradicts the principles of care ethics, making it even more challenging for hunters to convince the public that their actions are caring and ethical.

The Opportunities for Hunters in the Use of Care Language

The use of care language by hunters presents both risks and opportunities as they attempt to re-legitimize their practices and improve their public image. Care language revolves around empathy, compassion, and relationships, which seem to conflict with the act of hunting.

However, incorporating care language into their discourse might create opportunities for hunters.

  1. Building bridges: Adopting care language can allow hunters to build bridges with conservationists, animal welfare advocates, and the public. By demonstrating concern for animal welfare and the environment, hunters might be able to find common ground with groups that have traditionally been critical of their practices.
  2. Enhancing internal ethics: Emphasizing care and compassion within the hunting community can help promote ethical hunting practices and foster a culture of responsibility and respect for animals and the environment.


The article discusses the challenges and opportunities of using care language by hunters to re-legitimize their practices. Despite the inherent contradiction between care ethics and hunting, there may be benefits in adopting care language, such as building bridges with conservationists and promoting ethical hunting practices.

However, risks like public skepticism, exploitation by critics, and commercialization make it difficult for hunters to convincingly argue that their activities align with care principles. The effectiveness of using care language in gaining public acceptance and re-legitimizing hunting remains uncertain.