Is knife hunting the fairest way to hunt?

By: Josh Clark
A turkey hunter searches for prey. Could you see this guy from 50 feet away?
Mitch Kezar/Getty Images

If you go out in the woods today, you'd better take our advice: Wear orange. This advice holds especiall­y true during deer hunting season in autumn and winter. Few things can ruin a pleasant stroll in the woods than being mistaken for game by a hunter. And it happens -- in 2007, four people in the United States were shot to death by hunters who mistook them for deer [source: HIC].

It's possible the people who died in these cases never even saw their shooters. The gear designed for hunters on the market today makes them virtually invisible. Extremely detailed camouflage clothing visually blends a hunter into trees from head to toe. Tree stands -- devices that convey hunters up trees and serve as hiding places dozens of feet above the ground -- elevate them out of sight and out of mind of wild game like deer.


The more removed from his or her prey a hunter is, the less the principle of fair chase applies. Fair chase is the idea that a balance should be struck between the hunter's ability to kill prey and the prey's ability to escape [source: UDWR]. With the technology available to hunters, the optimal balance of fair play should actually be unbalanced, with the scales tilted in favor of the animal.

­The easiest way to strike this imbalance is to eschew modern equipment. Shedding the camouflage, telescopic lenses -- and even guns -- decrease the likelihood of a hunter bagging his or her quarry. And some people who hunt wild boar favor this outlook, employing a method called knife hunting.

Knife hunting is exactly what it sounds like. And it's nothing new; the technique was used for centuries before inventions like crossbows and guns. As the balance of fair chase tips ever more in humans' favor, some hunters have decided to take it up once more. It requires sharp reflexes and a quick hand. Not to mention it's about as hands-on a hunter can get with prey. So is knife hunting the fairest way to hunt? Find out on the next page.


Wild Boars and the Fair Chase of Knife Hunting

Wild boar are found (and hunted) throughout the world. This boar is cornered by two hunting dogs at a kennel in Belarus.
Alexey Gromov/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to hunting and the concept of fair chase, some methods lie on opposite ends of the spectrum. Take Internet hunting and knife hunting.

Internet hunting first appeared in 2005 when an outfit in Texas began offering the service of hunting remotely. For a fee, hunters can log on to a private Web site, train his or her sights on an animal led into view of a webcam, and click a mouse that remotely fires an on-site rifle, killing the animal [source: HSUS]. Apparently the perception of Internet hunting as unfair overtook any benefits it offered disabled hunters, for whom it was oft touted [source: UDWR]. It was banned by the Texas legislature six months after the service first appeared. By April 2008, 38 states outlawed Internet hunting and Congress was working on a federal ban [source: HSUS].


You won't likely see any bans on knife hunting based on questions of fairness. Using only a knife can be a particularly dangerous way to hunt. It's generally used in expeditions for wild boar, a non-native species imported to the U.S. in the 16th century for use as livestock. Once enough members of the domesticated species escaped and reproduced in the wild, the boars became feral pigs.

Since feral pigs eat crops, the United States federal government considers them an invasive species [source: USDA]. They're generally tranquil toward humans, but those centuries spent freely roaming the hills and forests of the United States have made them wary of people. Adult males can grow as long as six feet (1.82 m), and weigh more than 750 pounds (340 k) [source: University of Michigan]. Both males and females of the species have two constantly growing (and sharp) pairs of tusks protruding from their jaws. When a frightened boar comes at a hunter who's holding nothing but a knife, you've got a quarry that can tip the balance of fair chase in its own favor.

Knife hunters often use dogs to flush boars from their hiding places low in a cover of brush. Since boars aren't very tall, once one emerges suddenly from a cover of vegetation after being flushed out, it can take a hunter by surprise. With the knife ready, the technique for killing a boar with only a blade involves taking it head-on as it runs toward the hunter. Once the boar is within reach, the hunter pushes it down to the ground and stabs it to death [Florida Guide Service]. Other hunting outfits use dogs to subdue the boar while the hunter stabs it [source: Monteria Boar Hunts].

Even trained hunting dogs aren't guaranteed an easy time at attacking boars. Sports author Harry McEvoy wrote about a 1976 knife hunt for boar in Florida undertaken by hunter Tony Cascarella. A 275-pound (124 k) boar killed two of Cascarella's hunting dogs and maimed a third when it emerged from the brush. It was headed toward Cascarella, who added a degree more danger to knife hunting by using throwing knives. Cascarella threw three knives at the boar. He found his target each time, killing the boar and setting a record [source: McEvoy].

So is knife hunting the fairest way to hunt? This up-close-and-personal method certainly seems fairer than shooting an animal from a distance or over the Internet. Of course, one could argue that the only truly fair way to hunt it to use no technology at all. Taking down an animal with one's bare hands sounds fairest, especially if that animal can fight back.

For more information on hunting and other related topics, visit the next page.


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More Great Links

  • Benedictus, Leo. "If you go down to the woods today…" The Guardian. May 13, 2004.
  • Lane, Mitch. "Ethical hunting: You make the call." Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
  • McEvoy, Harry K. "Knife and Tomahawk Throwing: The Art of the Experts." Tuttle Publishing. 1988. &dq=boar+knife+hunting&source=web&ots=OQ2mh0ZapW&sig=XAabD6gf-t626PuNC7kSGv3OjE &hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result#PPA124,M1
  • Marian, Razvan, Jr. "Wild boar hunting - a part of human history." Ezine.
  • "Dog and dagger - Medieval style - no firearms." Monteria Boar Hunting.
  • "Knife hunting wild boar reports." Florida Guide Service.
  • "Oklahoma legislature unplugs Internet hunting." Humane Society of the United States. April 30, 2008.
  • "Wild boar (Sus scrofa)." U.S. Department of Agriculture. May 15, 2008.
  • "2007 incident summary." Hunter Incident Clearinghouse. March 30, 2008.