Game Animals, Sentience & My Experience

I’ve been involved with various groups that have been attacked recently by anti-hunters which I mentioned in this post. In reading post after post protesting hunting I’ve seen two things that stuck out to me. They keep calling hunters oxygen thieves, which I have nothing to say about because I think it’s an insult but it’s silly and makes no real sense. The other is claiming we should respect and be at peace with all ‘sentient’ beings. So, I’m going to run through my experience with game animals that many claim to have sentience.

What is Sentience?

Feel free to google it and find any number of definitions but in its simplest form it’s being aware of one’s self and environment. The ability to perceive touch, smell, sight, flavor and sound. Some definitions use the word ‘feel’ and many have taken that to the level of animals being able to emote rather than simply perceive physical stimulus. In Western Philosophy folks have added that it means any sentient being has the ability to suffer and it takes off from there adding in fun words like qualia. Some philosophers propose that we will never truly understand sentience and I tend to be on board with them a bit.

Now back to animals and sentience. At it’s core animals are sentient in that they are aware of their surroundings and have some level of perception of what’s around them utilizing their 5 senses. I draw the line at emotion and complex inter-animal relationships. I do agree animals can suffer but it’s not the same as human suffering. There is no emotion tied to it, they just perceive pain as bad and a threat to their survival. I’m not digging into biological studies and brain scans in peer reviewed journals, I’m going on my own experience with animals. That experience includes hours upon hours of observing deer and killing them.

The number one thing on a deer’s mind is survival. That’s it, survival and nothing else. I’d believe that deer think in curse words before I’d believe they have complex emotions or have anything other than survival on their mind. I’ve seen deer with the ‘Oh $#!%’ look on their face plenty of times but I’ve never seen one cry. I’ve never seen a deer intentionally take a bullet or arrow for another deer out of a deeply ingrained love for the other. What I have seen is deer run like hell when they are shot or another deer is shot. Yes sometimes they do hang around at a distance and call for the downed animal and because they lack higher brain function they are simply saying,  “lets go” not screaming in mourning. You know what deer often do though? They come back and eat the gut pile. I’ve unfortunately had a lot of experience losing loved ones and not once did it make me hungry or want to snack on them. To further that in passing a gruesome car accident I’ve never made a mental note to swing back by for a snack later. This isn’t just something I’ve seen personally it’s been demonstrated in studies. Most notably is the study by Bradley Thurston, M.D. and Pete Squibb that you can read a little about HERE.

If you see a deer grooming it’s young it’s not like your mother lovingly brushing your hair it’s simply trying to rid it’s offspring of insects that can cause infection and threaten survival. If you see a deer stomping and bleating after another has been shot it’s not saying a prayer or willing them to live it’s simply saying this place is dangerous. If you see an injured animal calling out as it expires it’s not deeply saddened that it’s loved ones will miss it, or that it didn’t accomplish all it’s goals in life, or that it won’t get to give it’s daughter away at her wedding,  it’s warning any deer in earshot of danger and reacting to painful stimulus that threatens it’s survival.

Secondly they claim we should be at peace with and respect all sentient beings. I think most would be surprised at the level of respect we have for the game we pursue. I can see the confusion in other aspects of life you don’t kill something you respect but hunting is much more than killing. Matching wits with an animal on their turf is tough and garners quite a bit of respect. The at peace part is kind of ‘whatever’. It’s just there to sound fancy. I’m at peace with deer I just like to eat them as well.

The bottom line is I think people throw sentience around way too much and derive too much of their own meaning from the word. Sure throwing sentient into a sentence makes it sound like you have a point but in reality there is no clear, solid definition so in any conversation or argument it renders that word useless.


  • Steve Hoffman

    Interesting. Thanks.

    • TheWilltoHunt

      Thanks for stopping by Steve!

  • Aznealz

    Preach on brother! Amen.

    • TheWilltoHunt

      Ha! Thanks Neal!

  • Emily Anderson

    Well said, Will. I agree that it is easy to attach emotion to animals, however, when it comes down to it, the characteristics displayed is more survival instinct. I actually tend to agree that animals do have some emotion, but the bigger question is if animal intelligence constitutes a soul. Simply because animals are sentient or aware of their surroundings, does that mean they posses an immortal spirit that lives on after death?

    Sentient is a nice, fancy word. But you are right… attaching emotion and more specifically ~ immortality, is not something I agree with.

    I like your example of deer returning to eat a gut pile. It is hard argue with that.

  • Sean C

    The problem with the animal rights activist bunch is that they believe in the abstract of animals, and not the actual. They care only about the idea of deer, or of bears, or other animals, but not for and of the animals themselves. Cleveland Amory, one of the paragons of the “animal rights” movement, is/was quite open about wanting to use drugs, forced feedings, and other training interventions on WILD animals like lions and wolves to train them to not hunt and kill prey animals. His rationale was that in doing so it would promote peace among all animals and help all animals live in harmony. Where his imagination falls short is in failing to realize that animals DO live in harmony, as nature intended it, with predator consuming prey, both populations in check, and the system maintaining equilibrium (not balance – there is a difference). To rob a wolf or a lion of being a predator is to kill not the body of the animal, but the meaning and being of what it is to be a wolf or a lion.

    The other failure of the animal rights factions is that they seek to “elevate” our understanding and conception of other animals to be “equal” to that of humans; to give other animals the “rights” of humans. This fails because they are removing humans from the animal kingdom. We are not separate. We, humans, are animals and are part of the system. By doing as we should and as we must (eat), we engage the cycle and remain part of it. Being fully alive, fully engaged, fully part of the cycle – including and especially taking our food and being thankful for it – puts us closer to respecting all sentient life than does any misguided dream of pampered, fed, and trained “toothless” predators and birth controlled, petting zoo deer.