Technology Again…

June 22, 2016

Thanks to my friends at Orion, I followed a link to this article on the Izaak Walton League website.  It sort of tees up an easy shot for pretty much anyone who’s interested with the title, Technology vs. Ethical Hunting.  In the parlance of the Interwebz, that would be called, “clickbait.”

So, of course I seized the opportunity to pick some of that low-hanging fruit for myself and write an easy blog post.

The content of Technology vs. Ethical Hunting is about what you might expect.  The writer ponders technological development since the days of his recurve and birch arrow shafts… or the changes since our forefathers carried flintlocks and powder.

Hunting has changed a lot since our forefathers walked into the woods with black powder rifles and iron sights. Today, we have rifles that can shoot unheard of distances, scopes with built-in range finders that adjust for myriad external factors, and bullets that are manufactured to extreme tolerances that allow consistent shooting patterns. And anyone can download bullet calculators and punch in the zero range, caliber, bullet type, and weight. You can even factor in different temperatures and wind speeds. You can print out the exact bullet drop out to several hundred yards.

Is this good or is it bad?  Has “hunting” lost something in the transition?  These are, of course, the questions the essay begs us to ponder.

To begin, I think it’s worth pointing out that hunting technology has been evolving since our species first hunted for our food.  Obviously, the change was initially driven by necessity, and we’re some pretty clever monkeys when it comes to getting dinner.  Once it stopped being about feeding ourselves, however, I think it became more about pushing the envelope just to see how clever we can be.

And we’re pretty accomplished at pushing that envelope.  Hunting has become more comfortable, more efficient, and, to a lot of people, more fun.    It would be silly to argue that it hasn’t also, in many ways, become easier as well.  Still, it is only as easy as any individual chooses to make it.  I believe that’s a key point that gets overlooked any time this discussion comes up.

It mystifies me, why some hunters take such offense when some other hunters don’t hunt according to the same standards.  Why is it so important to criticize the other guy?  What does the way I hunt take away from you?  It’s not like the treestand hunter is trying to force the backcountry guy to climb a pine and sit tight.  The crossbow hunter isn’t making any effort to force the trad bow guy to switch gear.

If technology doesn’t suit you, then don’t use it.  I know, that’s a super-simplified response.  This is simple, though… or it ought to be.  If you’re not breaking the law, harming the resource, or threatening public safety, then hunt the way you want to hunt.

So, there’s this other thing that some folks like to trot out when these discussions come along.  “This technology looks bad to non-hunters.”

We’ve all heard it.  Some of us have probably said or written it.  And I’ve challenged it time and again.

Here’s the reality.  Most non-hunters don’t have a clue what happens when we hunt.  Most of them don’t even realize the levels of regulation we deal with, much less the subtleties of ethical behavior.  Many non-hunters think that we just go out and shoot stuff, with whatever we want, however we want.  They generally think we kill stuff every time we go out, and a ridiculous number of them are actually surprised to find that we eat what we kill.  Maybe there’s a vague recognition that there are seasons and limits, but I’ve found that even these basics come as news to a lot of people.

The other reality is that most non-hunters really don’t give a damn about hunting.  To be sure, this makes them a little more susceptible to well-managed propaganda campaigns, but day-to-day efforts by anti-hunters generally fall on deaf ears.  There’s always a risk at the tail end of an election cycle, of course, when hunting bills are on the ballot.  People tend to believe the worst, and when it comes to issues that don’t impact them directly, they vote on the most recent thing in their memories.  This, though, is really more about managing election campaigns than about who uses trail cameras or high-powered rifle optics.

I’ve said all of this before, and it looks like I’m going to keep repeating it.  When I look around social, and even traditional media, the most vocal outcry about bad hunting ethics and abuse of technology is coming from hunters, not from the antis.  If anyone is tainting the public mind about hunting ethics, I say it’s the hunters who scream about other hunters using everything from tree stands to drones… often without even really knowing much about what they’re screaming about.

I probably shouldn’t even have to add this, but I will.  There is “bad” technology.  Not that anyone is really doing this, but arming drones is probably bad.  So is computer-based hunting (using a computer and a networked camera/gun system).   Ethical questions aside, firing a gun at something that you can’t see with your own eyes is an inherently unsafe activity.

I also have no issue with discussions about the esoterica of hunting ethics.  I think it’s great to aspire to the ultimate ethical high ground.  I think it’s awesome to challenge yourself as a hunter, to test your woodsman-ship and stamina, and it’s good to encourage other hunters to do the same.  But seriously, if I choose to sit on my back porch and pot deer when they come to my food plot, how does that take away from the guy who backpacks 20 miles into the wilderness with a self-bow and hand-knapped broadheads?

It doesn’t.

Technology vs. Ethical Hunting presents a false dichotomy.  It’s good click-bait, and can make for a lively, online discussion.  But at the core, it’s a self-defeating topic, and rife with the potential to be both destructive and divisive.



9 Responses to “Technology Again…”

  1. hodgeman on June 22nd, 2016 19:19

    Interesting piece…I just read a piece about CO passing a “fair chase” standards law that allows their DNR to codify what constitutes fair chase in the face of emerging technology.

    I pondered a little about your question as to why hunters give a damn about what another hunter does and I think that hunting is turning into a competitive sport before our eyes. In just the last few years you see folks making hunting (especially Western hunting) an athletic pursuit with workouts and pills and potions, long range guns, and gear that really pushes the envelope to pretty wild levels. I think most of it is driven by competition to get out there and hunt harder, faster and further than the other guy in pursuit of limited resources (ie. trophy animals).

    Just a thought. Keep up the good work!

  2. Phillip on June 22nd, 2016 19:38

    Thanks, Hodge.

    I had a bit to say about Colorado’s new policy too. In a nutshell, I think it’s a bad idea. It’s one thing to promote high ethics and sportsmanship, it’s another thing altogether to use an arbitrary and vague construct like Fair Chase as the guideline to create regulations. If you’ve read the policy, I think you’ll see what I’m saying (or maybe you’ll disagree).

    As you know from my previous writing on this topic, I believe it’s absolutely wrong to try to “define the essence of the hunt” for someone else. When a state agency takes on that role, it’s beyond the pale. This can’t end well.

    By the way, I do agree that some of the hunters judging hunters issue stems from some sort of sense of competition. It’s not new. I still don’t completely understand why it’s there, but yeah, you can see it in the comments on Facebook and a lot of hunting forums. It gets ridiculous. The question is, how do we get past it?

  3. JAC on June 22nd, 2016 20:09

    I think (how much do I hate posts that start with “I think”) that it’s more ethical to shoot a deer from your porch than to arrow a deer, simply because there is a quicker death. I also think it’s more ethical to hunt with a bow because the deer has a greater chance of escape.

    I think I don’t know what I think and I should stop commenting until I am smarter.

  4. Phillip on June 22nd, 2016 20:45

    Oh, John.

    You have perfectly illustrated the conundrum of hunting ethics, no? You’re smarter than you let on.

  5. Technology Again… | on June 22nd, 2016 20:11

    […] Technology Again… […]

  6. SBW on June 23rd, 2016 00:12

    “I think (how much do I hate posts that start with “I think”) that it’s more ethical to shoot a deer from your porch than to arrow a deer, simply because there is a quicker death. I also think it’s more ethical to hunt with a bow because the deer has a greater chance of escape.
    I think I don’t know what I think and I should stop commenting until I am smarter.”

    What he said.

  7. Steve on June 23rd, 2016 09:53

    Very good points. I agree with all of it and have been saying basically the same thing for years.

  8. robb on June 26th, 2016 05:17

    I’m confused of this mixing of ethics and fair chase, two different things in my book. Ethics is the constraints we place on ourselves, or if the busy body type we place them on our peers. Fair chase are the restrictions we place on our peers often codified by regulation such that everyone gets a fair chance of harvesting an animal.

    I’m happy with my Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s ability to quickly adapt regulations to changing technologies. Already the playing field is far from fare chase here, any movement back towards equality of opportunity is an improvement in my mind. I wish they would extend fair chase principals towards restricting rifle hunting from elk rut instead of limiting it to the very wealthy. Similarly the six month long private land tag.

  9. Phillip on June 26th, 2016 06:49

    Robb, I’m not sure your definitions are widely shared. Fair Chase, as used by CO in this new policy, it not a “fair chance of harvesting an animal”. It’s specifically aligned with the definition of Fair Chase used by Boone and Crockett to qualify for inclusion in the record books, and it’s pretty arbitrary. You can read it online by going here. While you may agree, as an individual, with this, consider the nature of the listed criteria, and how they would apply practically. For example, what does it mean to “take wildlife without acquiring necessary hunting and angling skills or competency”? Does that mean if I haven’t scouted an area and choose to use a guide, I’m not hunting under Fair Chase rules?

    While I absolutely support any activities by a state to ensure accessibility and equal opportunity for hunters, regardless of economic status, but that, truthfully is about money and influence far more than it is about technology.