Live and Make Die
By Bob Humphrey
Happy New Year. I think I’m safe with that simple phrase now, the other holiday having been recently dispensed with. It seems that holiday greetings prior to the winter solstice can at times be a bit tricky, depending on the crowd you’re in. Sometimes I say, “Merry Christmas.” Sometimes I say, “Happy Holidays.” When I use the latter phrase it’s to be more inclusive, but not necessarily more politically correct. It’s just easier to lump Christmas and New Year’s Day into one word – holidays.
I don’t necessarily mean to exclude the other “holidays” either. My Jewish friends just don’t make a big deal of Hanukkah, it being a relatively minor holiday in Judaism. And none of my African American friends celebrate Kwanzaa (est. 1966). In fact, recent polls showed only about 2 percent of Americans even acknowledged its existence as a holiday. And let’s not forget the pagans. Their midwinter Yule celebration dates back a thousand years before the birth of Christianity, and is the sole reason we celebrate Christmas in December. Sometimes I think we spend way too much time and energy worrying over the simple turn of a phrase.
Take the word “kill,” for example. Every few years a rift over its use gets resurrected within the hunting community (Did you see what I did there?). On one side are the self-righteous zealots, proclaiming, “It’s what we do and we should not be ashamed of it,” and further denouncing those whom they say, “hide the truth and make us seem apologetic when they use weaker terms like harvest.” At the other extreme are those who say it’s offensive and hurtful.
I sit squarely in the middle. Sometimes I say, “kill.” Sometimes I say, “harvest.” My decision is based on various factors, none of which are cited above. If I’m talking or writing about the lethality of a particular piece of hunting equipment, a bullet, a shotgun load or a broadhead I’m much more inclined to use the word kill. After all, our goal as ethical hunters is to make a quick, clean kill.
One the other hand, if I’m talking about specific management strategies I might say “harvest,” because it’s technically more accurate. When confronted by an anti-hunter, members of the kill camp, those staunch defenders of hunting heritage, are often quick to point out that hunting is conservation, the wise use of a natural resource. Just like thinning the forest of trees or weeding a crop we remove a portion to ensure the remainder, the population remains strong. I think that pretty much fits precisely the definition of harvest.
As a writer, I’m also concerned with my craft. I’m a writer more than a journalist. While my subject matter needs to be true, correct and accurate, it also has to be interesting, and enjoyable to read. To that end I get to use more adjectives, and I can choose the words or phrases that help the text flow. “For him it was more about the chase than the kill.” “Her harvest would provide many fine meals for the family.”
There are other options as well, like take and collect. Which sounds better, “He killed a fine specimen,” or “He collected a fine specimen?” How about, “The take from today’s turkey hunt,” or “The kill from today’s turkey hunt?” So far I’m not trying to couch anything. I just want to use the words that work best.
And we still have to be respectful to both reader (or listener) and game. Some might consider using the word bag, as in, “I bagged a couple geese,” to be disrespectful jargon, like, “I nailed that nilgai,” or, “I put the smack-down on that old hog.” The legal term for the number of a specific game bird or animal that you may reduce to possession within a specified period is “bag limit.” So saying you bagged a big buck is probably the most technically accurate term. And I’m not above using that phrase – “reduce to possession” – from time to time if it makes for more artful prose.
It’s the dawn of a new year, time to reflect on the past and make resolutions for improvement in the future. In this modern age of political correctness and taking offense at even the most inane comments, perhaps we can try to infuse a little common sense into our daily dialogues. Occum’s Razor is a problem solving principle that essentially says: “Among competing hypotheses, the simplest solution is usually the best.” As any good forester knows, you don’t want to become so involved in your harvest plan that you can’t see the forest for the trees.