Podcast #409: The Epic Story of Sport Hunting in America

Hunting is one of America’s deeply held national traditions. Some of our biggest folk heroes were hunters — men like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Theodore Roosevelt. But how did hunting become a tradition in America in the first place and how did that tradition influence American culture, including its arts and conservation laws?

My guest today tackled the history of American hunting, especially its sporting form, in his latest book. His name is Philip Dray and his book is The Fair Chase: The Epic Story of Hunting in America. Today on the show, Philip and I discuss the start of sport hunting in this country during colonial times and how European hunting norms influenced the pastime in America. We then dig into how Americans developed a new and democratic form of hunting. Philip shares how magazine writers and artists in the 19th century helped create the myth of the noble sportsman that we have today and how hunting changed as Americans moved West. We then dig into how the decimation of the American bison after the Civil War led hunters to start the conservation movement in America and Theodore Roosevelt’s role in that movement. We end our conversation discussing the state of hunting in America today

Show Highlights

  • What got Philip interested in the history of hunting?
  • When did hunting transition from a subsistence activity to a recreational activity?
  • What was European sport hunting like in the Middle Ages? How did it impact the notion of hunting in America?
  • What were some of the norms of the gentleman hunter?
  • How did hunting become democratized here in America?
  • What did early Americans think of hunting and hunters? How did that evolve over time?
  • How sport magazines contributed to the rise of hunting of a pastime
  • The curative powers of nature and hunting
  • The proliferation of hunting-focused art 
  • The opening of the American West and how sport hunting changed when it went West 
  • George Armstrong Custer the hunter, and the sport’s relationship with the military 
  • Hunting’s connection to conservation and natural science
  • How did the bison’s near extinction change the perception of hunting?
  • The evolution of game laws 
  • Theodore Roosevelt, and his role in both hunting and conservationism 
  • How hunting even today supports conservation 
  • What’s the state of hunting today?

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