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Drawing the Line on Hunting Technology

Are today's high-tech tools ruining our sport?

Drawing the Line on Hunting Technology

Technology has been changing bowhunting for generations. But just because a technology exists doesn’t mean you have to use it.

If you are a regular reader of this magazine, you will see my name on this column and realize right away I am non-native. I am the Asian carp that snuck into your pond! Hopefully, you won’t spear me or cast a gill net. Ideally, you will find my writings at least interesting — maybe even truly useful.

I sold my first hunting article way back in 1990 to a young magazine called Petersen’s Bowhunting. Thus began a 33-year association with the Bowhunting brand. What fun we had over the years! I will miss that magazine. In many ways, I felt it was my baby as much as the editor’s.

Change is inevitable, and I am looking forward to this new opportunity. I thought it might be a fun time to key in on one of the things that always differentiated Bowhunting from Bowhunter — the gear focus. We tended to be more gear heavy at Bowhunting, while Bowhunter tended to be more focused on in-the-field adventures. That was a really nice balance, and I felt it gave both magazines unique personalities.

So, for my first column in Bowhunter, I want to throw out my thoughts on technology as it relates to bowhunting. The real question I will be taking on is whether technology is ruining bowhunting. This is just my opinion, and you won’t necessarily get all of it here; just enough to get you thinking.

The High-Tech Spectrum

Where you stand on the spectrum of bowhunting technology is a personal choice. There are a lot of options out there, and I think each of us should strive to employ technology only to the point that it doesn’t interfere with your joy for bowhunting or the satisfaction you derive from your hunts. The technology and satisfaction spectrums are definitely intertwined.

I produce videos for my YouTube channel, and I get a lot of comments from viewers. I read them all and reply to as many as I can. So, with that much feedback, I have a good idea what bowhunters are thinking. I have been surprised how aggressively some people oppose certain forms of technology. Trail cameras are one lightning rod. The anti-camera group goes so far as to liken trail-camera users to poachers. Of course, this is a fringe view, but it does point out the degree to which technology has polarized bowhunters.

I have spent a lot of time in hunting camps, especially early in my writing career. Nothing got the blood boiling back in those days like the debate over mechanical broadheads. One guide once gave me a really hard time because I was using mechanical broadheads — until I pointed out that his personal quiver was full of arrows equipped with the pod; basically poison-tipped arrows. They were legal back then in Mississippi. He somehow didn’t see the hypocrisy. Again, broadheads are just another of many products bowhunters are willing to fight over.

So, this brings me back to the question of whether technology has ruined bowhunting. I can say without question that technology has changed it; but ruined it? That is a much bigger question. Let’s zero in on trail cameras to see how they have changed and whether they have potentially ruined the sport.

Personal Choices

Without a doubt, trail cameras have made it easier to hunt a specific buck. I am not sure cameras have made it any easier to shoot any legal deer, because traditional sign is often enough to show you where to hang a stand if all you want to do is fill tags. But if you are trying to shoot the biggest buck in the area, it sure pays to know where he is living. From that standpoint, trail cameras have made bowhunting easier and made our time more productive. But does that mean they have ruined the sport?

I love learning what deer do, where they live and when and how they move. This is especially true as it relates to individual bucks. Being able to narrow the field down and hunt just one or two bucks (even if they aren’t monsters) makes the season more personal and rewarding for me.

The specific behavior of those deer and how their unique personalities differ is fascinating. One buck is a homebody that shows daylight activity while another is a wide roamer who travels mostly at night.

Bill Winke, 2023 Iowa buck hero photo
Although author Bill Winke had trail-camera photos of his 2023 Iowa buck (below), he by no means had the deer pinned down. Trail cameras can make hunts more enjoyable without detracting from the challenge of the quest.

Here’s the kicker: I wouldn’t learn those things without my trail cameras. Do the cameras make it easier for me to kill bucks? Sure they do! The better I know those deer, the more likely I am to be in the right place at the right time. But I don’t use cell cameras, and I normally cut off all camera use prior to the start of hunting season to maintain an element of mystery in the hunt. That is my personal concession to lower the impact of technology on my hunting.

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I want to be excited when I see the buck I am after, not disappointed when I don’t. There is a difference. That is my way of using cameras; no cell cams for now — I don’t want real-time feedback. But I will probably change that position soon, as there are many things I can’t learn about general behavior without running cameras deep in bedding areas. I am not going to do that using conventional cameras I have to check manually. Still, that doesn’t mean I need to check those cell-cam photos every minute, or even every day!

Does the use of cameras cheapen my success and thereby ruin the sport for me? I don’t think so. I love bowhunting as much now as I ever did. I gain a lot of satisfaction from knowing something about the bucks I hunt and generally where they live. Like I said, it makes the quest more personal.

Drawing The Line

OK, so let’s go one step deeper into the technology pool. What if I am using cellular cameras and look at the photos every hour? I could know at any given time where to find the buck I am hunting. The degree of my real-time knowledge is only limited by my budget — my ability to buy more cell cameras. For me, that style of hunting crosses a line. So, even though it is legal, going that extra step would cheapen the hunt and thereby make it less satisfying.

Does that mean cell cameras are “ruining” our sport? I can’t answer that question for you, but it might for someone like me. But let’s say another bowhunter hasn’t shot many deer and is a lot closer to the bottom of the learning curve. They haven’t had decades of time spent in trees and blinds to guide their judgment. Just learning what bucks do is a big step forward for these hunters. At that point, their greatest satisfaction might come from having as many real-time photos as possible from as many cameras as possible, just to learn as much as they can about deer in general. They could use all that information to jumpstart their own learning curve, figuring out what deer do. That would be super helpful.

So again, does the cell camera ruin bowhunting? I don’t think it does for that guy. He gains satisfaction by learning about deer and eventually filling tags. We don’t need frustrated people dropping out of the sport.

Bowhunting satisfaction can come in many forms. It may be in the form of filled tags, by any legal means. It may come from shooting a certain buck. It may come from shooting any legal deer by a specific method, like ground hunting. It may mean shooting the biggest buck on the farm or some combination of all these factors. It may even mean mentoring new bowhunters or just spending time in the tree listening to God.

In the end, what we seek is the joy and satisfaction of bowhunting. We seek peace. It comes in many forms. How can I decide what form is “right” and which one is “wrong?” If they are legal, they are all acceptable. Certain methods of hunting may not bring maximum satisfaction to me, but it is not my job to tell a fellow bowhunter he is wrong. Ours is a very personal sport. We do it for our own reasons.

If you really don’t like certain hunting tools and feel they make it easy to exploit the resource, work to change the regulations but don’t beat up the person who is hunting legally using those tools. Who are you to judge someone who is hunting legally?

As bowhunters, we have a lot of leeway in how much technology we choose to use. If you don’t agree with it, don’t use it. Who cares if others are more successful because they use tools you don’t? If impressing people or fitting into a clique is why you hunt, you will never find true joy in the sport anyway. Success is in the quest, not the outcome. How you choose to embrace or forego the bowhunting tools and methods at your disposal will make the quest more or less challenging and satisfying. What you take from the quest will eventually determine how much joy and satisfaction you get from bowhunting.




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