Not a harvest and not a sport

I opened a back issue of the Pennsylvania Game News the other day and was immediately confronted with an article on Deer Harvest Numbers. I wondered — how did this word “harvest” come into practice as a reference to hunting and fishing?

Isn’t it disrespectful to wild animals to imply that we sow and reap them as predictably as farmers sow and reap crops? Game animals are not bales of wheat or bushels of beans that we plant and harvest as mindless fruits and vegetables. They are living beings in a parallel universe to our own, and their superior senses and instincts make them worthy adversaries to those of us who actively participate in the food chain.

Perhaps the term harvest arrived with our put-and-take approach to pen-raised pheasants and hatchery-reared stocked trout. But those bird and fish species could survive in the wild as successfully as ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, black bears, and white-tailed deer given the right habitat and ecology. It wasn’t that many years ago that wild ringnecks roamed Pennsylvania, and wild trout thrive in the state to this day.

I think, instead, that certain terms have gained prominence as euphemisms in a politically-correct society that shuns frank discussion of killing and eating animals. We’re afraid to say “I shot a deer” or “I killed and ate a walleye,” so we use softer words like “harvest.”

I’m not alone in this attitude, by the way. One of our late great American outdoor writers, Edward Abbey, disdained the use of the term “harvest” and wrote of its distastefulness more than 20 years ago. Following is an excerpt from an essay of Abbey’s that appeared in the outdoors anthology A Hunter’s Heart:

“Where did the ugly term ‘harvesting’ come from? To speak of harvesting other living creatures, whether deer or elk or birds or cottontail rabbits, as if they were no more than a crop, exposes the meanest, cruelest, most narrow and homocentric of possible human attitudes toward the life that surrounds us. The word reveals the pervasive influence of utilitarian economics in the modern mind-set; and of all the sciences, economics is the most crude and obtuse as well as dismal. Such doctrine insults and violates both humanity and life, and humanity will be, already is, the victim of it.”

I also don’t like to apply the term “sport” to hunting and fishing, and I don’t believe in outdoors competition. I know this column appears in the sports pages and my editor is the sports editor, and I recognize the fact that outdoors people call themselves sportsmen and sportswomen and their organizations sportsmen’s clubs, but I don’t buy in.

The outdoors is an entire full and rich way of life to me — far more important than the comparatively trivial competitive pastimes of football and golf — and it’s a means of getting away from the pressures of competition in the workplace and the material world. That’s why I don’t support big buck contests or bass tournaments or the Boone and Crockett scoring of “trophy” antlers. I don’t mind catching large trout and shooting big deer as a rewarding but tiny aspect of the overall outdoor experience, but I never want to make a sport of it. I do own one mounted deer head, but I consider it a memento, not a trophy.

A friend of mine, Jim Walker from Cincinnati, owns a speedboat that’s about 18 feet long and one foot tall with an outboard motor the size of a small truck. He uses it to race back and forth across lakes and rivers while vigorously competing in bass tournaments. Last summer I took him fishing for wild trout up in Warren County, where we strolled under the peaceful hemlocks and cast fly lines for brookies in the soothing riffles and quiet pools.

“Isn’t this better,” I asked Jim, “than tearing around a lake in a monster motorboat trying to catch one more big fish than the other guy?”

He looked at me and smiled. “I like to do both,” he said.

I shrugged. To each his own, I guess.

“The Evening Campfire” from The Herald, Nov. 5, 2006

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