Guest columnist Barry Roth: ‘Deer harvest’ a heartless euphemism

  • A deer in a field. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Published: 10/4/2021 6:35:44 PM

By Barry Roth

“Bambi” the book is about a young male fawn, and his coming of age in a forest. 2023 will mark the 100th year of the publication of the book, whose full name on publication was “Bambi: a Life in the Woods,” by Austrian writer Felix Salten.

In the story the creatures of the forest have human attributes, including an ability to speak; for this reason some consider the book to be overly sentimental. A lot of people will recognize the story from the Disney movie version of Bambi and are familiar with Thumper the rabbit, Flower the skunk and Faline, Bambi’s future mate.

Disney’s version is less dark then the original book. Salten was a hunter. He was familiar with the reality of the struggles of life in the wild. Nonetheless, his book reflected a turning away from the view that animals were simply unthinking automatons to be fodder for sport. “Bambi” is therefore considered one of the earliest conservation books.

And in this regard Salten was ahead of the science and his times. Science now reveals beyond reasonable doubt the intelligence of many animals, their emotional sensitivity, their capacities for happiness and suffering alike. We know that consciousness is not a province of just humans and the showcase animals apes, chimps, elephants and whales. Those who grew up on small farms can tell you that each pig and cow is an individual unique in their temperament and dreams. Those of us with pets are aware of the varied emotions that dogs and cats experience. Recently there was a television production “My Octopus Teacher,” which revealed the wonder and intelligence of octopuses which are mollusks like snails no less!

So when the Gazette headlined an article this year “Deer harvest strong during pandemic,” (Jan. 28), it struck a discordant note. Amazing how fast this euphemism for killing and hunting, “harvest,” seemed to have gone from being spin into the general lexicon. All the more surprising when with political correctness any hint of effrontery, deliberate or not, to one ethnic group or another is immediately denounced.

How can a word which came to be not through gradual natural usage, but was deliberately created to remove any worth of other living things gain such coinage?

The first time I ever heard this word used in this way was in Northampton at a fish and game conservation meeting around 2005 concerned with controlling the population of bobcats via hunting. The fish and game spokesman, a forest ranger, whose salary and departmental funding rely heavily on hunting licenses, used it as if it was the most natural expression.

I looked up the definition. The Merriam Webster dictionary defined harvesting as the process of gathering in a crop. At that point the term as used now was not yet ubiquitous.

To be clear; I am not a zealot opposed to all hunting. People have hunted out of necessity from our beginnings. However, I am opposed to the term “harvest” with its utter irreverence for conscious life and its implied justification for the unconscionable rippling consequences in the treatment of other living things.

It goes without saying that the expression is fully promoted by the National Rifle Association in addition to fish and game industries, but it’s also been taken up by land developers and those in the food industry. Space limits the reporting of the atrocities that take place daily, locally, globally, in laboratories, on factory farms and what’s left of the wild.

Matthew Scully, an animal rights advocate, wrote a book “Dominon, The Power Of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the call to Mercy.” He wrote: “When more than a million pigs inhabit a single farm, never once stepping into the light of day (until they are led to their death), when every year tens of millions of creatures go to their death without knowing the least measure of human kindness it’s time to question old assumptions.”

The Gazette article mentioned 14,000 deer being harvested. One hunter in a related article reported having little luck on that nice day in the woods until a mother doe and her fawn walked cautiously toward him with heads bowed, when he was able to shoot them both. Of course no mention made of the construction upon and destruction made of the environment that some feel led to the necessity for this slaughter.

I am not so brazen as to claim to have all the answers. It took time for me to develop an awareness of other living things as being more than automatons. There are many who already know this better than I. Likewise there are many who have the capacity to appreciate this and the natural empathy to act on it, but need to become aware of it. Those using the word “harvest” are trying to prevent that.

There are organizations dedicated to protecting the “earth and its’ living creatures” and I look to them for leadership. But I do hope to start a petition to end the use of this word in Massachusetts government publications for the killing of sentient beings. As to whether the activities such as these mass hunts/killings take place; let them be decided on the basis of facts, but without masking the reality behind this heartless euphemism. We should not be going back in time to the level of ignorance that existed over a 100 years ago.

I could use help in drafting a petition, getting signatures, contacting the appropriate legislators. It is a mitzvah.

Barry Roth lives in Northampton. He can be reached at

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