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69. Hunting

Chapter Editor: George A. Conway

Table of Contents


A Profile of Hunting and Trapping in the 1990s
John N. Trent

Diseases Associated with Hunting and Trapping
Mary E. Brown


Click a link below to view table in article context.

1. Examples of diseases potentially significant to hunters & trappers

Overview of the Sector

Hunting and trapping of wild animals are two very old human endavours that persist in a variety of forms throughout the world today. Both involve the capture and death of target species living in wild or relatively undeveloped habitats. A wide variety of species is hunted. Small game mammals like hares, rabbits and squirrels are hunted throughout the world. Examples of big game commonly pursued by hunters are deer, antelope, bears and the large cats. Waterfowl and pheasants are among the commonly hunted game birds. Trapping is limited to animals having fur with either commercial or some practical value for use by the trapper. In the north temperate zones, beaver, muskrat, mink, wolf, bobcat, and raccoons are often trapped.

Hunting is the stalking and killing of individual wild animals, usually for food, clothing or recreational reasons. Recently, hunting in some situations has been viewed as a way of maintaining the cultural continuity of an indigenous culture. Subsistence bowhead whaling in northern Alaska is an example. Hunters usually employ projectile weapons like shotguns, rifles or bow and arrow. Trappers are more specialized and have to obtain numbers of fur-bearing mammals without damaging the pelts. Snares and deadfalls have been used for millennia. Leghold traps (both padded and unpadded) are still commonly used for some species; killing traps like the Conibear are more widely used for other species.

Evolution and Structure of the Industry

In a few traditional societies throughout the world today, hunting continues as an individual survival activity, essentially unchanged since before the evolution of either animal husbandry or agriculture. However, most people hunt today as some form of leisure time activity; some earn partial incomes as professional hunters or trappers; and relatively few are employed in these occupations on a full-time basis. Commerce in hunting and trapping probably began with the trade of surplus animal food and skins. Trade has gradually evolved into specialized but related occupations. Examples include tanning; hide and fur preparation; clothing manufacture; production of hunting, trapping and outdoor equipment; professional guiding; and regulation of wildlife populations.

Economic Importance

In recent centuries the commercial search for furs influenced the course of history. Wildlife populations, the fate of indigenous people and the character of many nations have been shaped by the quest for wild furs. (For example, see Hinnis 1973.) An important continuing characteristic of the fur trade is that demand for fur, and resulting prices, can fluctuate widely over time. The change in European fashion from beaver felt to silk hats in the early decades of the 19th century brought an end to the era of the mountain men in the Rocky Mountains of North America. The impact on people dependent on fur harvest can be sudden and severe. Organized public protest against the clubbing of harp seal pups in the western North Atlantic in the 1970s wreaked severe economic and social impact on small communities along the Newfoundland coast of Canada.

Trapping and hunting continue to be important in many rural economies. The cumulative expenditures for these activities can be substantial. In 1991 an estimated 10.7 million big game hunters in the United States spent US$5.1 billion on trip and equipment expenditures (US Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census 1993).

Characteristics of the Workforce

Professional hunting is now rare (except for guiding activities) in developed nations, and confined generally to culling operations (e.g., for predators or overcapacity hooved animals) and nuisance population control (e.g., alligators). Thus, hunting is now largely for subsistence and/or recreation, while trapping remains an income-producing occupation for some rural residents. Most hunters and trappers are men. In 1991, 92% of the 14.1 million people (age 16 or older) hunting in the United States were male. Hunting and trapping attracts independent and vigorous people who enjoy working and living on the land. Both are traditional activities for many rural families, where young people are instructed by their parents or elders in hunting as they are for preparation of food, skins and clothing. It is a seasonal activity used to supplement food supplies and, in the case of trapping, to obtain cash. Consistent success depends upon in-depth knowledge about wildlife habits and competence with a range of outdoor skills. Efficient transportation to good hunting and trapping areas is also an important requirement.

Major Sectors and Processes

Hunting requires locating and closely approaching a wild animal, and then dispatching it, under a combination of formal and informal rules (Ortega y Gasset 1985). Transportation to the hunting area is often a major expense, particularly for recreational hunters who may live in urban centres. Transportation is also a primary source of occupational risk. Automobile, light aircraft and boat accidents as well as mishaps with horses, all-terrain and snow-travel vehicles are all sources of risk. Other sources are weather, exposure and terrain difficulties. Becoming lost in rough country is always a hazard. Injury from wounded dangerous game like bears, elephants and cape buffalo is always possible for hunters seeking those species. In small cabins or tents, fire, carbon monoxide and propane gas all present potential hazards. Both hunters and trappers must contend with self-inflicted injury from knives and, in the case of bowhunters, broad-head arrow points. Firearms accidents are also a well known source of injury and mortality to hunters despite continuing efforts to address the problem.

Trappers are generally exposed to the same hazards as hunters. Trappers in circumpolar areas have more opportunity for frostbite and hypothermia difficulties. The potential for breaking through ice-covered lakes and rivers during the winter months is a serious problem. Some trappers travel long distances alone and must safely operate their traps, often under difficult conditions. Mishandling results in bruised or broken fingers, perhaps a broken arm. Bites from live-trapped animals are always a potential problem. Attacks by rabid foxes or problems with large animals such as bears or moose during the breeding season are unusual but not unknown. Skinning and fur handling expose trappers to knife injuries and, sometimes, wildlife diseases.

Hunting Techniques


Firearms are basic equipment for most hunters. Modern rifles and shotguns are the most popular, but hunting with handguns and more primitive muzzle-loading firearms has also increased in some developed countries since the 1970s. All are essentially launching and aiming platforms for a single projectile (a bullet) or, in the case of shotguns, a cloud of small, short-range projectiles (called shot). Effective range depends on the type of firearm used and the skill of the hunter. It can vary from a few to several hundred metres under most hunting conditions. Rifle bullets can travel thousands of metres and still cause damage or injury.

Most hunting accidents involving firearms are either accidental discharges or vision-related accidents, where the victim is not identified by the shooter. Modern manufacturers of firearms used for hunting and trapping have, with few exceptions, succeeded in producing mechanically safe and reliable equipment at competitive prices. Much effort has been expended at refining mechanical safeties to prevent accidental discharges, but safe operation by the firearm user is still essential. Manufacturers, governments and private groups such as hunting clubs have all worked to promote firearms and hunter safety. Their emphasis has been on safe storage, use and handling of firearms.

The International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) defines a hunting accident as “any event which is attributed directly or indirectly to a firearm or bow, and causes injury or death to any person or persons as a result of a person’s actions while hunting” (IHEA 1995). In 1995, 17 million people purchased hunting licenses in the United States (excluding Alaska). For 1995, the IHEA received reports of 107 deaths and 1,094 injuries from hunting accidents in the United States. The most common type of accident occurred when the victim was not identified by the shooter. The use of blaze- or hunter-orange clothing has been shown to reduce visibility-related accidents in states requiring its use. More extensive use of blaze-orange clothing is recommended by the IHEA. Forty states now require use of blaze orange, but in some of them, it is limited to use on public lands or only for big-game hunting. The IHEA reports that self-inflicted injuries are the second most common cause of hunting firearms accidents, accounting for 31% of the total number in 1995.

Governments encourage hunting and firearms safety in various ways. In some European countries, hunters must pass a written examination or demonstrate proficiency in hunting a particular species. The United States emphasizes hunter education, which is administered by each state. All states except Alaska require some form of mandatory hunter education card before allowing hunting in that state. A minimum of 10 hours of instruction is required. Course subjects include hunter responsibility, wildlife conservation, firearms, hunting ethics, specialty hunting, survival skills and first aid.

Other hunting techniques

In recent decades, refinement of the compound bow has made archery hunting available to millions of recreational hunters. Compound bows use a system of pulleys and cables to minimize the strength and training once needed to hunt with traditional bows. Bow hunters use razor-sharp broad-head arrows; cuts from broad heads and falling on unprotected arrowheads are two types of accident common to this hunting specialty. Effective bow hunting requires extensive wildlife knowledge and stalking skills. Bow hunters normally have to be within 30 metres of their prey in order to be able to shoot effectively.

Trapping Techniques

Most of the wild fur production in the world comes from two areas: North America and the former Soviet Union. Trappers normally operate a line or series of sets, each with one or more devices intended to restrain or kill the target species without damaging the pelt. Snares and traps (including box, leghold and body-gripping humane traps) are most commonly used. Traplines can vary from a few sets in a creekbed behind a residence to hundreds set out along several hundred miles of trail. The Alaska Trappers Manual (ATA 1991) is a recent description of trapping techniques currently in use in that region.

Pelt treatment techniques

Trappers normally skin their catches and sell the dried pelts to a fur buyer or directly to an auction house. The pelts will eventually be sold to a manufacturer who dresses or tans the skins. Afterwards they are prepared into garments. Fur prices vary considerably. The price paid for a pelt depends on size, desired colour, fur condition, the absence of defects and market conditions. Experienced trappers have to catch furbearers and prepare the pelts for sale in a manner that makes the entire process profitable enough to continue operating. For a thorough discussion of the wild fur industry see Novak et al. (1987).

Environmental and Public Health Issues

Technological advances since the Second World War have improved the lot of hunters and trappers in many ways. These improvements have alleviated, at least in the developed countries, the isolation, gruelling physical labour and occasional malnutrition that once had to be endured. Improved navigation and search and rescue methods have improved the safety levels of these occupations generally. Alaska Native walrus and whale hunters, for example, now almost always return home safely from the hunt.

In the 20th century, two major issues have seriously challenged these occupations. They are the continuing need to maintain healthy wildlife ecosystems and the ethical questions resulting from the way hunters and trappers interact with wild animals. Government-sponsored research and regulations are usually the front-line approach to addressing the very old problem of human exploitation of wildlife. The scientific discipline of wildlife management emerged in mid-century and has continued to evolve into the broader concept of conservation biology. The latter seeks to maintain ecosystem health and genetic diversity.

Early in the 20th century, habitat destruction and commercial exploitation in the United States had contributed to depletion of fish and game resources. Hunters, trappers and other outdoor advocates secured passage of legislation that created the US Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. This act imposes a 10 to 11% excise tax on the sale of rifles, pistols, shotguns, ammunition and archery equipment. The money is then used to augment revenue obtained from the sale of state hunting/trapping licenses, tags and stamps.

Since the late 1930s, US federal aid has directed millions of dollars into wildlife research, conservation, management and hunter education. One result of these efforts is that North American wildlife populations actively used by hunters and trappers now are generally healthy and capable of sustaining consumptive uses. The federal aid experience suggests that when wildlife has a constituency willing to pay research and management costs, the future for those species is relatively bright. Unfortunately there are many ecosystems and wildlife species throughout the world where this is not the case. As we are about to enter a new century, habitat alteration and species extinction are very real conservation issues.

The other continuing challenge is controversy about animal rights. Is hunting and trapping, especially for recreation or non-subsistence purposes, a socially acceptable activity in a 21st century world of growing human population and shrinking resources? This social debate has intensified in recent decades. One positive side of the dialogue is that those who participate in these activities have had to do a better job of articulating their positions and of maintaining high standards of hunting and trapping performance. Activities offending the sensibilities of the general public, such as the clubbing of baby harp seals off the coast of Newfoundland, have sometimes been eliminated—in this case at enormous social and economic cost to the Newfoundlanders who had for many generations participated in those activities. A recent ban threatened by European communities on importation of fur taken by steel leg-hold traps has intensified the search for practical and more humane methods of killing certain furbearers. This same proposed ban threatens a rural North American subsistence lifestyle that has existed for a long time. (For more details see Herscovici 1985.)




The hazards associated with hunting and trapping are numerous—falls, drownings, frostbite, animal trap injuries, animal bites, reactions to insect bites and stings, wood-cutting wounds, sun glare and many others. However, it is usually the less experienced who suffer such mishaps. The most important factors contributing to the severity of these occupational hazards are isolation and distance. Hunters and trappers frequently work alone in rugged areas remote from any medical treatment centre, and their exact locations may often be unknown to anyone for weeks at a time. A wound, animal bite or other accident that would otherwise be a minor matter can have serious consequences under such circumstances.


Since professional trappers work mainly in the winter season in northern climates, sun glare from snow can produce eye injuries, and cold temperatures can produce frostbite and a dangerous lowering of body temperature, known as hypothermia; symptoms of hypothermia include euphoria and lethargy, with fatal consequences if not recognized in time. Crossing frozen lakes and rivers requires extreme caution because breaking through a thin layer of ice can result in drowning or hypothermia in a matter of minutes. Prolonged exposure to even moderately cold weather without adequate clothing can lead to hypothermia. Other accidents include gunshot wounds, snowmobile mishaps, wounds from skinning and wood-chopping, the accidental tripping of traps, and bites or injuries from trapped animals, snakes or other animal encounters. In addition to risk of wounds becoming infected, there is also the possibility of contracting certain diseases from animals.


Hunters and trappers are potentially exposed to a great variety of infectious agents that can cause illnesses. Among them are zoonotic diseases, transmitted from animals to people. Zoonotic diseases are caused by numerous types of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. The risk of acquiring any zoonotic disease varies with location, season and living conditions. A person can become infected directly (e.g., from an animal bite or from contact with blood while skinning an animal) or indirectly (e.g., from an insect bite that transmits the disease from another animal to a human).

Rabies is one of the most serious diseases that can be contracted from wild animals, usually from a bite wound, because it is essentially 100% fatal without medical treatment. Rabies is endemic in many areas and can infect most warm-blooded animals, including foxes, dogs, cats, bats, raccoons, skunks, wolves, bears and beaver as well as larger animals such as caribou, moose, cattle and horses. The rabies virus affects the brain; therefore, any wild animal which appears to lose its fear of man or to show any other unusual behaviour should be considered hazardous. Because the rabies virus, as well as a number of other viruses and bacteria, is transmitted in saliva, all animal bites should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. Any hunter or trapper who is bitten by an animal suspected to be rabid should seek medical assistance immediately and should try to obtain the head of the animal for testing.

Tularaemia, also known as deer fly fever and rabbit fever, is a bacterial disease that can be transmitted indirectly (by ticks, deer flies and other biting flies) or directly (by bites of infected animals or by handling carcasses, furs and hides of infected animals). It can also infect water supplies and contaminate meat. Its symptoms, similar to those of undulant fever and plague, include fever, chills, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. In areas in which the disease is suspected, water supplies should be disinfected. Wild game should be thoroughly cooked before eating. Arms and hands should be kept clean and disinfected. Rubber gloves should be worn if there are any cuts or abrasions. The area in which carcasses, hides and pelts are handled should be kept clean and disinfected.

Anthrax is another bacterial disease that may infect trappers and hunters, since it is endemic in both wild and domesticated animals in most parts of the world. A skin infection from contact with contaminated skins and hides is the most frequent form of anthrax; however, people are also infected by eating contaminated meat. Disease caused by inhalation is less common. Treatment should be sought at once.

Tuberculosis is an increasingly significant problem in many areas. Many species of animals can be a source of tuberculosis infection for hunters. Although most cases of human tuberculosis are due to exposure to coughs and sneezes from infected humans, many species of animals, including birds and cold-blooded animals, can be infected with the bacillum. Tuberculosis is also transmitted by consuming unpasteurized dairy products. It is also possible to become infected by inhaling airborne respiratory droplets or by eating the meat of infected animals. People who are immune suppressed (e.g., due to medication or human immunodeficiency virus infection) are at particular risk for the more common agents of tuberculosis, as well as those found in soil and water.

Hunters and trappers may also suffer from several fungal diseases carried by animals as well as soil fungi. Trichophyton verrucosum and T. mentagrophytes are the main ringworm agents affecting man. Also, dogs serve as a reservoir for Microsporum canis, the principal cause of animal ringworm in man. Hunters and trappers may be exposed to fungi that reside in soil and decaying vegetation, especially soils contaminated with bird or bat droppings; these fungi, which are not zoonotic diseases, inhabit specific habitats. Coccidioides immitis is common only in arid and semi-arid areas, whereas Blastomyces dermatitidis prefers moist soils along waterways and undisturbed areas. Cryptococcus neoformans and Histoplasma capsulatum are more common and live in soils enriched with bird and bat droppings. When inhaled, these fungi can cause pneumonia-like symptoms as well as serious systemic diseases in both people and animals.

Tetanus is another serious disease that infects both humans and animals. The tetanus bacteria are also very common in soils and other parts of the environment, and are normal inhabitants of many animals’ digestive tracts. Wounds, particularly deep puncture wounds, that are contaminated with dirt are the most likely to become infected. Prevention includes proper wound care and routine vaccination.

Wood ticks, mosquitoes, fleas and other biting insects often transmit infections from animals to man. Bubonic plague is an example of a bacterial disease transmitted by flea bites. A flea becomes infected when it takes a blood meal from an infected animal—usually a rodent, rabbit or hare, but also various carnivores. The flea then transmits the infection to the next animal it feeds on, including man. People can also become infected by handling tissues of infected animals, or by inhaling airborne droplets from humans or animals, usually cats, with pneumonic form of plague. The initial symptoms of bubonic plague are non-specific and include fever, chills, nausea and prostration. Later, the lymph nodes may become swollen and inflamed (the buboes for which the disease is named).

A more common disease transmitted by the bite of an insect is Lyme disease. Lyme disease is one of many transmitted by ticks. The first symptom is often a bull’s-eye rash, a red circle with a pale centre at the site of the bite. The rash disappears; however, without treatment, the disease can progress to arthritis and more serious complications.

Hantaviruses infect rodents worldwide, and human infections have been described for decades, most typically affecting the kidneys. In 1993, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome was newly recognized in the United States. This virus caused a rapidly fatal respiratory failure. Transmission of these viruses is likely to be via aerosolized rodent urine and faeces. It is thought that infected people were exposed to mice that contaminated cabins and houses.

In addition, hunters and trappers may be exposed to a wide variety of other viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections that are at times found in wild animals (table 1). Standard reference works may be consulted for details.

Table 1. Examples of diseases potentially significant to hunters and trappers




Mode of transmission


Bacterial diseases

Bacillus anthracis


Animals, hides, hair, bone, soil

Direct and indirect contact,
insect bites, inhalation,

Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa

Borellia spp.

Lyme disease, relapsing fever

Rodents, small mammals, deer, ticks

Tick and louse bites

Worldwide except Australia

Brucella spp.

Brucellosis, undulant fever


Contact, ingestion, inhalation


Campylobacter spp.





Coxiella burnetii

Q fever


Inhalation, contact


Clostridium tetani





Ehrlichia spp.



Tick bite

North America, Africa, Asia

Francisella tularensis



Insect bites, contact, ingestion,

Worldwide except Australia

Leptospira spp.



Contact, ingestion, inhalation


Listeria monocytogenes


Soil, animals, humans



Mycobacterium spp.


Humans, mammals, birds,
cold-blooded animals,

Inhalation, ingestion, wound


Rickettsia spp.

Tick-borne rickettsioses
(spotted fever group)

Ticks, rodents

Tick and mite bites


Salmonella spp.


Mammals, birds, cold-blooded



Vibrio cholera





Yersinia pestis

Plague, bubonic plague

Rodents, hares, rabbits, humans,

Flea bites, inhalation, contact


Viral diseases

(over 100 types)

Fevers, rash, haemorrhagic fevers,
encephalitis (includes Dengue, Yellow fever, viral encephalitides, Rift Valley fever, tick fevers)

Humans, animals, insects

Insect bites: mosquitoes, ticks, midges, sandflies, others


Ebola/Marburg viruses

Haemorrhagic fevers

Unknown, monkeys

Unknown, body-fluid contact

Africa, exposure to monkeys


Haemorrhagic fever, renal and pulmonary syndromes



Asia, former Soviet Union,

Lassa virus

Lassa fever


Inhalation, body-fluid contact

West Africa

Rabies virus



Virus in saliva, usually a bite
wound or scratch, occasionally
inhalation, organ transplants

Worldwide except some island

Fungal diseases

Blastomyces dermatitidis




Africa, India, Israel, North
America, Saudi Arabia,
South Africa

Coccidioides immitis

Coccidioidomycosis, valley fever, desert fever



Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia,
Venezuela, Mexico, Central
America, USA

Cryptococcus neoformans


Soil, bird and bat droppings



Histoplasma capsulatum


Soil, bird and bat droppings


Americas, Africa, eastern Asia,

Microsporum spp.,
Trichophyton spp.


Humans, animals, soil

Direct or indirect contact


Parasitic diseases

Babesia spp.


Rodents, cattle

Tick bites

Europe, Mexico, Russia,
Yugoslavia, USA

Baylisascaris spp.

Baylisascaris larva migrans

Racoons, badgers, skunks,
fishers, martens, bears


North America

Cryptosporidium parvum


Humans, cattle, domestic animals



Diphyllobothrium latum

Tapeworm infection

Humans, dogs, bears, fish-eating


Lake regions

Echinococcus spp.





Giardia spp.


Humans, animals



Leishmania spp.


Humans, animals

Sandfly bite

Tropical and sub-tropical areas

Trichinella spiralis





Trypanosoma spp.


Humans, animals

Insect bites

Africa, Americas


Most zoonotic diseases and other infectious agents can be avoided by using common sense and some general precautions. Water should be boiled or chemically treated. All foods should be adequately cooked, especially those of animal origin. Meats from all wild animals should be cooked to 71°C (160°F). Foods eaten raw should be thoroughly washed. Insect bites and stings should be avoided by tucking trousers into boots; wearing long-sleeved shirts; using repellants and mosquito netting as necessary. Ticks should be removed as soon as possible. Direct contact with animal tissues and bodily fluids should be avoided. Wearing gloves is recommended, particularly if one’s hands are cracked or abraded. Hands should be washed with soap and water after animal handling and always prior to eating. Bites and wounds should be washed with soap and water as soon as possible, with follow-up medical treatment especially if exposure to a rabies-infected animal is suspected. Hunters and trappers should be vaccinated against diseases common to their location. Having emergency first aid supplies on hand and a basic knowledge of first aid procedures may make the difference between a major and a minor incident.


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