Words Can Help or Hurt Hunting
By Michael Sabbeth
I begin with two questions. 1. When hunters describe taking wild game, which word best serves the hunting community: ‘kill’ or ‘harvest’? 2. Will selecting one word over the other reduce the intensity of anti-hunting rhetoric? Words matter. Words have power. Words can convey confidence and weakness. Words convey values. Words affect persuasion. George Orwell wrote, “Words control the language, and the person who controls the language controls the argument, and the person who controls the argument wins.”
Harvesting. We harvest trees, wheat, timber, and corn. The word harvest indicates the action is for human consumption and will benefit humans. Therefore, one can logically and ethically argue that the hunter harvested an animal. I suggest, however, ‘harvest’ has other meanings, and those meanings undermine hunters and hunting. To say a hunter harvested a deer implies the deer, a living animal, is no different from a stalk of corn. The deer and the corn are morally equivalent. That equivalence devalues the once-living animal. The word ‘harvest’ is a euphemism that denies reality. A living animal has died. The refusal to acknowledge that reality seems defensive and apologetic. The denial of reality shows a lack of confidence in the morality of hunting. The hunter seems intimidated. Those are not strong positions for defending hunting.
Kill. We know the meaning of ‘kill.’ The life of something living was intentionally or recklessly ended. We kill mice, mosquitoes, flies, and enemies. To say a hunter killed an animal affirms reality. The statement is confident in accepting moral responsibility. The word ‘kill’ avoids a euphemism that devalues the animal.
Another aspect of the ‘harvest’ versus ‘kill’ issue arises. Hunters are attacked as murderers and killers. ‘Murderer’ and ‘killer’ are powerful accusations. Here, again, we see an example of moral perversion. By using the word ‘killer’ or ‘murder,’ the accuser is creating a moral equivalence between an elk, for example, and your child or parent or friend. The logical inference of that accusation is that, morally, your child is no different from a deer.
An accuser who calls a hunter a killer or a murderer does not want to engage in a reasonable search for truth or moral trade-offs. The accuser wants to shut you up. The accusation is a strategy to dominate you and to announce moral superiority.
The irony is that the person who accuses the hunter of being a killer is not opposed to killing at all. They have their hamburgers, Thanksgiving turkey, and BBQ. They are only opposed to killing selectively—against certain people and certain animals under specific circumstances. This opposition to hunting is not based on moral principle. It is based on moral smugness and, often, a willful ignorance. And, unlike hunters, these attackers don’t have the will or the courage to do their killing themselves. They outsource their killing to ranchers and farmers.
One point I emphasize above all others. When hunters show a lack of confidence in their words, they show weakness, triggering the most fundamental law of human nature: weakness invites aggression. Weakness ensures that the attacks on hunting will continue and probably escalate. Hunters intending to use words that do not offend are acting defensively. The anti-hunter will never scream out: You are a harvester! How can you harvest those beautiful animals? They will call you killers. Thus, we must develop the confidence to use words that reflect reality.
Which is the better word to use? You have read my arguments. You decide. However, I am certain that using ‘harvest’ as a substitute for ‘kill’ will not lead to greater acceptance of or respect for hunters and hunting. Appeasement never succeeds.
Michael Sabbeth is the author of the new book, The Honorable Hunter: How To Honorably & Persuasively Defend & Promote Hunting . Please see