The issue of whether recreational hunting hurts or benefits the environment is a controversial topic, with a range of different positions being advocated for. Through applying a socioecological theory that analyses the relational process between humans and the environment, I will argue that the position one takes on hunting, whether it be for or against, is a reflection of their ecological habitus. By outlining a brief history of hunting within New Zealand, my first hunting experience, and defining the key concepts of ecological habitus, I will link my own hunting perceptions and practices to ecological habitus and lay the theoretical foundations that influence an individual’s position on the matter. It will be shown that in New Zealand the ecological habitus towards hunting is heavily influenced by one’s environmental location, type of capital possessed, and identification with a national ‘kiwi’ identity. The impact of this is that the formation of hunting practices is a direct product of the relationships between people and their environment. By applying a concept of ecological habitus a more complex understanding of peoples’ behaviour towards the environment can be gained.
As Brooking (2002, p. 172) states, hunting in New Zealand started out as being “intricately linked to the story of acclimatization and, consequently to the environmental history of New Zealand”. When New Zealand was settled by migrants in the nineteenth-century there was a lack of mammals to hunt and live upon. As the country became more colonised, the introduction of large game, fish, and birds increased to help expand the settlers’ dietary options. As these introduced animals, particularly in the form of deer, rabbits, and possums, integrated into the environment, their definition gradually began to be transformed from game animals to pests. This new definition brought about more state-controlled efforts in managing foreign animals in New Zealand (Holden, 2009, p. 1). Coming into the modern century, hunting began to be promoted as a recreational activity, alongside an environmental friendly one, and efforts at conservation were applied to native flora and fauna.
The significance of this historical movement is that the perception of what animal is useful and what is not, in conjunction with the reasons and methods for hunting have altered in New Zealand with the increasing urbanisation and industrialisation of the country. Animals such as deer went from being a nutritious hunting prospect to a pest that “negatively impact[s] New Zealand’s native forests” (“Deer: Animal pests,” 2012) Hunting went from a subsistence-based to a recreational-based one and along with a specialisation in hunting methods, the practice of hunting decreased (Brooking, 2002, p. 171-173). This is the landscape that I found myself in, and equipped with a variety of modern gadgets to help make being in the bush easier, I set out into the Lake Sumner recreational park in order to shoot and bring home some deer meat.
My first experience with hunting started in the spring of 2009. I had just watched the film Into the Wild and this had sparked a desire to go out into the forest and be able to be at least partly self-sufficient. Within a few months I had a rifle and the intention to hunt any animal I could eat. By the coming summer I had shot and slaughtered my first deer, taking the meat back home to my family. I believe my opinions and concurrent practice of hunting had been influenced by my ecological habitus. The views on hunting I had, whilst not being on a conscious level other than from watching the film, were influenced by my relationships to my surroundings and this meant that while I had made a conscious decision to hunt, the factors that helped to form this were already present in my socioecological habitat.
As Kasper (2009, p. 321) argues, ecological habitus is a useful tool for “rethinking environmental behaviour” and placing attention on the relational processes between humans and the settings that they interact with. In its essence, ecological habitus is the way that one relates and identifies oneself with, in relation to their immediate environmental settings. This process is in the form of a “durable, yet changeable” set of environmental attitudes and active decisions, whether made on a conscious or unconscious level, which are shaped, and shape one’s perceptions towards socioecological matters (Kasper, 2009, p. 316-317). Applying the concept of ecological habitus is a useful way of envisaging how ecologically relevant conditions affect individuals’ socioecological choices, particular in the case of their actions, or practices, towards environmental issues such as hunting.