HUNTER, OR HARVESTER?

Zan D. Christensen

Which ARE you?  I’ll never forget that voice, the voice of Curt Gowdy, host of ABC’s The American Sportsman during the early years of the program in the late ’60s and early ’70s.  No other personality on television could present the adventure, excitement, thrill, and anticipation he delivered through his iconic voice each Sunday afternoon.  As a lad and teenager, nothing could keep me out of the great outdoors chasing fur, feathers, and fin except of course homework, chores, and his program. 

That is until it began to change. By the mid-’70s,

hunting episodes were steadily replaced with river rafting, scuba diving, hang gliding, African photographic expeditions, and other “extreme outdoor” adventures of the time.  The fishing excursions continued on through the end of the series in the mid-’80s, but long gone were the wing shooting and big game pursuits.  In short order, my interest in the program waned.  Unknown to me at the time, the growing “political correctness” movement had won a major programming battle for their idea of what television should not present to the public.  Undoubtedly, their letters of protest and boycotts of advertisers drowned out the small, still voice of the American hunter.

It was during this era of the 70’s that

America started experiencing the ugly effects of the anti-hunting and trapping protests within the pages of hunting magazines as well.  Writers increasingly began to carefully choose their words within their articles as they told their stories and described the animal’s ultimate demise.  Actually, this writing trend began well before then, which I believe was the result of America rapidly becoming less rural and more urbanized during the ’50s and ’60s. 

This urban trend also had its effects on hunters’ numbers across America, the number that was steadily declining with each passing decade.  Whether it was a fear of the publishers losing readership to a more “civilized” or “sophisticated” audience, or not wanting to offend the casual non-hunting reader, or that they wanted to present hunting in the most positive “light” possible, editors increasingly white washed the “kill.” 

As Jim Dougherty (if my memory serves me) so wonderfully expressed years ago in an article he wrote on this subject, we can trace the editorial changes noting the kill within the pages of hunting publications. 

Remember when writers began using the word “bag,” for describing the kill?  “Buck Rogers bagged this monster mulie on the last day of his hunt along with the western steps of the Book Mountains in Utah.” 

Such writing became prominent in the ’60s.  Then came the word “tag,” which edged in during the ’70s and eventually dominated throughout the ’80s.  “Wisconsin deer hunter, Jon Doe, was able to put his tag on (or tagged) this incredible record-breaking non-typical whitetail on the opening day of archery season.”  To the best of my recollection, it was in the early ’90s when I first noticed the word “harvest” used for depicting a kill.  Since then, it has become the standard(ized) catch phrase you will find within the outdoor media:  print, video, and websites alike.  Today, you are hard-pressed to find any other word describing the taking of an animal’s life during the course of a hunt.  In print, expect to read:  “Young hunter, Martha White, harvested this beautiful doe while hunting with her dad.”  On the video, you will undoubtedly hear:  “I feel so privileged to have harvested this fine animal.  What a great hunt!  What a trophy!”.

Why does this bother me? 

Fair enough question.  First up, I would have to admit that it is because I am not ashamed to say I killed a deer, duck, bear, rabbit, or whatever the creature was that wound up in my frying pan.  I would also have to disclose that I grew up in a rural setting, surrounded by and involved with farming and ranching all my life.  The fact that I also attended rural schools during a time which had teachers who actually taught their course study and did not pound a perverted view of the world into me, carries a good measure of responsibility for my belief system as well.  Because of those influences and an active life which has allowed me to engage nature head-on as an observer and predatory participant alike, I understand what the true and intended meanings of both words are, and how they should be used in context to the events they describe.  To be brutally honest, it grates me to no end when someone uses the word harvest(ed) in place of kill(ed).  I understand why it is this way, and how we have gotten here, but I certainly do not agree with it.

Think about this for a minute, and put it into the full context of the definition of the word.  If you are honest, you will have to agree how utterly silly this sounds when you say these sentences out loud.  

“The lion harvested a gazelle.”  “The hawk harvested a snake.”  “The coyote harvested a rabbit.” “The crocodile harvested a turtle.”  “The scorpion harvested a beetle.” 

Need I go on? 

Sure, why not.  If “The hunter-harvested a deer” has become the standard for descriptive language and narrative accuracy, then we must accept that “The farmer killed a bushel of corn” is on an equal plane.  Yes?  Thus, we have to conclude that the words kill and harvest have the same meaning and are interchangeable. 

I can just visualize the conversations we can now have.  We go out to the garden and pick some red ripe tomatoes for dinner, and tell the family, “Look at these beautiful tomatoes I killed today.  Aren’t they gorgeous!”  Farmer Dan asks his neighbor after the spring planting, “Jim, how many tons of wheat do you expect to kill this fall?”  The tractor salesman during his presentation at the Farm & Ranch Exposition proclaims, “Gentlemen, with our new all-wheel-drive INTERNATIONAL HARVESTER®, you can easily kill 250 bushels of beans per hour!”

Why have we become so afraid to use a word that accurately describes how we personally go about engaging creation and feeding ourselves?  Of course, that’s a rhetorical question, we both know why and how we got here, but are you really, truly, honestly, comfortable using the word “harvest”, instead of “kill”? Is there a small voice inside you that says you do not have to be ashamed of being what you are and doing what you were born to do and receive a great sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, fulfillment, and self worth for the results of your efforts?  I hope so.

However, for those of us not comfortable making the change outright, I came up with a solution back in 2005.  I coined a new word, “Killvest.”  It smoothes the edge off of kill, envisions a friendly, camo clad farmer, and easily rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?  Here is how I worked it out.

kill (kil) n. 1. An act of killing.  2.  An animal killed, esp. in hunting.   ~v. 1. To cause the death of.  >kill-er n.   ~Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary

harvest (har’vist) n.  1. The act or process of gathering a crop.  2. a. A ripe crop.  b. The season for gathering crops.  ~v. 1. To reap (a crop).  2. To acquire as if by gathering.  >harvest-er n   ~Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary

killvest (kil’vist)  v.  1. To cause the death of.  2. to reap (an animal).  3.  To acquire as if by hunting.  >killvest-er n  ~n.  1. An act of killvesting.  2.  An animal killvested, esp. in hunting.  The act or process of killvesting an animal.  ~Zan D. Christensen’s New Editors Dictionary

Has it caught on? 

Yep, and continues to gain momentum.  Since I began using the word in my writing and internet forum discussions over the years, hunters all across the country (and the world!) are now using it as their word of choice.  I have not trademarked the word for the same reason Benjamin Franklin did not patent the lightning rod, it is my gift to the (hunting) world.  (Wink).  

Conclusion

In closing, I would like to leave you with this.  As mentors and ambassadors of hunting, we have a responsibility to conduct ourselves afield ethically, with the greatest respect for the quarry we hunt, and the nature they inhabit.  Provided we police ourselves and punish the selfish and disrespectful from our own ranks, we have no reason to be ashamed of who we are. 

Hunting is our birthright, and we are obligated to pass on to our children all of its responsibilities, traditions, and heritage.  The disturbing fact is, a solid one-half of America’s hunters (and non-hunting readers alike) are too young to have been exposed to the words “kill & killed” as used in reference to the hunter’s success within the main stream outdoor media.  They have grown up shielded from the truth, or worse, discouraged from using it in public for fear of being cast a “killer.”  Unfortunately, over the past four decades we have allowed the misguided, mis- and un-educated, and warped-minded that are opposed to hunting successfully cast us as cold-hearted, blood-stained killers; and not “normal, regular” people who honorably, ethically, and responsibly hunt and kill the game.  I for one choose not to be cast in that stone, but instead, choose to stand on the truth ~ we hunt and kill, not hunt and murder; much less harvest. 

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