I often wonder about words, and choices of words, especially monikers aimed at me by someone who really doesn’t know me, or my name. I have never minded “bud” too much, as in the guy at the auto-parts store who asks, “Hey, bud, what can I help you with?” But I really dislike being called “friend” by someone who is not my friend. I find “boss” even more offensive. What does that person really mean, since I am certainly not his “boss”? Is this some sort of passive-aggressive behavior?
“Sport” is another, as in, “Hey sport.” Do I look like I’m going to play tennis? Probably not, unless tennis outfits now include jeans, a well-worn long-sleeve T-shirt and dirty high tops with the laces untied. Webster calls this jest, or mockery—more passive-aggressiveness?
And how did we hunters come to be referred to as sportsmen (and women)? Sport, in the strict sense of the word, refers to competition, either between individuals or teams. Sport is a pastime that is a diversion, according to Webster. Likely the closest hunting comes to “sport” is classic fox hunting, where lords and ladies mount their horses and follow the dogs over hill and dale on a fox hunt with no intention of actually capturing the fox! That’s not hunting. If it were, the fox would be hung on the barn wall at the end of the day.
I’m guessing that this whole “sportsman” thing crept into our vocabulary by way of fishing. Fishing truly is a diversion, a relaxing pastime that takes the user away from the frantic pace of everyday life, meeting Webster’s definition. Who doesn’t love a day on the water where you don’t have to do anything but sit and flick a rod and enjoy the scenery? “Sportfishing,” it has been called. (Not to mention that fishing today also qualifies as competition, thanks to tournaments—truly making it a “sport.”)
But you don’t hear the word “sporthunting.”
That’s because hunting is hunting. There is no catch and release in hunting. The goal in hunting is not to beat the other guy, it’s to bring home the bacon (or duck or turkey or venison, etc.). It is not a diversion and it is not a competition; therefore it does not meet Webster’s definition. Granted, there are the “shooting sports.” Diversion? Yes. Competition? Yes. You can also throw pastimes like prairie dog shoots and pigeon shoots into the same category. They are “sport,” plain and simple.
I prefer to refrain from calling hunting a sport, or hunters, sportsmen and women. No one called the ancient hunters “sportsmen,” and the people that I know who hunt, hunt for two reasons—ritual and food. The hunt is no sport; it is not diversion, but rather immersion that touches our primal roots. There is no competition, only the test of self. Hunting is about a state of being in the natural world, as predator seeking prey. If true for you, then you are a hunter. Let no one say otherwise.