Hunting is the practice of killing or trapping animals, or pursuing or tracking them with the intent of doing so. Hunting wildlife or feral animals is most commonly done by humans for food, recreation, to remove predators that can be dangerous to humans or domestic animals, or for trade. Lawful hunting is distinguished from poaching, which is the illegal killing, trapping or capture of the hunted species. The species that are hunted are referred to as game or prey and are usually mammals and birds.
Hunting has long been a practice used to procure meat for human consumption. The meat from a healthy wild animal (such as a deer) that has lived its life freely and on a natural diet of plants generally has a higher nutritional quality than that of a domestic animal that has been raised in an unnatural way. Hunting an animal for its meat can also be seen as a more natural way to obtain animal protein since regulated hunting does not cause the same environmental issues as raising domestic animals for meat, especially on factory farms.
Hunting can also be a means of pest control. Hunting advocates state that hunting can be a necessary component of modern wildlife management, for example, to help maintain a population of healthy animals within an environment's ecological carrying capacity when natural checks such as predators are absent or very rare. However, excessive hunting has also heavily contributed to the endangerment, extirpation and extinction of many animals.
The pursuit, capture and release, or capture for food of fish is called fishing, which is not commonly categorised as a form of hunting. 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 or birds. The practice of foraging or gathering materials from plants and mushrooms is also considered separate from hunting.
Skillful tracking and acquisition of an elusive target has caused the word hunt to be used in the vernacular as a metaphor, as in treasure hunting, "bargain hunting", and even "hunting down" corruption and waste.
The word hunt serves as both a noun ("to be on a hunt") and a verb. The noun has been dated to the early 12th century, "act of chasing game," from the verb hunt. Old English had huntung, huntoþ. The meaning of "a body of persons associated for the purpose of hunting with a pack of hounds" is first recorded in the 1570s. Meaning "the act of searching for someone or something" is from about 1600.
The verb, Old English huntian "to chase game" (transitive and intransitive), perhaps developed from hunta "hunter," is related to hentan "to seize," from Proto-Germanichuntojan (the source also of Gothichinþan "to seize, capture," Old High Germanhunda "booty"), which is of uncertain origin. The general sense of "search diligently" (for anything) is first recorded c. 1200.