Hunting is the human practice of seeking, pursuing and capturing or killing wildlife or feral animals. The most common reasons for humans to hunt are to harvest food (i.e. meat) and useful animal products (fur/hide, bone/tusks, horn/antler, etc.), for recreation/taxidermy (see trophy hunting), to remove predators dangerous to humans or domestic animals (e.g. wolf hunting), to eliminate pests and nuisance animals that damage crops/livestock/poultry or spread diseases (see varminting), for trade/tourism (see safari), or for ecological conservation against overpopulation and invasive species.
Recreationally hunted species are generally referred to as the "game", and are usually mammals and birds. A person participating in a hunt is a hunter or (less commonly) huntsman; a natural area used for hunting is called a game reserve; and an experienced hunter who helps organize a hunt and/or managing the game reserve is known as a gamekeeper.
Many non-human animals also hunt (see predation) as part of their feeding and parental behaviors, sometimes in quantities exceeding immediate dietary needs. The one that does the hunting is the predator, and the one being hunted is the prey.
Hunting activities by humans arose in Homo erectus or earlier, in the order of millions of years ago. Hunting has become deeply embedded in various human cultures and was once an important part of the rural economies — classified by economists as part of primary production alongside forestry, agriculture and fishery. Modern regulations (see game law) distinguish lawful hunting activities from illegal poaching, which involves the unauthorized and unregulated killing, trapping or capture of animals.
Apart from food provision, hunting can be a means of population control. Hunting advocates state that regulated hunting can be a necessary component of modern wildlife management, for example to help maintain a healthy proportion of animal populations within an environment's ecological carrying capacity when natural checks such as natural predators are absent or insufficient, or to provide funding for breeding programs and maintenance of natural reserves and conservation parks. However, excessive hunting has also heavily contributed to the endangerment, extirpation and extinction of many animals. Some animal rights and anti-hunting activists regard hunting as a cruel, perverse and unnecessary blood sport. Certain hunting practices, such as canned hunts and ludicrously paid/bribed trophy tours (especially to poor countries), are considered unethical and exploitative even by some hunters.
Marine mammals such as whales and pinnipeds are also targets of hunting, both recreationally and commercially, often with heated controversies regarding the morality, ethics and legality of such practices. The pursuit, harvesting or catch and release of fish and aquatic cephalopods and crustaceans is called fishing, which however is widely accepted and not commonly categorised as a form of hunting, even though it essentially is. It is also not considered hunting to pursue animals without intent to kill them, as in wildlife photography, birdwatching, or scientific-research activities which involve tranquilizing or tagging of animals, although green hunting is still called so. The practices of netting or trapping insects and other arthropods for trophy collection, or the foraging or gathering of plants and mushrooms, are also not regarded as hunting.
Skillful tracking and acquisition of an elusive target has caused the word hunt to be used in the vernacular as a metaphor for searching and obtaining something, as in "treasure hunting", "bargain hunting", "hunting for votes" and even "hunting down" corruption and waste.