Technology and hunting — When do advancements go too far?
I will be the first one to say that I love my hunting gear. Whether it is backpacks, boots, bows, optics or tents—I am into it and love trying out the newest advancements that are available. The anticipation of a new line of bows coming out is similar to the unveiling of a new smartphone: I drink the punch and take it down in big gulps. Anything that we can do to make us more efficient in the field is usually in most hunters' best interest. Every year new gear is announced that will aid our pursuits in the mountains and every year we take advantage of it. The truth is that hunting is hard. Why wouldn't you want to improve your chances? When I was a kid, I didn't even know that things like rangefinders existed. Now, I don't know how I could go on a hunt without one. Some might say that is me using a rangefinder as a crutch to compensate for judging yardage. Others might say that is me trying to get the most ethical kill I can.
Evolution of the hunter
As with anything in life, progression is always imminent. The more we fail in the field, the more ideas we come up with for how not to do so again. That is only natural. We live and learn, which is healthy. I think it's safe to say that all hunters want to find success, whether that is in experience or notching a tag. While I'm grateful for the gear that we have these days, I often think about how hunters got it done without all of the gadgets we have today. Native Americans were as skilled as they come when it comes to archery hunting and getting close to animals. I can guarantee you that they weren't walking around with compound bows that spit arrows over 300 fps and crystal clear optics. They worked with what they had and they ate. How is it that with all of our advancements we still have a hard time filling the freezer? It makes you realize just how skilled hunters of the past really were. However, those were different times. Since then, we've adapted to what we have available to us as did they.
When I imagine someone from the distant past hunting, I imagine a life and death situation. Back when there weren't any grocery stores with pre-packaged meat conveniently placed for the taking, hunting was life. If you killed, you had meat. If you didn't, then you didn't. It has been said that these early days of hunting are actually where human intellect began its development. People had to figure out how to successfully ambush large herds of animals and selectively pick out which animals in the group to harvest. They often did this from trees and struck animals from above with spears. A lot hasn’t changed since then except that now we do it with bows. No trees? Time for spot and stalk hunting.
Today we have huge optics and radios to help us in that area. Hunters of the past did things like wearing animal skins and crawling toward their quarry in order to disguise their approach and get within striking distance. Seeing another animal was normal for other animals. Our ancestors figured this out and capitalized on it. Both of these are games that we continue to play today. Yet, since then, we have been progressing as hunters, trying to be as efficient as we can. From atlatl to compound bow, it's been a long road, and I can assure you that it isn't over.
The fortunate side to technology
The leaps and bounds that hunting gear has made, in terms of technology, is just mind blowing. Thinking about how bows were just a mere 10 years ago and how they are now makes my jaw drop. Between the crazy speeds, smooth draw cycles, and absence of hand shock, we are basically comparing a modern day Ferrari to an old school VW bus. Not too long ago, I switched from shooting a bow over 10 years old to an updated model with all of the goodies of present day. With the old bow, I would struggle with 40 yard shots. Once I got the new one, I was shooting 60 yards easily and proficiently. Now, I practice out to 100 yards as often as I can. Because of technology, shooting our bows over 100 yards accurately is more than within our grasp. Of course, that doesn't mean that everyone should try to fill their tags at that distance (which is a different discussion entirely) but I think you get my the point.
How about trail cameras? When I first heard of a trail camera about 20 years ago I immediately dismissed the idea and thought it was "cheating." I was an opinionated 10-year-old that had all of the answers. Now, 20 years later, I love running trail cameras. The anticipation and process of checking a SD card has almost become ritualistic to me. Knowing what is walking around the areas where I hunt when I'm not there is fascinating. Trail cameras have made it more possible to keep track of certain animals. Did they make it through hunting season? How big is this buck going to be this year? Looks like a new bear is in my area. This is huge when it comes to helping hunters with scouting. Most of us live a pretty busy life and cannot be out in the mountains every single day watching critters. Trail cameras definitely aid us in that department. Even better, today we have trail cameras that enable us to not even step foot in the woods to check them. Pictures are sent directly from the trail camera to our smartphones.
On a general technological level, the way we consume media has completely changed. I remember growing up and watching Primos Hunting DVDs along with all of the hunting shows on the TV networks. While I loved every minute of that, we are definitely in a new era with the internet. More and more folks are picking up video cameras and starting websites of their own and a lot of them are doing a great job. Having all of these videos and articles at our fingertips is really helping to shorten the learning curve with hunting or anything else for that matter. This is a good thing, especially for people new to hunting. Think about how much more efficient you might have been, had you had access to endless amounts of knowledge.
The unfortunate side of technology
For me, it's sad to say this, but I do think there is an unfortunate side to these jumps in technology. Like any story, there are two sides and both deserve an ear. I think that acknowledging this is a good thing and, hopefully, will help folks in the long run.
Instant gratification has become synonymous with daily existence. I can sit on my couch and do all of my Christmas shopping right from my phone or laptop. The only time I will have to leave the couch is to go pick up the boxes once they arrive in the mail. If I don't know how to do something, I can Google it. We have endless amounts of online resources at our fingertips only seconds away. I'm not going to lie. If hunting was that easy I probably wouldn't be as love struck as I am with it. Hunting is hard work and no amount of technology is going to replace good woodsmanship, in my opinion. Trail cameras will never substitute actual on the ground scouting for me even though I love running cameras. In my experience, a lot of the adventure that comes with hunting comes from struggle and, with struggle, comes knowledge and progression as a hunter. I don't want to just go out and kill a big buck. I want to know how to kill a big buck. While technology can aid in the "how," you are the only one that is going to notch your tag.
More and more people are getting into long range shooting either with a bow or a rifle. It's fun and addicting to watch an arrow sail into the bullseye from 100 yards away or hear your bullet hit a gong at 1,000 yards. New and improved sights and scopes make achieving these feats very possible even for the amateur shooter. In the right hands, killing an elk at 1,000 yards is achievable. The key part of that sentence is, "in the right hands." I might catch some flack for this, but just because you can shoot long range in a controlled environment doesn't mean that it's a good idea in a hunting situation. What I mean is that our gear has no doubt surpassed most of us in ability and might have a tendency to give confidence where confidence isn't quite deserved. Again, someone could bring up ethics and how far is too far? Your expensive scope isn't going to control your adrenaline. Our shiny new sights with more adjustments than a chiropractic office isn't going to make sure that a deer doesn't jump the string. This stuff is on us and solely on us. It's our responsibility to hone our skills, not depend on our gears to do that.
A few years ago Brady Miller came across this device at a hunting trade show that allows a hunter to track animals after an archery shot. This is one of those devices that potentially steps on the line of too much technology. Could you imagine how many more long range shots that could be taken because all you need to do is hit the animal and then you could track it...
A few of the items listed below get a lot of heat from the hunting community. Some for good reason, others might just get flack because it's added technology.
- Shot tracking devices
- Lighted nocks
- Precision guided rifles
- GPS units
- Bow mounted rangefinders
- Cell phone apps
Coming back full circle
It is no doubt an exciting time to be a hunter. We have so many tools at our disposal that give us every advantage we can muster. Whether it's scouting from Google Earth on your computer, enjoying crystal clear views through our optics, checking trail cameras, lapping up the comfort that comes from our high end clothing, or shooting your bow over a 100 yards with efficiency. Take advantage of all of these goodies and be as ethical as you can in the field with them. Combining modern day hunting technology with boots on the ground knowledge in the field and out is a recipe for success. I think that is evident from the amount of grip and grin photos we see online every hunting season. Don't believe me? Google it.