“Ask a Priest: Should Animals Be Used as Target Practice?”

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Q: My nephew and his father (my brother) routinely kill animals on their property. They use animals as target practice, not as a food source. Is this a sin? I believe that to destroy what God has placed on this earth for no reason other than to brag about how good of a shot you are, is sinful, yet I cannot find any examples remotely on point in the Bible in order to convince them of their wrongful ways. Any help? -P.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: God told man, “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). This dominion wasn’t a license to abuse creation.

Using animals as simple target practice seems to go beyond man’s proper role in creation. The Catechism offers guidance on our relationship to animals.

No. 2415 says, “The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.”

It goes on to say in No. 2416, “Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.”

A key number with relevance to your particular question is 2418: “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”

If the animals are not posing a threat (that is, carrying rabies or damaging crops), then to kill them indiscriminately seems to show a lack of “religious respect for the integrity of creation” (Catechism, No. 2415).

If a dad wants to bond with his son and at the same time teach him responsible use of arms, then it might be better to resort to firing ranges or legitimate hunting, where animals ultimately will be used as food.

I hope this helps. God bless.

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