I never heard the term “harvest” used in reference to hunting until I was an adult. Growing up, the term we used for killing a deer was just that: “killing,” or maybe “shooting.” We kept our descriptions literal.
The first time I heard someone say they had “harvested” a deer, my brain immediately conjured images of cutting corn, picking vine-ripened tomatoes, and snapping green beans while cicadas whirred overhead. I had grown up gardening, and the term “harvest” was something I always connected to vegetables and farming, not critters and hunting. Times have changed, however, and using the word “harvest” to describe the killing of game animals is now common.
I can remember looking up the term “harvest” in the dictionary years ago. There was no reference to animals or hunting. But when you look up the term today, the definition includes: “catch or kill (animals) for human consumption or use.”
But is this a good thing? Is using “harvest” sanitizing hunting or being dishonest about it? On the flipside, is talking about “shooting” and writing about “killing” turning non-hunters against hunting? Or, maybe there are good reasons to keep both terms in hunting’s lexicon.
The Pros of “Harvest”
I travel the middle of the road when it comes to using the term “harvest.” I choose not to use it, though I understand why some people do. It doesn’t bother me to hear it in context with hunting. Some hunters tend to deem the term more appropriate than “kill” and I understand that, especially from a writer’s perspective. Writing the terms “kill” or “shoot” over and over in a story gets redundant.
A quick sidenote: Outdoor Life uses both “kill” and “harvest” in its articles. It more often publishes “kill” when the story is focused on hunting tactics or how-to information. It often uses “harvest” in food-related stories, or when that term better fits the writer’s voice and perspective. Generally, OL avoids publishing the term “kill” in headlines or subtitles, where nonhunters are most likely to see (and misinterpret) the terminology.
Out of curiosity, I turned to social media and found that most people (like myself) were rather unphased by this terminology. Most felt that it had little bearing on the impact of hunting itself.
“We use harvest,” one hunting mom said. “I think both apply. The animal is killed, but then gathered and used entirely. We aren’t only killing.”
Other commenters said that using a more “politically correct term such as harvest” sheds a more positive light on hunting.
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“As someone who used to be against hunting, when I started hunting and realized people also use the word harvest, I was absolutely relieved because it does feel like a PC term I can use around anyone,” one woman said. “I don’t feel like it sugar coats the act of killing, but rather it sounds more respectful to the animal.”
It seems that many new and aspiring hunters tend to use the word “harvest” because it seems to better describe how they think about hunting.
“As someone who has never hunted, but is interested in doing so in the future, I don’t know if either term makes me more or less interested, though maybe ‘harvesting’ states more of the purpose—it’s about food and other human use versus merely trophy hunting. However, I do recognize the term ‘kill’ as a way to not … minimize the act. Maybe when I finally get around to hunting I’ll see what feels better coming out of my mouth.”
Many folks simply stated their preference for the straightforward approach: “I use the word ‘harvest’ because the ‘kill’ portion of the harvest is implied.”
The Pros of “Kill”
Hunters can be respectful even when they talk about killing game. Beka Garris
On the other side of the fence were hunters who felt strongly that the term “harvest” doesn’t properly describe what we actually do. They argue that we should use the terms “kill” or “shoot.”
“I believe we should speak politely but unapologetically when speaking the truth about hunting… We can agree to disagree [with nonhunters],” one hunter responded. “But I do not need to make words sound more gentle and friendly to try to sway them to my beliefs.”
Overall, the general consensus among this camp seemed to be that “harvest” was used as a way to sugar coat hunting, soften the reality of it, and avoid provoking anti-hunters. But do these people really care how we talk? I have been under attack by anti-hunters on several occasions, and it never seemed to matter how respectful I was about hunting or how I spoke of the game I shot. Their response was always the same knee-jerk reaction of anger and name calling.
“Honestly I don’t care what term anyone uses,” another hunter on social media stated. “And, while I do go out of my way to always represent hunting and hunters in a positive light, I’m unsure if it matters to those who truly oppose hunting. I just don’t know if anything we do will be acceptable to [them] … But the reality is lions don’t harvest their food. We as predators are no different. We kill things and eat them. And the vast majority of those hunters I’ve met do so with incredible reverence. I choose to call it like I see it. [That means calling] it killing while letting my conduct do most of the talking.”
The Last Word on “Kill” vs. “Harvest”
After wading through dozens of comments that all reflected slightly different opinions, I came to a few different conclusions.
First, there will be people who have a problem with hunting no matter how you word things. Most anti-hunters have already formed an opinion and won’t try to listen or understand the hunter’s perspective. There isn’t enough sugar coating in the world to make them come around, and the most we can do is to simply say our piece and step away.
Second, speaking respectfully of the animals taken on a hunt is top priority. We can be respectful no matter which term is used. Still, using “harvest” may help bridge the barriers between hunters and non-hunters, as well as experienced hunters and new hunters. And if using the term “harvest” helps connect or inspire, then I’m good with it.
Overall, the guidelines are simple: Strive to be respectful as hunters, no matter if we “kill” or “harvest.”
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