Gun Laws & Legislation

Cecil The Lion And Ethical Hunting

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By Jorge Amselle, Author Gun Digest’s Shooter’s Guide to Concealed Carry

What is ethical hunting? What is the difference between shooting a lion and shooting a deer? For that matter what is poaching? Unless you are blessed enough to live under a rock and not have to deal with the constant barrage of social and other media you have likely heard of the famous and beloved pet African lion named Cecil. He was so famous that no one had ever heard of him until an American trophy hunter killed him. Commence the rending of clothes….now.

The hunter in questions has been almost universally condemned even by other hunters and hunting groups. Let’s start with the obvious. A lion is an animal plain and simple; it is no more noble, majestic or magnificent than any other animal. If you think that it is, well as The Dude says “That’s just like your opinion man.” If you eat meat you should know that it came from an animal, probably raised in a crowded factory farm, fattened up with additives, and summarily executed at a young age for your dinning pleasure.

Cecil was a 13 year old lion that lived in nature and was healthy and happy (as much as an animal can be) before he was killed; a far better life than your hamburger. Some people take issue with the way in which he was killed, with a bow and arrow. Many of these same people are the ones that complain that hunters have an unfair advantage because they use guns. Now you know why most hunters use guns, not just because it is easier but because it reduces the suffering of the animal.

Some say that trophy hunters are cowards and shoot defenseless animals. You try going into the bush after a wounded alpha predator. Some say that you should not hunt unless you need the meat. No American hunter needs to hunt for the meat. In fact it is far cheaper and easier to go to the supermarket and buy meat there. Still some condemn trophy hunting because the hunter does not eat the animal even though in most cases the meat is donated to local villagers who do eat it.

Others were horrified that Cecil was decapitated and skinned. But this is what you do with any animal you intend to have preserved by a taxidermist. It is a common and widely accepted practice. It is no differ than having a deer head mounted. Some complain that Cecil was baited and lured out of the preserve. Hunting over bait is not unusual and also a common legal and ethical practice for certain species. I have hunted feral hogs over bait and ate none of the meat, only keeping the tusks which I mounted on my wall. I don’t feel bad about that at all. But I guess that is OK since feral hogs are a nuisance species. I don’t think it makes a difference to the hog however.

Every hunter I have met has their own standards for what is and is not ethical. Some are opposed to trophy hunting altogether and despise the idea of shooting animals which were specifically raised to be hunted. Such canned hunts of pen raised animals are seen by some as unethical but is hunting pen raised and planted pheasants (which I have also done with no shame) any different than buying and killing a chicken? Each hunter has to live with their own ethics but none of us and frankly no one who eats meat has any room to criticize.

As far as poaching is concerned it means failing to follow the game laws for the animal you are hunting. These are laws that were crafted by men and laws which can and do change. They have nothing to do with ethical hunting and are merely designed to preserve or control the animal population for the benefit of other hunters. Some of the game laws (like any area of law) are frankly absurd, capricious and nonsensical.

Finally if you think that banning trophy hunting will help the wild animals of Africa you are flat out wrong. The wild animal population declined by as much as 70 percent after Kenya banned hunting because the farms that used to preserve these animals for trophy hunters instead converted to growing crops. The animals stopped being a resource to protect and became a liability to eliminate.


Jorge Amselle is a certified firearms instructor, writer and author of the Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to Concealed Carry. He covers all aspects of the industry from military and law enforcement firearms and training to the shooting sports. His blog is at