Thirty and more years ago the animal rights fanatics were on the ascendance, and like England had attempted its appeasement of the Third Reich, hunters and wildlife managers attempted appeasement of the anti-hunters. Hunters and wildlife managers, almost to a man, began to use the word harvest to describe the taking, the killing of an animal. Wildlife managers were almost exclusively male then, whereas now the personnel of the profession are much more diverse, and wildlife managers were mostly hunters, whereas now in some agencies wildlifers who hunt are in the distinct minority; times change, sometimes for the better and other times not.
The use of the word harvest to describe the killing of an animal has spread throughout the wildlifers’ world, and the original reason for its use has failed utterly and, worse, it has carried unintended consequences into hunters’ ranks. The use of the word harvest to soften the effect of the killing of a deer or elk has not reduced one whit the antipathy of those to whom the killing of an animal is anathema. Unfortunately, it has also contributed to the denigration of the prey that hunters hold so dear.
When wildlife managers have done their jobs properly, there is indeed a harvestable surplus of a population of game animals. There are more deer than the habitat can support without detrimental effects on the habitat that will reduce its future carrying capacity and so there is some surplus of animals that may be removed by hunters to benefit individual people while at the same time benefiting the game population as a whole. Just because there is a harvestable surplus does not begin to suggest that individual animals are harvested.
Bucks and bulls are stalked and killed by hunters. They are not merely uprooted and the tops lopped off as are beets and broccoli. Little is as disgusting to the hunters who appreciate their prey than the mental image of a person who says, “I harvested amoose.” Images of somebody wearing overalls, perhaps with an elbow of their shirt worn through, carrying a scythe and whisking it through the neck of a bull elk somehow rooted by its hooves arise unbidden when some fool says the “harvested” a game animal. Such words and the images they evoke properly describe the treatment of a vegetable that is produced, exists, and is killed solely for man’s benefit. We don’t even use such derogatory language to describe our relationship with cattle, sheep, or other beasts raised solely to end up on someone’s table, so why do we tolerate it when it is used to describe a wild animal that exists for itself and is no less the product of natural selection than the predators, including man, that it must elude to maintain its life.
Indeed, let us maintain the aptly descriptive “harvestable surplus” when discussing animal and fish populations in the generic sense, for it is fully substitutable with the equally descriptive and accurate “removable surplus.” Let us cease, though, denigrating those individual animals that form the hunters’ sacred prey by lying to ourselves and others about harvesting them as if rams were rutabagas. No matter what innocuous (and erroneous) words we might employ to hide the fact from anti-hunters, they are not fooled into believing that somehow the animal did not die, and the anti-hunters will never condone an action against which they are so committed, no matter how illogically. Let us instead recognize the wildness of the animals which we hunt, and let us honor them by being honest about our interactions with them. We, as hunters, will attempt to find individual animals of the population and to kill them in as humane a manner as possible, and we, as wildlife managers, will continue to produce the removable surpluses that biologically permit hunters to pursue their prey.
Should someone who is unable to distinguish between a bear and a bean or a caribou and a carrot use the honorable name of hunter? Bears and caribou are hunted and killed; beans and carrots are planted and harvested. Let us clean up our language.
Slightly sorry for the rant, but the devil made me do it.