But aside from that whole debate, the bottom line is if we don’t police ourselves and make well-meaning, informed, and justified decisions about how we use technology in the field and how we use it to market ourselves in the public, someone else is going to take it upon themselves to make that decision for us. If that happens we might as well all get a Kindle and read some classic hunting stories from the likes of Hill, MacQuarrie, and O’Connor, because by then it may be increasingly difficult for us to make our own new tales of hunting adventure.
I’ve been absent, I know, but with good reason.
You see I’ve been jetting all over North America these last few weeks, with stops in Halifax, Calgary, Phoenix, Charlotte, and Chicago. No, my ears have not returned to normal just yet, and yes, I am a whiz at airport security now.
So what have I had time to do in those intervening weeks, you might ask?
Mostly I’ve been staring at works projects and completing late night drives home from Pearson International Airport…seriously why does every flight seem to come into Pearson after 10pm? I did some writing on a side project I’m working on while heading from Chicago to Scottsdale. But I’ve also been thinking about you my devoted reader, specifically about some way to bring you into my wandering experiences that also lines up with the hunting-specific content of this blog.
And I think I’ve come up with it…but please be patient, there’s some lead up. I’ve also been dreaming of turkey hunting in May, but that’s another post.
On my most recent flight from Charlotte, NC into Toronto I looked around the plane. I was reading a copy of Outdoor Life I had picked up at the Charlotte Airport and I also had a well-worn copy of Stephen King’s Night Shift in my carry-on. I am not above exaggerating normally, but I speak the truth when I say that those two pieces of publishing were the only traditional forms of reading material brought by passengers that I could see on that entire flight. Every other soul had a Kindle or a KOBO, or a Playbook or an iPad or some other piece of technological flotsam that they were using to read or otherwise entertain themselves. I’m not above technology, even though my iPod is seven years old and is about the size of a brick, but this troubled me. I love books and magazines both from a content perspective and from a tactile angle, and I fear that we’re careening down some bumpy Fahrenheit 451-esque path where paper books and print in general will suffer the same (metaphorical) fate as the dodo. At least that’s the irrationally paranoid approach I take when I have not slept in fourteen hours, crossed four times zones, and find myself circling Lake Ontario at 20,000 feet at 11:47pm while waiting to land at Pearson Airport.
So is it positive progress? Since I have never used an e-reader, I cannot pass definitive judgment, but I do see a parallel between the way that technology has changed something as humdrum as reading and the lamentations that I see in almost all of the hunting magazines that I subscribe to or purchase for in-flight reading (and believe me, I buy a lot of them…I may just be keeping that whole industry afloat.)
There are worried rumblings among the hunting community (or at least the segment of the hunting community that writes letters to the editors of these various magazines) that technology is changing the beloved hunting tradition in a way that may not be for the best. The editors, likewise, seem to be on the warpath against (some) technology because there are now dozens of editorial columns devoted to how widespread technocracy in the hunting community is irreversibly altering the hunting ethic and experience. It is a hot-button issue right now, but I’m not going to wade in with my opinion…because that would be the antithesis of my efforts to keep this forum from getting too preachy, at least I’ll try not to sermonize. But I will highlight some trends I’ve seen, and at least add some fuel to the debate.
Advances in optics, rifle accuracy, and ballistics have now made guns capable of being consistently and accurately lethal (in practiced hands) to distances in excess of a kilometer. Yes I said kilometer…as in 1000 meters. That is well beyond the limits of the visual acuity and olfactory prowess that serve as the defense mechanisms of most of the big game here in North America. Shotgunners and archers are also using cutting edge technology and cutting edge equipment to extend the range of their weapons of choice to well beyond the traditional 40 yard marker…a distance that at one time seemed almost religiously enforced as a stretch to the limit of lethality for waterfowlers, turkey hunters, and bowhunters. But now there are dozens of websites, television shows, products, advertisements, and magazine columns devoted to extended-range shooting. I don’t think it is a fad…I think it is going to stick around. I remember a time when in the hunting media and in my circle of friends and hunting companions where the litmus test of hunting abilities was how close one could get to game…and not how far away your equipment allowed you to be lethal from. Is it a positive change? Is it universal? I don’t know because I’m not involved in that subculture of the hunting experience. I’m going to focus on shooting straight first of all before I look to extend my range.
In the same vein, there is a vocal segment of the hunting populace that is vigorously opposed to the A-R platforms of what is now being marketed as the “modern sporting rifle”. That name is firmly in the world of what is referred to as ‘spin’ or as I prefer to call it the tradition of putting lipstick on a pig. I will admit my bias openly here: I am of that group that is not comfortable with the new platforms. But it is not because I am a reactionary old purist who thinks we should all go back to using flintlocks, or Damascus-barreled antiques, or longbows…because I’m not. It is not because I think those guns are unsafe; they are no more or less safe than any other firearm. It is not because I think they don’t work; they work fine and do have some benefits in terms of reduced recoil and accuracy (they do after all leverage military technology…and who knows more about killing than the military?) And I do fully understand a latent hypocrisy in my stance in that many of the rifles and shotguns built in the 1950’s through to the 1980’s (arguably the heyday of rifle, shotgun, and bullet design) sprang from WWII military platforms or leveraged Vietnam War-era operating and ballistic techniques. But those guns did not look intentionally like combat equipment—as this new generation does, and the marketability and image of anything that looks that “military” is going to draw attention from those who are looking for a reason to denigrate hunting, which is a headache that I don’t think we need (we have enough of that already, thank you very much). For my American readers, I understand that my stance also draws in a constitutional aspect to the debate that thankfully I do not have to deal with here in Canada. It certainly brings the matter of ‘rights’ into the development and ownership of this type of weapon, and rest assured I have no interest in removing or impinging on anyone’s constitutionally guaranteed lifestyle…because as a Canadian (and not an American or a constitutional historian) I simply do not understand it. Ultimately for me, at its very root, I like the classic lines, curves, and aesthetic of glossy hardwood and blued steel. If only I could afford more of it in my gun cabinet. Again, is the proliferation of A-R platformed sporting arms a good thing? Make up your own mind.
The use of optics, specifically rifle scopes, have long been at the center of a swirling maelstrom of ethical debate, but increasingly shotgun mounted ‘quickbeads’ have been the target of persecution too. In a lot of ways it is a ‘new school’ versus ‘old school’ kind of thing, and having been on both sides of the equipment debate I can vouch for the benefits of both on a situational basis. No one would sensibly argue that they would rather have iron sights for a 200 yard shot at a coyote or mule deer, just as very few people would likely choose even a moderately-powered scope when hunting dense bush for rabbits where shot selection is going to be inside of 30 yards. But what of the new breed of scope that not only magnifies the target, but also takes the wind, your ballistics, and caliber into account, as well as acts as a range finder and puts the reticle just where it needs to be based on all those factors? I have never thought of mounting a $1000 computer/videogame shooting aide to my .243WIN, but apparently that’s the age we live in now. If used properly I have no doubt that such a scope increases humanely lethal kills, just as I have no doubt that if used improperly it also gives people without the shooting skill a confidence to shoot at and wound game that they have no business even thinking of taking a poke at. As Hamlet would say “Ay! There’s the rub.” The only qualification necessary to have such a scope is having the prerequisite funds available to buy one. Sadly, nothing is as priceless as good judgment during shot selection…or seemingly as rare.
There’s a special spot in my heart for game calls. If some law passed making it illegal to ever hunt with a gun again, I’d still be out there in camo with a camera and my calls. But even my beloved calls, those bells, whistles, trinkets, and toys that make me what I am in the woods are not exempt from being included in the technological shit-storm of debate over what defines fair chase and how advances in technology and manufacturing processes are blurring that line. If it were a contest, those select few hunters who can mouth call game with nothing but their own voice would win. I can do it for turkeys but not much else. Everything else we’ve manufactured to fool game: from aboriginal turkey wingbone calls, to the first hunter who blew through a cane reed duck call or scratched two pieces of wood together to yelp up a gobbler, to the machinist hand turning space-age materials on a lathe to make a short-reed goose call, right up to the tech expert who is creating digital downloads of cottontail distress calls to market to coyote and predator hunters through their smartphones, is all (depending on who you ask in both the hunting and non-hunting communities) deception and an act that cheats nature a little bit. I’m not in for making judgments or gradations in that ladder, because it is pointless: calling and hutning are inextricably linked. Camouflage is the same way. Should we all go back to smearing mud and dead leaves on ourselves in an effort to remain concealed or are we okay with using state of the art digitally designed camouflage that makes a hunter nearly invisible provided they can sit still? Regardless, a hunter still has to make the shot. And I don’t think it is an arms race…simply because the animals aren’t evolving as fast as we can come up with new ways to fool them. Yet still most of us fail more than we succeed. So what do you do? I guess you make a choice.
The further into writing this I’ve gotten….and it is now well past midnight and I’m sleepy so I suppose I’ll have to proofread this again before I post it (probably on Monday sometime)…the more I have realized two things. The first is that it all seems so hopeless, this meaningless hypothetical conjecture. There are so many of us doing so many different things in the field that coming to a standard conclusion about how best to reconcile modernity with such a timeless tradition as hunting is futile, and more importantly, it is likely to earn me many enemies in the hunting community…including some of my own friends and family, but whatever. And the second is that it is very hard for me to keep my opinions to myself, as I’m sure my tone and style betrays my feelings to a degree. Sorry if anyone took offense…it is the internet after all, so please don’t feel you have to read this again. But before I close, and despite what I said above about futility, I guess I’ll put out this little nugget for what it is worth at this late hour.
The one thing I will stake my name on in this post is that no matter what you think about the way that technology has impacted hunting, we must also be aware that technology now makes us as hunters that much more scrutinized as well. The non-hunting public (which as I’ve alluded to before has as much to do with our continued existence as hunters as do our actions on their own merits) now has access through social media and widespread video to a lot of information and visual evidence of what happens in the field. If all we show is hunters whooping it up as geese and ducks careen out of the sky, or bow kills that decapitate a turkey and send it flopping about as the shooter giggles, or mile long rifle kills that strike down a mountain goat like a lightning bolt thrown by almighty Zeus himself, then what are the people that we rely on for legislative support going to think and do? That is to say nothing about the idiots who post photos and video of wantonly cruel or illegal acts on the internet…non-hunters lump us in with those nitwits too in case you were wondering. Don’t believe me? Ask around. Killing is a part of the game, but it is not the only part and depending on who you speak with, it is not even the most important part.