Market hunters, or commercial hunters, hunt wild land animals. (Their counterparts at sea are called commercial fishermen and whalers.) They are distinguished from subsistence hunters and recreational hunters by their use of the animals they kill: Market hunters sell or trade the flesh, bones, and/or skins and feathers of slain animals as a source of income; subsistence hunters and their families and local tribes use these materials directly as food, clothing, tools, and/or shelter; recreational hunters often consume the flesh of their kills and/or use the skins for decoration or clothing.
Market hunting is almost entirely outlawed. Laws regulate recreational hunters as to which species and gender of animals they may kill, how many, what time of year they may kill them, and what weapons they may use. Laws often forbid subsistence and recreational hunters from selling any wild animals they kill.
Market hunters exploit animals as a natural resource, for both money and economic development. Like commercial fishing, market hunting focused on species which gathered in large numbers for breeding, feeding, or migration. Market hunters organized themselves 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. Labor was divided among the actual hunters, the skinners, the butchers, all the way down to the marketers of the fur, feathers, shells, blubber, meat, etc., to easterners and also Europeans, except for the buffalo meat that the market hunters left on the dead animal to rot on the plains, after only taking primarily the fur, skin (for robes and strong, tough leather), and tongue (which was a delicacy in eastern restaurants).
North American birds
Market hunting severely depleted populations of large birds through the 19th century. Several species were exterminated, and the threatened loss of others caused popular legislation effectively prohibiting market hunting. 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. Michigan market hunters killed 25,000 pigeons daily for a month in 1874 before the flocks disappeared at the end of the century. Market hunters then turned their attention to migratory flocks of millions of Eskimo curlews and harvested up to 7,000 birds per day. Market hunters used small cannon called punt guns in Long Island Sound, Delaware Bay, and Chesapeake Bay to harvest Atlantic Flyway waterfowl. New York, New Jersey, and Maryland market hunters sold Labrador ducks from 1840 to 1860, and the species was extinct by 1875. 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. 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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