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Saturday, April 07, 2012

Tradition Marries Technology

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, April 7, 2012.)

I doubt one hunter in a hundred
goes afield without a scope on his rifle –
and it’s probably a variable power.
Here’s one I haven’t figured out yet.

I often hear hunters decry the use of technology in today’s hunting world. They rail against the use of GPS devices, iPhone apps, and trail cameras. Yes, hunters value tradition – so much that some of them say, “The woods is no place for technology!” Apparently they’re not thinking about what that means.

The irony is that these complainers roam the woods with equipment that they wouldn’t have were it not for modern advancements of technology.

For example, let’s start with something simple. Back when I first started hunting, low-tech was all we had. We didn’t even think of it as “tech,” let alone low-tech. Camouflage, other than military woodland design, hadn’t been invented yet, and the few who wore the army’s version stood out from a line-up largely of red-and-black buffalo plaid hunters. Now, we have more sticks-and-leaves patterns than anyone can shake a stick at, and even many non-hunters wear camo every day.

Ammunition was pretty traditional back then. Hunting bullets universally used some kind of lead core with a copper alloy jacket. Bullet designs were limited to soft points or hollow points, and flat or boattail bases. Today, we have bullets made entirely of copper gilding metal, plus steel shot and various other kinds of non-toxic alloys.

On rainy days hunters struggled to keep dry, many opting for wools that would shed most water, but they were heavy when wet. Or, we summoned rubber raincoats and plastic ponchos into duty. Now, virtually every hunter has hi-tech breathable waterproof rainwear – Gore-Tex or one of a dozen other brands.

Although wool is not obsolete, it’s often benched in favor of lightweight synthetics. Polyesters have acquired so many performance characteristics – special formulas wick moisture, absorb moisture, or repel moisture. The reputation of polyester has been redeemed as this high-tech fiber has found a market among athletes and hunters.

In my early days many hunters were still using iron sights, and the transition to optical sights was just taking hold. Now, improvements in technology have led countless riflescope and binocular companies to make, for a reasonable price, quality that was top shelf 50 years ago. I doubt one hunter in a hundred goes afield without a scope on his rifle – and it’s probably a variable power.

Few hunters hunted “from above” back then, but treestands are ubiquitous today. Early adopters remember the old death-trap known as the Baker stand, but treestands have come a long way since then. Today’s stands are made from lightweight aluminum alloys, plus they’re quieter and safer. Some hunters can barely imagine hunting without one.

Back 50 years ago, if a hunter would head out early or stay out late, he carried a heavy flashlight. Two or three D-cells powered a filament bulb that mustered a dim, yellow light. Today he depends on a flashlight that’s tiny by comparison, possibly lit by a single AA battery and a glowing LED that produces a bright, white light for hours or even days.

I haven’t even mentioned today’s lightweight insulations, electronic predator callers, ceramic knives, rangefinders, or the cellphone camera hunters use for their hero shots. Equipment that a few years ago was reserved for a few specialists because of its high cost has now become affordable for many – the Cabelas catalog is proof.

By virtue of what he wears or carries, every hunter today is the beneficiary of modern technology. Even if he doesn’t acknowledge it. Even if he disparages those who use it. Even if he’s a curmudgeon about it.

I have great admiration for the guys who hold-out for simpler times, but even many flintlock hunters are using high-tech gear that Davy Crockett couldn’t have dreamed of.

Every Gore-Tex wearing, LED-flashlight toting, treestand climbing, cellphone dependent, polyester camo-clad hunter who calls himself traditional is a walking, talking example of the use of technology. It makes my head spin that some of them still argue against using modern technology in hunting.

Apparently, when we’re comfortable with technology we don’t think of it as technology. We just use it, and somewhere along the way tradition gets married to technology.


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