When it comes to hunting, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. My go-to deer rifle is a single-shot Ruger No. 1. When hunting in bear territory, I’m the guy hauling around a big-bore single-action revolver on his hip rather than a polymer-framed semi-automatic. I’m one of those romantics who still believes the old ways often remain the best when it comes to woodsmanship and pursuing game. Still, I find room for more than a few modern tools in my kit. I can’t say I’ve ever regretted that my tent is lightweight and waterproof instead of being little more than a waxed canvas tarp, or that I’m using a modern rifle rather than a flintlock muzzleloader. Yet there are times when I wonder, how much technology is too much in hunting? At what point are we giving ourselves such an advantage over the game we pursue as to make it unsporting, in violation of the fair-chase ethics to which we normally subscribe?
Today, hunters can head into the woods equipped with everything from cellular trail cameras to GPS mapping apps, rangefinders, portable scent-masking air ionizers, sound-enhancing hearing protection, and even drones (that last one’s a real can of worms). Without much effort—beyond racking up a bigger credit card bill—we can make ourselves all but invisible to game; identify their routines, bedding/feeding areas, and routes; and make precision shots from longer distances with less training. Has it gone too far?
How much technology is too much?
An argument can certainly be made that we’ve reached a critical point with hunting technology: Hunting today looks nothing like it did when our grandparents took to the fields and woods. But then, it’s also true that there’s less game, more hunters, and more restrictions today than in our grandparents’ day, too. So perhaps the tactical advantage provided by technology is actually helping to restore a balance that’s been lost as the years have progressed.
Some technology has been rightfully prohibited. In designated wilderness areas, for instance, motorized vehicles are prohibited thanks to the Wilderness Act of 1964, meaning hunters can only enter on foot or on horseback. One of the primary reasons for this ban was the soil erosion caused by ATVs, as well as noise pollution that can actually affect predator-prey dynamics by overpowering the sounds that help inform both. Some have argued that this ban unfairly impacts those who are mobility-impaired, but on the whole, most hunters and conservationists seem to agree that pristine areas of wilderness such as those designated as such should be protected from modern vehicle traffic to ensure the enduring health of native species and their habitat.
However, some technology bans, like the state of Idaho forbidding the use of illuminated nocks on arrows, seem downright ridiculous, as they don’t provide any tangible advantage to a hunter in pursuing game or even in making their shot—it’s strictly a way to improve the odds of recovering your arrow and potentially your wounded game.
So where do we draw the line? Is using a compound bow with an 80 percent let-off, auto-ranging digital bow sights, and a trigger release anywhere near the challenge of using a traditional bow? Of course not. But do these technological advances guarantee a successful hunt or even put the hunter on more-than-even footing with their quarry? Personally, I don’t believe they do. We all know at least one hunter who drops a couple of mortgage payments a year on flashy new gear but still can’t fill a tag to save his or her life. That said, we’re in the thickest part of a tenebrous gray area with this topic and many might justifiably believe we’ve gone too far with all these technological marvels that are increasingly accessible.
Ultimately, how much technology a hunter decides to embrace is a personal choice (within the confines of the law, of course). We need only remember that hunting is about the pursuit and strengthening our connection with nature—not strictly about bagging game. Technology can enrich the experience, and may even increase your chances for success, but it’s up to us to recognize when we’ve tipped the scales too far.