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Technology, Hunting and Fair Chase

Guest Author: Travis Hobbs

Technology. When you stop and think about it, it will blow your mind how much all of our lives have changed recently, thanks to technology. How we communicate, how we travel, work, recreate, even something as simple as me putting this to “paper” so to speak. For better and worse, it effects every one of us. There really is no escaping the ever evolving technological advances.

Hunting is no different. Unless you have been living under a rock, technology has changed hunting dramatically. Long gone are the days of open sight 30.30’s, military surplus gear, even something as simple as a paper map isn’t as common as it was in the not so distant past.

The other day, I was talking with a young man that is new to archery. We got talking about estimating and calculating ranges, shooting uphill and downhill. I told him when I was learning to shoot, no one I knew, even had a rangefinder. We both laughed and I’m still not so sure he believed me. The crazy part, I am only 35 years old, and the period I’m referring to is the 90’s. Talk about making me feel old, and it really got me thinking, rangefinders are ancient technology compared to what we have now.

Technology is a fairly common debate among hunters, from the local coffee shop, to social media platforms. There are strong opinions on all sides. I think respectful debate is a good thing, and is something we should continue to discuss if we still believe in fair chase at our core. Often times, however, it brings up more questions than answers.

In 1887, the father of Conservation, Theodore Roosevelt along with George Grinnell, founded the Boone and Crockett Club. The club promoted ethics and sustainability, a foreign idea at the time. The Club introduced the idea of Hunting Fair Chase and the North American Model For Wildlife Conservation. These ideas are without doubt the reason we enjoy abundant wildlife across North America. They are the reason we are all able to pursue game today and the reason wildlife is owned by the people. It is very important we remind ourselves how impactful these ideas are.

A lot has changed since the days of Roosevelt. Technology seemed to ease along, small improvements, as it always has since the beginning of time. Then came the introduction of electronics and computers.  It changed everything, things like GPS handheld technology, trail cameras, laser rangefinders, two way radios, cell phones, even ATV’s are all fairly new if you really think about it. Just 30 years ago, your average hunter didn’t use or even own any of these things.I think today you would be hard pressed to find a hunter without a pocket and a pack full of technology.

Even more recently, came The War on Terror. Since the beginning of man kind, nothing increases technological advances like war. Naturally, war technology has obvious bleed over to hunting. These improvements come at an unbelievable pace. Clothing, weapon systems, satellite imagery, introduction of drones, infared and thermal technology. Many of these have been implemented to locate and pursue game. Things like infrared and thermal, an almost brand new technology, can be used to exploit an animals ability to move about the landscape under the cover of darkness. Sometimes they are used just to locate a target animal, and learn their habits. Other times, its putting the user in the perfect position as it gets light to “legally” take the animal during normal shooting hours. A lot of people, don’t even realize this is happening. But I assure you, its being used, even out west. There are no laws prohibiting it in many states.  Trail Cameras, thousands of trail cameras, some with cellular transmission are being implemented.  These cameras can send live updates to the users cell phone. 24-7, 365 days a year. These are just a few examples of things that need to be discussed.

I think about how much has changed in 30 years, and I question how much it will change in another 30. I ask myself, how far are we out from a real time satellite feed, a user wouldn’t even have to leave the comfort of the couch to scout and locate game? Will we still consider it hunting? Ideas that seem foreign or near impossible are literally coming to life before our eyes.

It would be difficult to argue against the fact that advances in technology have made hunters more efficient. You could argue technology has made us more lethal, accurate, and comfortable.

My question is where do technology and ethics meet. When and How should hunters regulate, if at all?   

I believe as hunters, we must realize, as we become more efficient and use these ever improving technologies, our advantage increases, while the game we pursue chances decrease. It is my opinion, we have to draw a line in the sand. But where? I don’t think anyone would argue that we go back to hunting with spears. In reality the answer likely lies somewhere in the middle.

In recent years, some states have been addressing UAV/drone technology, electronic communications, ATV’s, and even more recently a number of trail camera restrictions and proposals. When state agencies make these proposals it is common for some hunters to have a negative reaction, upset, feeling like hunting is under attack. I think it is important to remember, we have to self regulate, and support fair chase laws and regulations we agree with.

I encourage all fair chase hunters to self-reflect and review the definition of fair chase given by the Boone and Crockett club.

“Fair Chase as defined by the Boone and Crockett club, is the ethical, sportsman like, and lawful pursuit and taking of free-ranging wild game animals in a matter that doesn’t give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage.”

I worry, as we head down a path farther and farther, it gets more difficult to turn around, if not impossible. I think as sportsman, we have to be more proactive and continue to fight for Fair Chase Hunting. The importance can be easy to forget, and overlook. In a world with less and less support for hunters, ethics is what keeps the “non-hunting public” support for a tradition that is as old as time. The principals of Fair Chase and the North American Model For Wildlife Conservation has kept these animals around for generations, and hopefully for generations to come.

Travis Hobbs

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  1. David C Fisher

    fair chase and real hunting is this: get out there into the wildest lands possible and hunt the animal in his wild and natural habitat using your skills of communication (calling and scents) and skills of stalking or still hunting, to both find and get in onto animals, in addition to your knowledge of the area hunted and knowledge of the hunted animals expected habits. Hunting should be nothing more and nothing less than this.

  2. Wayne M. Morris

    My hat is off to you for broaching a sensitive subject. All hunters should be required to read the Boone & Crockett definition of ‘Fair Chase’, especially if they are anticipating having their animal measured. You are absolutely right about technology changing the hunting game. But, just because we have the technology that allows us to shoot longer distances, doesn’t make it ethical. The real discussion revolves around the ‘ethics’ of hunting & the consideration for the animals we hunt. I hope Eastman’s will take the lead on this subject and address it on a deeper level. A good ’round table’ discussion would be great! With the ever increasing LR, ELR and ULR hunting – something needs to be done!

    • Appreciate it Wayne.

      • A sensitive topic but a good one. Too often people are afraid to tackle issues before they become serious problems. This article sheds light on some of those issues and justifies further dialog and some action. It would be far better for the sensible hunting community to take action before politicians and courts get involved. Great article, great publication … thanks for all that you guys do & share.

  3. You need to ask yourself what is ethical and what is not? I fall in the category of being “old” without any use of today’s technology; basic scopes (no BDC or tactical), shooting out to maybe 200 yds., no compound bows, ATV’s, trail camera’s, and the rest when I began hunting in the 70’s. Hell we did not have cell phones…LOL! As Wayne mentions above, read Boone and Crocket’s definition of “Fair Chase”. Understand or comprehend the definition. For some that will be a challenge? We tend to forget where we came from growing up and what was handed down by our parents and grandparents. It is not the same anymore unless you strive to hunt ethically. We have lost that in todays world. There needs to be discussion both positive and negative, and come up with logical solutions… Don’t be narrow minded and become a’ horse with blinders’.

  4. I started hunting with a 30-30 lever action Winchester a long time ago. I enjoyed sneaking up on game for a very close shot and felt a lot of pride in having the ability to do so. I slowly changed to longer range rifles and scopes for longer shots. I bought a range finder to help judge distance better for more ethical longer shots, I am not a luddite, but I do feel there should be a limit on how much technology should be allowed in the field. Travis you bring up a very touchy subject to many people. I personally would like to see more restrictions, before some mounts a firearm on a drone. Great article.

  5. The good thing is Primitive weapons seasons exist and protect more traditional methods of harvest. Using archery and muzzleloaders reduces the technology advantage. You can’t get ATVs into the back country or Wilderness. With the abolishment of the 2nd Amendment within the next decade or less at least we can rest assured we will always have these methods available to us and who would ever want to take that away or ban those methods.

  6. Kevin Neil Schwinkendorf

    I do have mixed feelings on this subject. I like “a little” technology – like having a scope sight on a bolt-action firearm, but the first animal I ever harvested was a Columbia blacktail with a lever-action .30-30 Marlin, Model 336C, and iron sights. There are tech solutions available now and likely in the future that give me real heartburn though. With “5G” communications (zero latency) will we have “remote hunting” – surely there needs to be laws against that! Fair Chase shouldn’t have to mean primitive bows and arrows (with flint arrow heads, etc.) (or spears!), but what about computerized ballistics solutions inside your scope giving you a red dot at the point of impact at the range you’re viewing? – Just put the dot on the vitals and you’ve got your animal. I believe there are products right now that give you that (expensive, but I know they are illegal in some states, like Oregon). This is a tough issue that is only going to get more heated in the future. Antis will likely seize upon “unfair tech” to attack hunting in general. I even had a co-worker who joked with me that when I go on my dream hunt (moose in Alaska), I should do it the “real” fair chase way – with a spear! (actually, I’ve got a Winchester Model 70 in .338 Win Mag all ready for the trip! – and it sports a nice 3x-9x variable scope.)

  7. Brad Wellington

    I started hunting in the early 60’s and my first rifle was a “sporterized” 03-A3 Springfield. I hunted with that rifle with open sights for many years and took my first half dozen bucks with it. We didn’t own a 4 wheel drive and our old station wagon was our hunting transport. Since then I’ve gone to more rifles with scopes but can’t bring myself to buy $200 pants, $2500 (or more) range finding binoculars, a $3000 dollar rifle with a $2000 scope or any of the other “necessary” gear you see out there. I’ve made my share of 400 yd. shots with a medium caliber rifle with a 4x scope and enjoy hunting on foot. I’m disgusted when I see young men riding around in their ATV’s blowing the game out of the country and dragging $10,000 worth of gear. Even muzzle loaders have advanced to being 300 yard rifles if you’re willing to pay the price and use the latest technology in scopes. My muzzle loader is an old Hawken and my bow is a simple recurve….. all are effective when used properly. Most of this technology has drastically reduced the skill needed to harvest game and denigrates the true nature of our sport. Instead of placing a dozen game cameras, do some leg work, read the sign of the animals and learn to read a map. Be proficient with your gear but make it gear that requires skill not negates the skills that for generations made us proficient hunters. Buy you kid, grand kid or whatever a single shot .22 with open sights. Get out in the woods and get familiar with the animals on their terms. Thanks for breaching the subject. We all need to take a close look at what true fair chase is.

  8. William J Rogers

    I address this topic all the time but it’s simply wildlife management instead of ethics. The higher our technology rises the more effective we get. The more effective we get fish and game has to limit the amount of us in the field to try and keep herds viable which leads to this equation. Higher hunter technology/efficiency = less allowable hunters in the woods. I would rather ban most of the modern equipment and be able to hunt where I want more often than when I draw once every five years in a particular unit. No optics on rifles and traditional archery not as an ethical issue but and a wildlife management tool and watch the herds come back while spending more time in the woods and seeing a lot more game like the vast mule deer herds I saw in the later 70’s and 80’s as a teen. I’d take that trade off every day whether I killed anything or not.

  9. I’m afraid as the human population explosion continues hunting as we know it is doomed to the very rich only pay to play

  10. I wonder if it is not time to start to limit the legal distance to shoot at big game animals. Just because you can shoot 800 yards under ideal bench rest conditions does not mean you should be shooting at big game at that distance. When you are hunting the wind is most likely blowing, your rest is likely not ideal, you are probably tired from walking up a mountain and getting up hours before dawn. It might be raining or snowing or the sun might be in your scope glass….. I think a long shot might be 400 to 500 yards on a good day… Just like a Mustang GT can reach over 160 mph, doesn’t mean you should do it unless you are in a race track environment.
    This is hunting, brag about how close you got to your trophy, not how far you shot it….. respect this sport or you will surely lose the privilege. Just my 2 cents.

  11. Some good and relevant comments above and hard to say anyone is right or wrong ! As long as it’s done ethically under current laws and regs it’s legal ! Some persons cannot wait to scout with long range long loiter Unmanned Aerial devices – that would be unreal scouting and u would not have to spend all those days in the woods looking for game right ? Those $800 Sitka down pour systems can keep u out in the elements much longer trust me ! The door is wide open and and hunting in Africa from ur living room is within reach and can be done – just click a mouse using a camera at Waterhole and a moveable weapon on an electrical operated tripod – BAM – trophy of a lifetime ! You did it- put it in the magazine and on ur wall ! My point is reverse is the way to go – not forward when it comes to tech and hunting ! The fact is hunting can will quickly become like tying ur shoes – the tech is there !

  12. Ronald makes the most relevant comment of all time ! Population explosion ! I recall a discussion I had with Chuck Adam’s and the future of hunting. Suffice to say I will not share my opinion about population growth – but will say – no one will now or in the near future speak out about that aspect of humanity ! China went to population zero years ago, India went so far as sterilization ! I will leave it there ! The problem is clear but not 1 person will ever address it ! We will plow forward into our destiny !

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