Hunting is the practice of pursuing, capturing, or killing wildlife. This broad definition can be divided into subsistence, commercial, and recreational hunting. Subsistence hunting provided the primary source of protein for most humans prior to widespread domestication of animals and evolution of agricultural societies (2 500 000-10 000 BCE). When agriculture and animal husbandry emerged (10 000 BCE), hunting began moving from a subsistence practice to a cultural practice. This transition is largely complete in developed nations where hunting is an insignificant source of protein. Subsistence hunting, however, still persists in economically depressed areas (e.g., much of rural Africa), and in relatively isolated cultural groups (e.g., Arctic Inuit).

In areas where survival was not the primary objective of hunting, the practice evolved into extermination, commercial, and recreational varieties. Extermination hunting involves attempts to eliminate wildlife which prey on or compete with domestic livestock or crops or threaten human safety. Commercial hunting for meat, hides, plumage, or other tissues (e.g., tusks, antlers, horns, claws, and skulls) often involves special training and utilizes efficient, rather than traditional or stylized, weapons. Recreational hunting evolved as a luxury sport of higher social classes in early agricultural societies (e.g., ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia). In Europe, sport hunting remained in the realm of royalty or aristocracy through the colonial period, and that tradition spread to some colonies (e.g., India). Social and ecological contexts in colonial North America, however, led to a modern hunting culture without strong ties to social class. While modern recreational hunting is often associated with sport hunting (e.g., trophy hunting), many hunters participate primarily to experience the outdoors and associate with other hunters. This hunting culture plays a major role in advertising, economics, and social practices in many rural areas throughout the world. Formal 'cultural hunting' regulations also recognize the central role of hunting for some tribal groups.

In the United States, self-sufficient and conservation-minded sportsmen hunters embodied by Theodore Roosevelt represented a shared view of hunting prior to the 1960s. The civil and women's rights movements, Vietnam War and the peace movement, and environmental movement, however, led to a more critical public in late 1960s and early 1970s. Since then, animal welfare and animal rights groups have successfully lobbied against several forms of sport hunting (e.g., 'canned' hunts of penned wildlife, hound hunting of fox and bear) and commercial whaling. These successes combined with steady decline in hunter recruitment, retention, and numbers during the same period suggest future changes in hunting culture and practice.

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