Combat: "good hunting" - what's the history on this?

I first heard it in the new Battlestar Galactica, when Starbuck chewed out Apollo. “You don’t say ‘be careful out there’. You say ‘good hunting’.” It seems most applicable to sending out a patrol or attack squadron to deal with the enemy.

Yet, I’m pretty sure that’s not the first use of the phrase. Does anyone know where and when it originated?

The phrase used as a send-off for troops going into combat goes back at least to WWII. It is routinely used in WWII era movies, meaning movies actually made during the war. So I would guess that it probably originated in WWI. Usage indicates it was common for both pilots and sailors. Can’t remember ever seeing it addressed to ground troops, for what that’s worth.

The BG usage is bizarre, since the most common usage of the phrase I have seen is “Good luck and good hunting”. I can’t recall anyone saying just “Good hunting” outside of the old “Tie Fighter” computer game.

Looking at Google books, the earliest military use I can find is a 1937 reference to a U-boat. There’s a less relevant 1918 usage also referring to U-boats.

By the time we get to the early 40s, the phrase is all over the place, with dozens of popular magazine uses.

So it looks like I might have been spot on. The phrase originated in WWI, possibly amongst submarine crews, and was popularised in WWII.

That is awesome, Blake. Thank you.

In his 1992 novel Fatherland, Robert Harris puts the phrase “Good hunting!” in the mouth of German Adm. Karl Donitz, talking to a WWII U-boat commander about to leave on a mission.

But of course that would not have been the phrase actually used by Germans. In the Niemöller book, the wish rendered in the 1937 translation as “Good hunting” very probaby would be Waidmannsheil (the German greeting/good wishes phrase towards hunters, the canonical response being Waidmannsdank.). Similarly they’d not have shouted “May you break your mast and ensign staff” but rather Mast- und Schotbruch (may your mast and sheets break).

Pure wild speculation here, but the phrase stirred some memories. Back in the Cretaceous era, when I was in the Cub Scouts (or just Cubs as we call them here) the meetings always ended with the phrase “Good Hunting.” Often letters from the leader would end with the phrase too. I always assumed this was derived from the lore of Kipling’s Jungle Book, in the manner of so much of the movement. The core Jungle book story contains the line "Good hunting, o’ chief of the wolves, and good luck to your children.” There are roughly another half dozen uses of “Good Hunting” as a formal greeting between characters in the Jungle Book. Kipling’s Red Dog was originally called Good Hunting, and the poem Night-Song in the Jungle ends with the lines:

So this would seem reasonable. Given the influence of the movement it would not seem unreasonable, or unlikely, that the phrase did not stay with many ex-cubs as they grew older and took root in wartime. At least in the UK there could be a reasonable link.

As for the German U-Boats, they were hunters. Pure and simple. There was a good reason they were known as wolf packs. “Good Hunting” would be the most natural parting salutation one could think of.

Why wouldn’t it be Gute Jagd? I seem to recall the expression Gute Jagd! — Gute Beute! as something aking to Good Hunting, and a good catch, or something similar? (My German knowledge is sadly woefully lacking tough).

I too would assume this expression was common in the Uboat arm of WWI, as I seem to recall they were commonly refered to as U-Jagd-Boote, or submerged hunting boats.

As a WAG for earlier origins - In many european armies of the l18th century, light infantry would commonly be known as “hunters”, (Prussia for instance used “Jägers”, and many countries used their own word of the same meaning (“Jegere” being the term in Norway, and still used today for special forces). Could the expression be dating back to that age? It wouldn’t seem very far fetched to wish somebody good hunting if they were part of a unit dubbed hunters.

In many cases war is hunting. There is probably no way of pinpointing exactly when someone first used the phrase. As abel points out using the word for hunters as a term for soldier was common in the 18th century. The tradition of young noblemen and gentry serving in the armed forces of their country meant that most grew up in a culture of recreational hunting. The term “tally-ho” used when spotting an enemy plane came from fox hunting. U boats hunted in wolf packs. Its common enough and is such an easy leap from hunting to war that I would not doubt that it came from multiple sources.

Other hunting/war example: German self-propelled tank destroyers, Jagdpanzer, Jagdpanther, Jagdtiger.

Worthless trivia: The classic American heavy metal band Jag Panzer got its name from the Jagdpanzer, just dropping the “d” at the end of “Jagd” to make it easier to pronounce (for Americans).

On-topic, however: Speaking of the connection between hunting and warfare in German thought/history, there’s the story that says that when Bismarck heard of the French surrender in 1871, his reaction was simple: He whistled a hunting call meaning something along the lines of “the deer/boar/fox/whatever is dead; the hunt is over”!

… And after a bit of googling: It seems that Bismarck’s whistle happened during his negotiations with the French in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war 1870-1871, about (amongst other things) the status of Alsace and Lorraine.

One version of the story, reported in this old New York Times story, has Bismarck whistle away after a meeting with the French emperor, Napoleon III: “After BISMARCK left the Emperor, he walked into the office of his chief aid, Gen. LEMDORFF, and began to whistle a Prussian air which the trumpeter sounds at boar-hunts when the beast is down and settled.”

Another version of the story, reported here, places Bismarck’s triumphant hunting call “by the end of the first evening’s discussion” with Jules Favre, the French vice-president-cum-foreign-minister: “It was evident that the chances of agreement were good. Bismarck said nothing to the curious bystanders as he left the room in which he had been closeted alone with Favre, but he whistled a hunting call of unmistakable meaning: the chase was over.”