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The hunting labor enables a dwarf to put on armor and equip a weapon as a civilian and try to kill wild animals roaming outside.
A hunter picks a mark at random, which he then pursues, ignoring other animals and enemies. Hunters use the ambusher skill in order to sneak up on their prey. As an ambusher gets closer to his prey, there is a greater and greater chance he or she will be spotted by the animal and stop ambushing. Higher skill allows dwarves to get closer before being spotted, and also increases the speed at which a dwarf can move while sneaking.
When the dwarf is close enough (or once spotted), they will move to engage, or to within shooting range if they are using a crossbow. From there, the ambusher skill has no effect, and only combat skills are used. If a hunter carries no weapon, they will wrestle their prey.
Upon killing the prey, a hunter will carry it home to a butcher's shop. A hunter may kill other creatures that are closer to them than the fleeing mark he is intent on catching. This happens frequently with crossbows due to their range. They will ignore the accidental carcass and only bring home a carcass they have marked beforehand. This means that sometimes multiple dead critters per hunt will be lying about; if you have a good system of stockpiles, available dwarf haulers and a map free of menacing critters (like with calm surroundings), then you should have the outside of your fort just as tidy as the inside, and will be able to salvage the corpses. If you do that on the wrong map, you will see some dwarf carcasses added instead.
The same caution is advised to the slaughtering process. Hunters will drop carcasses directly into the butchery, which will make it cluttered very fast. Animals upon being butchered explode into chunks, meat, skin, bones, fat and skull, and the clutter will make the butcher work many times slower. Stockpiles and haulers are required, or your animal corpses will rot even while in the butchery and you will lose the skin, the meat and the fat (food). Place a stockpile on the refuse option for only corpses and body parts, which will only collect the butcher-able corpses. Bones and skulls can be salvaged even from rotting corpses. It can also happen that your butcher is not fast enough and some hauler takes a corpse from the butchery and puts it on a refuse pile. Usually this shouldn't be a problem as your butcher will pick it up from there - if the refuse pile is close by.
If you don't have a good stocking and hauling system, you will not get all of the kill, and the craftsdwarf unfortunate enough to need the bones from the rotted critters will have to go out alone several times to get them every time which places a huge strain on production speed and safety.
You can assign hunting dogs to hunters, as they will sneak just as the hunter. War dogs die more often for hunters even if they are stronger, since the dogs outrun the sneaking hunter and thus the hunter never gets the first shot and sometimes never even has time to arrive at the combat before the dog is either dead or wounded.[Verify] Actual hunting dogs seem to be even less effective, arriving a minute late with your dwarf lying in a coma.[Verify]
Weapons and Tactics
Dwarves can hunt with any weapon, or even unarmed, but a crossbow is the most sensible choice, due to its range. They will use whatever weapon/armor is assigned to them. (See Military)
You should consider training hunters in wrestling in order for them to defend themselves. Wrestling will help him to break the jaw-grips that the enemy critter places on him, and will help the dwarf wrestle on his own and even place his own jaw grips if both of his hands are incapacitated, and is the only option if a weapon is dropped or stuck in the animal. If your hunters use crossbows (as is recommended), you should also consider training them in hammerdwarf skill, as a crossbow is used with this skill if an animal engages in melee against a marksdwarf, and hunters will fight to the death even if they run out of bolts. Without bolts, he must fight with the butt of the crossbow which is counted as a weak hammer.
Using your military to hunt (with the "chase dangerous animals" setting) can be safer and more efficient than using hunters, particularly if they are agile enough to simply outrun the creatures. However, you may find that they maim an animal so badly that they refuse to fight it any more, as they no longer consider it a threat. If there are no other huntable animals on the map, it is generally safe to send an otherwise untrained dwarf with high statistics and a melee weapon (e.g. a woodcutter or miner) out to hunt it. However, be warned that hunters will not stop their current hunt if you disable their hunting labor; hence, your dwarf may end up hunting whatever creatures spawn next, with potentially suicidal results. This may be avoidable by disabling the labor while hunting or returning the kill, or drafting the dwarf in question after the kill has been returned.
A dwarf with the hunting labor enabled will sleep outside and drink water, causing unhappy thoughts, though the happiness penalties will be less severe than with other dwarves. It may thus be necessary to watch the mood of a full-time hunter and take him off the job in time. Make sure he drops the waterskin or don't produce any in the first place. However, since hunters expect to spend all of their time outdoors, they don't mind being caught in the rain.
Animals will appear randomly on the edge of a map, especially once the map is cleared of all wildlife. This can result in your deer hunter suddenly having an unpleasant chitchat with a cougar, a pack of wolves, or worse.
Unlike in later versions, animal populations are effectively infinite - there are limits on how many of each animal can show up during a given time period, but they will always replenish at the beginning of each year.
Clothesmaking • Milling • Hunting • Brewing • Plant gathering • Farming (workshop) • Cooking • Trapping • Stone hauling • Wood hauling • Item hauling • Burial • Food hauling • Refuse hauling