A professional hunter, less frequently referred to as market or commercial hunter and regionally, especially in Britain and Ireland, as professional stalker or gamekeeper, is a person who hunts and/or manages game by profession. Some professional hunters work in the private sector or for government agencies and manage species that are considered overabundant, others are self-employed and make a living by selling hides and meat, while still others are guiding big-game hunters.
German professional hunters (″Berufsjäger″) mostly work for large private forest estates and for state-owned forest administrations, where they control browsing by reducing the numbers of roe deer, chamois, etc. or manage populations of sought after trophy species like red deer and act as hunting guides for paying clients.
British professional stalkers and gamekeepers primarily work on large estates, especially in Scotland, where they manage red deer, common pheasant, red grouse and French partridge. In their heyday at the outset of the 20th century an estimated 25,000 professional stalkers and gamekeepers were employed in the UK, while today there are some three thousand.
Unregulated hunting in the 19th and early 20th century
In a North American context the terms market, professional and commercial hunter are used to refer the hunters of the 19th and early 20th century, who sold or traded the flesh, bones, and/or skins and feathers of slain animals as a source of income. These hunters focused on species which gathered in large numbers for breeding, feeding, or migration and was organized into factory-like groups that would systematically depopulate an area of any valuable wildlife over a short period of time. The animals which were hunted included bison, deer, ducks and other waterfowl, geese, pigeons and many other birds, seals and walruses, fish, river mussels, and clams.
Effects on North American birds
Populations of large birds were severely depleted through the 19th and early 20th century. At the time of European discovery, migratory flocks a mile wide and hundreds of miles long contained billions of passenger pigeons flying so closely together that they darkened the sky for hours as they passed overhead; the weight of roosting pigeons would break trees up to 2 feet (61 cm) in diameter. In Michigan 25,000 pigeons were killed daily for a month in 1874 before the flocks disappeared at the end of the century. Migratory flocks of millions of Eskimo curlews were harvested up to 7,000 birds per day. Market hunters used punt guns in Long Island Sound, Delaware Bay, and Chesapeake Bay to harvest Atlantic Flyway waterfowl. The last known breeding colony of great auks on Funk Island was destroyed for feathers sold to stuff pillows and mattresses. Herons and egrets were hunted for their long, filamentous nuptial plumage used in the millinery trade from 1840 until prices rose to $32 per ounce in 1903. Heath hens were exterminated from the mainland by 1835, and were extinct within a century.
The extermination of several species and the threatened loss of others caused popular legislation effectively prohibiting this form of commercial hunting in the United States. Hunting seasons were eventually established to conserve surviving wildlife and allow a certain amount of recovery and re-population to occur. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act signed in 1918 regulated hunting and prohibited all hunting of wood ducks until 1941 and swans until 1962.
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