One interesting effect of spending three weeks in the bottom of the Grand Canyon is the fresh view you bring to the “rim world” outside the canyon afterwards. Some of the novel experiences are pleasing (“oh yeah! Getting around is so convenient!”) while others are puzzling. One such moment occurred while I was catching up on local news. An Arizona Republic article, describing the controversy over whether to continue allowing bow hunting in the McDowell-Sonoran mountain preserve, a 17,000-acre area outside Scottsdale, with picturesque desert trails, popular with hikers, bikers, and equestrians, refers twice to killing game there as “harvesting.”
What caught my attention, however, was that a local game and fish official, Kevin Bodmer, who was also interviewed for the story, was also paraphrased using “harvest” to describe the act of hunting. Has this terminology become ubiquitous, I wondered? I try to follow coverage of debates regarding hunting, hiking, and other uses of Western wild lands pretty closely, and as a rhetorician, I pay attention to the kinds of language being used. For some reason, this one seems to have slipped out of the spin cycle and into the general lexicon when I wasn’t looking.
Sure enough, after doing some digging, I found "harvest" substituted for "hunting" in all sorts of places. Of course the NRA is on the “harvest” bandwagon (see this example from their website), but interestingly, they aren’t consistent – “harvest” is mixed in with more straightforward verbs like “kill.” The Arizona Game and Fish Commission, on the other hand, are so harvest-happy that (in addition to being used by their spokesperson) it appears in their mission statement: their task is to establish “policy for the management, preservation, and harvest of wildlife.” The Ohio Department of Natural Resources amusingly allows new hunters to print out a “My First Harvest” certificate. The term has even shown up periodically in HCN (such as in this 2010 opinion piece by Wendy Beye), though usually in reference to reports or other documents.
At this point you may be thinking, “So what?” Don’t we have more important things to worry about than hunters’ verb choices?” I concede that – we do. And, everyone is guilty at one time or another of euphemizing away the starker features of their lives. But I hope you see that this one has some interesting implications. It’s ironic that, during a time when there is a movement towards more transparency in food production (witness the scrutiny over the meaning of “organic”), the basic fact of killing wild animals is being deflected by some toward the fuzzier, more nostalgic “harvest,” which conjures up images of Grandpa mowing the hay or rustic villagers picking grapes.
To point out this discrepancy is not an admission of anti-hunting bias, either; I think humanely killed game can be a far more ethical food source than factory-bred and slaughtered livestock. However, when misleading terminology such as “harvest” pops up in proposed legislation, such as the NRA-backed “right to hunt and fish” constitutional amendments that have been passed or are pending in many states, it has the potential to lead the unwary into accepting practices they may not otherwise support, such as hunting with dogs or assault weapons. So let’s call it what it is: killing. People have always killed to eat, and will continue to do so. Rather than linguistically sanitizing that fact, we should focus on best practices in hunting and land use in general.
Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.
Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University.
Image of a "harvested" deer courtesy Flickr user dukkillr