Hunting and Technology — Where To Draw the Line?

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Every piece of equipment in this photo represents hunting technology.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

The history of hunting goes back to the dim recesses of time, and hunting has always been related to technology. Humans are tool makers, and tool making is inseparable from technology.

The first hunting tool was probably a club or a rock. Man has never stopped innovating with tools that make hunting easier, safer, and more efficient. Throw the rock. Sharpen the rock. Tie a sharp rock to the front of a stick and throw the stick. Use a bent stick to load energy that propels the sharp stick. It’s how hunting technology advanced.

“But what about modern technology?” It’s a question many ask, but “modern” means nothing more than what is happening at any present time. Stone arrowheads were once modern. Technology in hunting weaponry has never made a single sudden leap. Improvements are always modern, often snail-slow and stubbornly incremental, yet hunting technology today is far advanced from what our ancient ancestors used.

Flashlights? Modern, and no one argues against them. Scope sights? Totally modern. Treestands? Modern. Breathable rainwear, photographic camouflage, lightweight insulation? All space age stuff.

Few people get worked up about most modern innovations, but some are controversial. Trail cameras, especially the ones that send photos to cellular phones, are a sore spot with some. Likewise crossbows. Sore spots exist for many reasons. People resist change: “The old ways are better!” Innovations are expensive: “Who can afford $500 boots when you can pull on barn boots over a couple of pairs of wool socks?” New technology can be complicated: “What good is all that new-fangled gear? It’s heavy and just holds you back!” Technology gives hunters an unfair advantage. “What’s next, hunting by remote control?”

No doubt, hunting technology has come far and prompts many questions. Someone asked, “Are we hunters, or technologists?” The truth? We are both. Unless we are in hand-to-hoof battle with a deer, we are using technology. That’s what humans do.

We’ve all seen paintings of Native Americans on the plains riding their pinto ponies while shooting bison with stone-tipped arrows from primitive bows. I don’t pretend to know how accurate these depictions are, but they needed a technology that made killing a sure thing. People don’t complain about what the Plains Indians did, but by today’s standards a hunting method that makes killing a sure thing, with equipment that might prolong suffering, would be banned.

One argument would be that hunting should be one-on-one — a man pursuing an animal with the animal having a reasonable chance of escape. Yet these tribes could not afford to use a method that didn’t promise success. Life was not possible without success. Survival meant being highly organized so that killing would be guaranteed.

Another argument from today’s standards might be that the arrows they used were inefficient. They lacked the high velocity today’s arrows have, and stone arrowheads did not penetrate the thick hide on a bison nearly as well as a surgically-sharp modern steel blade penetrates all the way through a deer. Not every bison hit was killed, not every kill was recovered, and because arrows kill by causing hemorrhage few would have died quickly.

All of this comes to one simple point. Those who would draw lines between hunting and technology have much to consider. Some would like to say, “The ____________ way (fill in the blank with any ancestor or time period you want) was the best way.” But hunting ethics and technology do not lend themselves to drawing a line. History has no place where ethical technology is clearly distinguishable from unethical technology, or right methods are separated from wrong methods. The place for any objective line is impossible to find. The lines we draw often boil down to personal opinions.

I’m not arguing for or against any particular technology, and I’m certainly in favor of ethics in hunting. Each of us is free to be a purist, to adopt old ways as our ways, but that’s a personal call. It’s an admirable decision, but it’s not an ethical decision. If the balance between hunting and technology is uneasy, it’s because we are human.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).