Each autumn, millions of men and increasing numbers of women don camouflage or blaze orange outfits and go afield in pursuit of game. For much of American history, there was no need to explain why they did this. Hunting was simply another aspect of the annual cycle of planting, breeding, and harvesting. But modern hunting began separating from its agrarian roots well over a century ago, and although it has retained its connection to the metaphor of the harvest, the self-perceptions and motives of hunters today are no longer transparent, especially to nonhunters. Indeed, hunting—and those who hunt—have become targets of a vocal and growing array of critics.
In Mortal Stakes, Jan E. Dizard examines the place of hunting in contemporary America. Drawing on detailed interviews with hunters as well as opinion surveys and demographic statistics, he analyzes the meanings these men and women attach to hunting and situates this traditional activity in its current setting. He looks at who hunts, how they compare socially and politically with nonhunters, and how they see themselves and are seen by others.
With fewer and fewer Americans closely linked to the land, hunting seems less ordinary and less necessary. As the gulf between hunters and nonhunters widens, hunters have begun to think of themselves as a minority group which, like other minorities, suffers from prejudice and stereotyping. As a result, Dizard argues, hunting is fast becoming one more front in an expanding "culture war" over what it means to be an American.