In its current form, the history of hunting is relatively short, while the history of tracking animals to kill dates back to the era of prehistoric man.
For millenia, hunting was one of the most important activities of prehistoric people. The concept of “ownership” did not yet exist, so game did not belong to anyone in particular. Hunting represented the main source of subsistence and survival of the people. Apart from food, it provided skins for clothing, as well as bones and horns for simple tools. Over the centuries, as a result of civilisation, social changes, and the clear-cutting of forests and development of agriculture, hunting ceased to be the main human activity, and became instead an opportunity to demonstrate human strength, agility, and fortitude in direct encounters with wild animals.
Starting from the 10th century, hunting became more associated with people “of noble ancestry:” emperors, kings, clergy, and the knighthood. Hunting became the main source of supply to military troops during military expeditions. These times were marked by the first restrictions concerning hunting, which were not aimed at protecting wild game, but instead at protecting the interests and privileges of certain individuals and social groups. Legal regulations, at that time, were issued by rulers with unlimited hunting rights. The main privilege of such rulers were “grand hunts” (venatio magna), i.e., large game hunting (aurochs, bison, wild boar, deer, bear). “Small hunting” (venatio parva), or hunting for small game (birds, fox, beaver, rabbit), could be performed even by serfs.
By the 13th century, as a result of numerous hunting grants and the passing of these authorisations to dignitaries and clergy, the monopoly of rulers had gradually waned. By the 15th century, this privilege belonged almost exclusively to the knighthood, and was directly linked to land ownership. It was then that the first regulations representative of an owner’s concern for the preservation of game populations, especially those that were large or dying out, were issued. Proof can be found in the edict of Sigismund III Vasa of 1597, which prohibited serfs from the Jaktorów vicinity to use meadows, so that “…aurochs, our animal, (could have) their former habitat.”
The exclusivity of hunting rights enjoyed by magnates was accompanied by numerous regulations, which were, at times, very strict. According to the provisions of the First Statute of Lithuania in 1529, if a person hunting in someone else’s forest was captured, he/she was sentenced to a death penalty ex officio: “If a shooter is captured over a dead animal in somebody else’s forest, then this person will be carried to the office and sentenced to death, like all other thieves.”
In the 16th century, during the rise of hunting legislation, these penalties were relaxed somewhat, but still remained relatively strict. The three subsequent Statutes of Lithuania, issued in 1529, 1566, and 1588, remained in force until 1775, when the Hunting Act—the last such legal act in Poland before the partition—was adopted. During partition, in various parts of old Poland, the hunting laws of the occupiers became applicable. Only in 1927, by decision of the President of the Republic of Poland, were hunting issues regulated again. The provisions included therein continued to link the right to hunt with land ownership.
According to current law [Hunting Law of 13 October 1995, Dz.U. (Journal of Laws), No. 147, Item 713, consolidated text; Dz.U. 2005, No. 127, Item 1066], game management lies within the responsibility of the state, and relevant breeding plans constitute its basis. This law clearly indicates the need for game protection and breeding for the benefit of all of society. It also serves as an indicator of the influence of changing social and economic conditions, as characterised by the human attitude toward nature—including hunting.