Harvesting versus hunting


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.”

One of these euphemistic uses is by a bow-hunting advocate and representative of the Mule Deer Foundation. One expects such understatements from the public relations crowd, those types who constantly churn out such gems as “right-sizing” (which used to be unpleasantly though accurately called “down-sizing”) and “Obamacare” (i.e. “the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”).

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

Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Jul 26, 2012 04:33 PM
Usually harvesting is used when that most closely describes the activity taking place. It's assumed the reader already realizes you are discussing hunting. Not all hunting is harvesting, varmint hunting for instance. One would never say one went out and harvested some song dogs, or if you did no one would come to dinner twice. In the fall you carefully wrap squash with newspaper and store it in the root cellar, likewise you make preserves and jams, blanch and freeze vegetables, and yes, kill and butcher game. People harvest food.

You also need to understand the idea of compensatory versus additive take (harvest he he). Humans alone of the large apex predators hunt almost exclusively in the fall and limit their harvest to overabundant wildlife that would otherwise succumb during the winter. Wildlife biologists at divisions of wildlife understand this more than others as they are the people who study populations and determine how much harvest is the right amount.

You should probably take the hunter safety course from your state. They are usually a very thorough introduction to all facets of hunting and they might be able to answer any questions in detail. Best of all they are almost free. Lastly I'd recommend holding off on forming an opinion on most aspects of hunting until you have more on which to base your thoughts. HCN had three stories last year by women new to, or about to begin, hunting. You?
richard stivers
richard stivers Subscriber
Jul 27, 2012 09:57 AM
Thanks Robb for clarifying some of the rhetoric of another hysterical anti-hunter. The reason 'harvest" is used in place of "kill" is to make it a more warm and fuzzy and therefore more tolerable to people that take offense at the hunters way of life. I am not a wall hanger, I "harvest" soley because I love the taste of rabbit, grouse, deer, and elk. The lack of pesticides, hormones,and keeping in shape in order to be in pursuit appeals to me.
Wendy Beye
Wendy Beye
Jul 27, 2012 01:33 PM
When I wrote my opinion piece on wolf management in the northwest, I confess I used the word "harvest" because that's what the Montana fish and wildlife folks call hunting of wolves and other "game" animals. Now, for this year, trapping has been added as a method of controlling the wolf population, since it seemed to be very successful across the border in Idaho. It does seem odd to call killing a wolf with arrow, bullet, or trap a "harvest" since the animal will not go into the freezer for later consumption. Bears, on the other hand, must be eaten by the hunter, or at least hauled out of the woods in a field-dressed condition. Wasting edible game is against regulations.
Michael Mayer
Michael Mayer
Jul 29, 2012 12:05 AM

I started this in effort to raise awareness of the trouble in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve was established in 1995 by the late mayor Herb DrinkWater. It is a very special place on this planet...not just the USA. You will not find anything like the Sonoran Preserve in any city in the world.

Scottsdale has spent $1 Million per week for 16 years and never done a habitat study. Game and Fish has never done a habitat study of the Preserve.

I live by the Preserve and hike 1,000 miles per year. Deer and javelina are 30% what they were in 2003. With draught and the February 2011 freeze, the Preserve cannot support new life. The newborn survival rate is 0%.

So I am trying to wake up the Mayor and City COuncil, Arizona Game and Fish and most important, the residents of Scottsdale.

As residents, if we will not defend our rights, noone else will. And after spending $2 billion to create a Preserve, we will be left with nothing.
Russell Duncan
Russell Duncan
Jul 31, 2012 08:52 AM
A note to Michael Meyer,

I would recommend that you and any non-profit that wants to preserve McDowell Sonoran Preserve join forces to apply for a AGFD Heritage Fund Grant with the City of Scottsdale as a cost-share partner to get your habitat study. A first start is a map of the area's biotic communities and a model of its wildlife habitat values. I would suggest discussing this with a local college or university to underwrite a graduate student's degree. Start the ball rolling in your own court and don't expect city government to initiate the project.

Russell Duncan
Saratoga, WY where urban deer need to be harvested not hunted.
janet franson
janet franson
Jul 31, 2012 04:43 PM
Proper game management has increased herd size on whitetail deer now to far surpass the 1900 game census. Species extinct in areas for over 100 years, such as elk and buffalo in the East, have again been reintroduced and brought native animals back to home turf. All animals must be carefully managed to keep them healthy, not over-using their home territory so that they won't starve to death. But this is not just a "game" issue. It is a "heritage" issue as well. Hunting, harvesting, whatever you want to call it, is also a lifestyle issue to those of us who live and love the outdoor way of life. GOD gives us all these things to use, protect and preserve for the future. You don't just have to be a native American to embrace the old ways.
 janet franson roundup, montana
Larry Thornton
Larry Thornton Subscriber
Aug 01, 2012 10:45 AM
"Harvesting" and "killing" are not interchangeable and "harvesting", used in this context, is not a new term. It has been used in the wildlife management textbooks for decades.
The big difference, is that "harvesting" is the removal of a predesignated number of animals for management purposes. It does not matter if we are talking wolves, ducks, fish or deer. Prior to any widlife being harvested, wildlife officals make a determination concerning sustainable numbers and determine the amount that needs to be harvested. In many instances such as some bear hunts, a specific number is set, and even animals killed accidently by cars are counted as part of the harvest. Once that set number is reached the hunt is over for the year.
"Killing" would infer that there is no management. Let's make sure that management stays in the discussion!
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Aug 01, 2012 11:16 AM
Just to clarify a few things from Janet's comments above, it is highly arguable whether whitetailed deer management has been proper -- most areas have numbers far in excess of what the ecosystems can sustain without damage. And they are indeed over-browsing many areas because of poor management caused in part by a powerful hunting lobby in many states. And species (or subspecies) that have gone extinct never come back. The eastern elk is extinct and the animals there now are transplanted Rocky Mountain Elk, a different subspecies with different habitat requirements.

And finally, if we're being clear, killing an animal is simply the final step in harvesting game. Euphemisms aside, it's always been my least favorite part of hunting and I think we should acknowledge the responsibility in making that choice.
doug Kretzmann
doug Kretzmann
Aug 01, 2012 12:29 PM
'harvest' is the gathering in of a crop, which had to be planted and cultivated by continuous hard labor. The vast majority of hunters do nothing resembling care of the 'crop', except for paying their hunting license fees to the Fish and Game commissions that actually do the work. It's reasonable for the F&G to talk about 'harvest'; since after all they are the ones looking after the 'crop'; and there are no free-range populations of any game animals left anywhere in the world, they are all managed to some extent. But for the rest of us, 'harvest' used to mean bagging an animal, is an offensively mealy-mouthed euphemism for 'kill'. I am quite of Jackie's mind.

I speak as a hunter and fisherman. Oddly enough, fisherfolk have not resorted to this kind of newspeak.
Connie Brady
Connie Brady Subscriber
Aug 01, 2012 04:00 PM
I'll go further than Jackie - it's not killing or harvesting - it's "slaughtering". Today, so-called “hunters” can use any gun, bow and arrow, set traps, place poison, use ATV’s, airplanes, etc. to slaughter their prey. These so-called "hunters" and the rest of the nut cases/killers are out to decimate our wildlife populations and if they could they would "kill'em all" quote by Butch Otter, Governor of Idaho. If there were real hunters who cared, they'd be making a stand against all the barbaric methods being used to kill, harvest, slaughter (whatever you want to call it) our wildlife.

Jesse Tigner
Jesse Tigner
Aug 01, 2012 04:46 PM
I’m not sure what planet you’re from, Connie, but the one I live on and the jurisdiction I live in enforces a long list of rules and regulations that clearly state hunters are not allowed to use any gun or bow they want to hunt. Further, those rules, which by the way are numerous enough to constitute an entire book, do not allow the use of traps or poison, nor do they allow hunting from an ATV or plane, or even travel by one of those vehicles in the area you hope to hunt within 6 hours of actually shooting at an animal. And you know what?, that suits me and everyone I’ve ever hunted with just fine. Sure, when I go hunting I use a high powered rifle (a 7mm Weatherby to be exact) and dress in wool as opposed to using a blow gun or a spear while dressed in a loin cloth. But if you think that doesn’t make me a “real” hunter, you’re riding a bit side-saddle as they say. I, as most other hunters I know, can track the species I hope to kill, anticipate its behavioural decisions based on available habitats, whether conditions, and the time of day using previous experience and lessons learned, I can shoot and kill a stalked individual cleanly, dress and butcher the animal myself, and then cook and enjoy it with my friends and family. In my opinion, that about sums up “hunting” whether we’re talking about wolves, cougars, or people in 1212 or 2012.

But, hey, who wants to let a few facts cloud their opinions…
Connie Brady
Connie Brady Subscriber
Aug 01, 2012 05:49 PM
With your response, I assume you're in Colorado and I should have indicated where the “hunting” I mentioned was taking place - Idaho and Montana. Additionally, Wyoming is awaiting approval to shoot-on-sight. Currently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service are working to eliminate federal Endangered Species Act protections to allow unlimited trapping and shoot-on-sight killing of wolves throughout most of the state.
Thanks for setting me straight on what planet “we” are living on. However, I take from your response that you are unaware of the “hunting/killing” that’s allowed to go on in other states and just how horrendous it is.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Aug 01, 2012 08:54 PM
Connie it is just in such a context that I recently ran into the word harvest, and seeing that word after reading this article caused me to reconsider the definition I'd been using. The article was on different methods of harvest for wolves written by the preeminent wolf biologist David Mech. http://www.wolf.org/[…]/live_news_detail.asp?id=5894
Mech uses the term throughout his article.

When I read the definition seven or so comments above by Larry Thornton I had an "ahah!" moment. Larry said, " "harvesting" is the removal of a predesignated number of animals for management purposes.
Jesse Tigner
Jesse Tigner
Aug 01, 2012 11:33 PM
Not Colorado; Alberta.
Timothy Brass
Timothy Brass Subscriber
Aug 02, 2012 09:28 AM
Connie - It just so happens that there is a growing group of hunters who attest, and accordingly, speak out against the type of mechanized/motorized "hunting" you describe. They understand the need for maintaining the integrity of our traditional hunting heritage and thus take great efforts to work towards this end - http://www.backcountryhunters.org/
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Aug 02, 2012 09:53 AM
Timothy surely you aren't suggesting that it is legal to "place poison, use ATV’s, airplanes, etc. to slaughter their prey" as a form of hunting anywhere in the United States are you? I've no idea how one would even kill an animal with an airplane, sounds dangerous.

I think Connie's point was that she strongly disagrees with the scientific harvest of wolves as practiced by various state divisions of wildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Is that also the postion of BCHA?
Timothy Brass
Timothy Brass Subscriber
Aug 02, 2012 11:33 AM
Sorry for the confusion, I should have clarified. My comment was in regards to Connie's original comment that I interpreted as frustration over mechanized killing/"hunting" of animals, to which she explained "if there were real hunters who cared, they'd be making a stand against all the barbaric methods being used to kill" and to which I explained that there are.

Yes, BHA supports the scientific management/harvest of wolves.

So not to further construe any of BHA's positions, here's more information on AK BHA's position on aerial gunning, predator control, etc:

jackie wheeler
jackie wheeler Subscriber
Aug 02, 2012 11:54 AM
I really appreciate all the contributions to the conversation on "harvesting." Thanks, everyone! Larry Thornton makes a good point that I should have mentioned: wildlife scientists and managers do indeed use "harvest" in their professional literature. As Mr. Thornton points out, it has a specialized meaning within that community. What interests me is when terminology like this spreads to the broader public and takes on additional uses and connotations, particularly those for possibly cynical advocacy purposes (such as the "right to hunt and fish" campaigns). As I noted in this and previous posts, I am not anti-hunting, nor am I unfamiliar with hunting regulations and practices. I'm just skeptical of euphemisms. DOug Kretzmann is spot on calling it newspeak.
janet franson
janet franson
Aug 02, 2012 12:00 PM
 Connie's comments on "barbaric" should also include that she view graphic photos of wolves killing and mutalating not only wild game, but domestic animals. No Connie, wolves don't just kill to eat, they also "hamstring" their prey, mortally crippling it but not feed, just for the "sport" of the hunt. Yes, humans are not the only animals who kill without provocation...
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Aug 02, 2012 12:17 PM
A comment on this thread has been deleted because it contained a personal attack. Per our comments policy (http://www.hcn.org/policies/comments-policy) this is not allowed. Please refrain from personal attacks in your comments. Thanks! - Stephanie P Ogburn, online editor.