by Paul Lindholdt
High technology and the sport of hunting might seem to have little in common. In Pennsylvania, I met an old boy that claimed he'd jumped from a rolling truck, chased down a white-tailed deer and knifed it dead along a logging road. A steep slope slowed the deer and leveled the killing field. Conventional wisdom about the sport says hunting pits human wits against animal wile to create a contest either one can win.
Browsing through a catalog of Nebraska-based Cabela's, "World's Foremost Outfitter" of hunting and fishing gear, you can see how far the stakes of the contest have changed. High-tech gadgetry promises to transform shooting sports beyond recognition. As hundreds of businesses line up to seize market share, the idea of fair chase is becoming a fable.
The Cabela's catalog prods its trusting buyers to keep up technologically. "If you're like most hunters, your pockets are already bulging with shotshells, pocket knives, calls and about a hundred other accouterments you can't possibly live without. That's where the FS-50A Free Spirit Field Dog Trainer comes in handy." The Free Spirit zaps the dog ("provides seven different levels of stimulation") into submission. If it roams too far, barks too loud or threatens to fight? Zzzap! Like a spirited child, the unruly hunting dog needs correction. Technology affords the means.
Unless the dog exceeds its range, that is, like the hound I found wandering high on Montana's Lolo Pass during one spring bear season. Panting, spent, the dog wore a tracking device that allowed the hunter to trace it with a hand-held antenna.
The collar as a device of control and domination relates to slavery. Errant slaves were made to wear muzzles, tongue suppressers and other devices redolent of medieval torment. "A state of bondage, so far from doing violence to the law of nature, develops and perfects it," wrote Georgia lawyer and Confederate Colonel R.R. Cobb in 1858.
Some enterprising criminologist, some penal professional, is wondering right now if shock collars might be equally useful for managing drunks, sexual offenders or methamphetamine cooks on the loose. What an outcry would arise, though, if one were to propose granting dogs the same liberties as humans who commit the basest crimes.
Military-style laser sights are revolutionizing shooting sports. (The military likes to develop technologies that corporations co-opt to manufacture civilian needs.) The huge U.S. defense budget helps corporations profit, and hunters hunt, with the greatest of ease. Binoculars, monoculars, spotting scopes and riflescopes now are available with the Night Vision feature, formerly available only for military use. Poachers of animals, it stands to reason, need all the after-hours ocular assistance they can get. The Yardage Pro Laser Rangefinder "can make you a better hunter, no matter what kind of hunting you do."
Walker's Game Ear II, only $199.99, helps the clever hunter "detect and amplify sounds that would otherwise go unnoticed." Every snap of a twig, chirp of a bird, every curse, cough and gunshot augmented. If I were a hunter, I would worry the "safety shut-off device" on my Game Ear might fail, deafening me with the amplified blast of my gun.
Even hunters with enhanced eyes, ears and firepower can gain from robotic duck decoys. Motorized wings on remote-controlled decoys are proving so effective that some state officials want to ban them. A & amp;M Waterfowl commands nearly $200 for each unit. The wings on robotic ducks spin at 500 RPMs, guaranteeing to deceive the sharpest eyes.
Wildlife feeders available from Cabela's mail-order include a "high-torque motor, electronic microprocessor, memory back-up," and a "quartz clock that ensures accurate, dependable feeding times." See how easily you can habituate your favorite prey to free lunch. And when feeding after dusk, the Game Call Spotlight might be just the ticket.
If jacklighting disappoints you, an Electronic Game Caller features "20 Hrs. of Continuous Calling." Picture a stakeout -- I mean a stand -- your microprocessor spewing food, your speaker playing come-hither plaints, your laser-sighted rifle seeking heat. And then, of course, there are Global Positioning Systems, used by cops and hunters alike, to find the intricate way back to that salt lick discovered before the season began, back to that flocking duck pond in a secret spot. Just call up your stored coordinates and go.
Enough? You might be growing cross with my topic and tone. You might suppose me an animal-rights radical sneering at the tradition of Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone, Teddy Roosevelt and Ted Nugent. Even Aldo Leopold, a father of ecology, he who saw the "fierce green fire" die in the eyes of the wolf he'd shot, kept on hunting after his epiphany.
Never would I claim all or even most hunters wallow in technocratic gadgetry like the Cabela's catalog offers up for sale. Some throwback hunters today use bows or black-powder guns. But all of them enjoy a technological supremacy their fathers never knew.