Is Technology Ruining Bowhunting?

At the writing of this article in the third week of October, I and my fellow Pennsylvania bowhunters were waiting for Ozonics to finally become legal to use in our state. Pretty much the rest of North America has been using Ozonics for years. But this is the way it seems to be in Pennsylvania. We tend to be the last to incorporate new technology – especially electronics – into our hunting culture. Heck, believe it or not, rangefinders were only made legal in Pennsylvania in 2016!

But does that make Pennsylvania backwards? Or does it stress our desire to hold on to traditional things, like woodsmanship, boots-on-the-ground scouting and long hours of shooting practice, rather than new-fangled gadgetry, to get that buck?

Are we ruining the sport of bowhunting by using gadgets and techniques to bring deer to us – and to then stay hidden from them – as opposed to simply going out after them with nothing but our bow and arrows and our knowledge of the woods?

Of all the different types of hunting, bowhunting is the most primitive. Even with modern day equipment, you are still hurling what is essentially a miniature spear at an animal by releasing a string. Man has been hunting game with bows and arrows longer than any other weapon.

hunter using trail cameras

Is modern hunting technology eroding our woodsmanship skills?

Now entering my fourth decade as a bowhunter, I have seen a tectonic shift in the sport we all love. Older bowhunters probably will say the emerging popularity of compound bows in the 1970s was the beginning of the road that has led us to where we are today. My time in the game doesn’t go back quite that far.  But still, I remember a time when there were no trail cameras. Trail cameras of any kind, let alone ones that will email you pictures as you sit in your office or in front of the TV. If you wanted to know what deer were living on your hunting grounds, and which trails they frequented, you had to go look for them. Doing that, you probably only saw a fraction of the deer that actually were out there, but that was all you could do.

I remember spending many summer evenings sitting in my tree stand just watching deer. Has anyone done that in the last 25 years? I know I haven’t. But it was a good trick, and it taught me a lot about patterning deer.

Trail camera picture of two whitetail bucks

Many of today’s hunter have never even known life without trail cameras.

The only “food plots” we had were crop fields. Kill plots, winter plots, hidden plots – they didn’t exist. You found the preferred foods that were out there naturally, or which were planted by farmers, and you learned how and when the deer got to them.

Scent control meant washing your clothes in baking soda and playing the wind. Period. There were no scent-killing sprays. There were no electronic ozone dispensers. At best, you sprayed some raccoon urine on your boots. (Note: Be ready at all times for aggressive boar coons when you do this.)

Nowadays we hear hunters talk about using Ozonics and scent-killers in hopes of staying undetected should wind currents shift or if a deer gets downwind. That didn’t happen 30 years ago. If the wind shifted or a deer got downwind, you got busted. That taught us a lot about wind currents, drafting, thermals and topography. All were factors in selecting optimum stand sites.

The scent control game has come a long way in the last decade, but does it truly make us better hunters?

Arrows were aluminum. Broadheads were fixed-blades. Fast bows shot 250 fps. There were no rangefinders, so you learned to judge distance – or you missed. Forty yards was a long shot that only the most experienced archers would take because bows were slow and arrows were heavy.

If you hunt with a multi-pin sight, you can get a computer program today that will tell you, based on your arrow’s weight and speed, how to space your pins so you’ve got 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards covered. Twenty years ago, the only option was to shoot at those distances and adjust your pins accordingly. It was time consuming, but we knew what our bows could do.

You either hunted on the ground, or from a tree stand. No one used blinds – and certainly not elevated box blinds.

You learned to be still and patient, because you had no choice. You learned the woods – and how the deer used them – by being out there, because that was the only way to know what was going on. If you were hunting deep, remote places, you learned to navigate using a map, a compass and the sun. There was no GPS. If you got lost, you had to know how to read a map. You had to know your directions. You had to know the land.

PJ-Reilly-Buck

At the end of the day, the author relies on woodsmanship above all else for success.

 

Recently, I went out to walk a new piece of hunting property with a good kid some 20 years younger than me. Neither of us had been there before, but we had a map and we had our minds. After bushwhacking for an hour or so off the main trail, the kid had totally lost his bearings. When I asked him which way the truck was, he pointed in the exact opposite direction.

At all times, I knew where the trail was, where we had entered the woods and where we were parked. It wasn’t even something I had to think about. I know some people just have a poor sense of direction, but it’s hard to imagine someone can’t figure out that if you walk downhill from your starting point, you need to walk uphill to get back to it. Hard to imagine unless you never had to pay attention to topography because you could always pull up GPS on your phone to find your way.

When I mentioned that we needed to keep our eyes peeled for oak trees, so we could find acorns, the kid couldn’t tell an oak from a maple. And when we got into a swamp, he still was looking for red and white oaks. He didn’t know those trees generally don’t grow in low-lying, wet areas where we hunt.

acorns

Knowing wildlife and the food they eat is part of woodsmanship – a skill that is often lost to today’s technology.

If you watch hunting shows, view advertisements for hunting gear and/or talk to your bowhunting friends, it seems like the following is the game plan for many modern day bowhunters.

Let’s plant food plots and put out feeders to keep “my” deer – that I’ve watched grow up on a slew of cameras – from going onto the neighbor’s land; hang ozone generators in my elevated, comfortable, climate-controlled box blinds; use GPS to walk 100 yards from the 4-wheeler to the stand; carry a bow that shoots 350 fps and use a rangefinder to take 60-yard shots with carbon arrows tipped with 3.5-inch expandable heads that can darn near cut a deer in half.

Technological advancements are like death and taxes. They’ll continue no matter what.  But are they good for our sport? Or are they ruining it?

Comments

  1. Anything that increases a bowhunter’s chance of harvesting a deer I would expect to be used. The market is too big for reducing or removing technology. The “burden” is ever as important now for teaching the next generation proper woodsmanship (my spellchecker thinks woodsmanship is incorrect). Technology should be used as an additional factor to pattern deer and game but not as the foundation. It also falls on state game agencies to decide (with our input) when enough is enough or in the future we may just hunt via drones over the internet.

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  2. I don’t think technology is that bad. People are just looking for a gimmick to make a buck and for suckers to buy it. I believe TV has wrecked it with all the hype of shooter bucks. I’m in my early 40’s but still a little old fashioned that I take my kids out and bring back a doe and we always seem to run into that nut who talks like a TV show puts us down for taking anything less than a shooter. We’re just out having fun and putting meat in the freezer for winter and I teach my kids that every deer is a gift from God. I will never be a trophy hunter but do shoot them when I get the chance.

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  3. Larry burke says:

    Hunting shows are an absolute joke!! I still do it the old fashioned way!! I would love to see some TV hunter come hunt where I hunt and get blowed by a mature doe from 300 yards away before you even leave the truck!!!! If you can afford all the gadgets more power to you buy I will not get lost in the woods without a GPS and that feels pretty darn good!!!

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  4. Jim Watschke says:

    I can totally agree with this article! Being a 47 yr old woodsman, trapper, fisherman, and hunter, I’ve also found myself having to laugh at many of the gizmos and gadgets that are being offered to just harvest an animal!
    I remember my grandparents telling my parents that we just don’t have the wildlife/fish like we used to! Then years later, my parents telling me that we just don’t have the wildlife/fish that we used to have! And not too long ago, I caught myself saying that same thing to my two daughters, who are also avid outdoorsman/women, who I taught everything I knew about the outdoors, the “Old School Way! ”
    I understand the need for competitive technology in some areas of this crazy world! But with all those uses at hand, I can’t really consider those people a true woodsman! Unless they can leave all that technology at home, and still thrive and survive in the big woods, w/o getting lost, or panicked!
    Even though we have had some access to the newest technology, I still took it upon myself to take the time to teach my girls, friends and loved ones, everything I knew about the outdoors! The old boot stomping Way!
    For example, look at Peurto Rico! What good is all that technology, when you’re at the hands of God’s world, and Mother Nature? Without power, fresh water, and the knowledge of the “Old Style” survival, who’s really going to be prepared to thrive and survive?
    In my opinion, too many people (especially our children, who are our future), are far too dependent on today’s technology! It’s great to be trained in those areas, but we should never lose focus of our past roots, which is what got us to this point in life!
    If we suddenly suffered a technology meltdown, who would you count on to survive? I understand and respect the need for competitive technology in our world! But seriously, how muc

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    • Jim Watschke says:

      crap does it really take to successfully harvest an animal for the freezer? Lol. Our ancestors were very successful, and they only used a weapon/knife!
      Perhaps all these gadgets are great for our military, but let’s not lose the true aspect of hunting…….trying to match or outsmart the keen senses of one of God’s beautiful creatures, in order to survive! Predator vs Prey!
      Good luck to all this season!

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  5. A lot of these products are no more than gimmicks to get your money. Most, such as scent blocker products, may only give you a slight advantage over not using them at all. Cameras are merely an entertainment tool. Sure,they let you know the deer are around, but that’s about as far as it goes. It won’t put a deer under your stand.
    Range finders and multi pin sights are a good thing in my opinion. As hunters, we have the responsibility to make ethical shots, and knowing your range is very important on making kill shots rather than just guessing and wounding animals. But even with a rangefinders, most hunters can’t make an ethical shot beyond 40 yrds and even that is pushing it. More like 30. And very few hunters have the ability to ethically shoot a deer at 60 yrds with a bow. Even with all of this “technology” available to us, a 50-60 yrd shot on a deer is extremely difficult. Maybe it ok for larger animals like moose and elk. I don’t know.

    The one thing that I feel that has done more harm to the sport of bow hunting is the widespread expansion of crossbow laws and including them with bows and bow seasons.
    These are nothing more than rifles that fire an arrow instead of a bullet. Very accurate, longer range, and don’t require the skills that a bow requires. And the hunters that use them don’t seem to know the difference. Too many feel that a kill with a crossbow is the same as using a bow. NOT.
    Congratulations on your deer, But don’t tell everybody you shot a nice buck with your “bow” and then show me a picture of you holding a crossbow.
    It ain’t the same.
    When you’ve successfully harvested a deer (no matter the size) with a “bow”, you’ve accomplished something special.
    With a crossbow? Not so much…
    I’m not apposed to crossbows, or hunters wanting to use them. If that’s what you like, fine, use one. I hope you bag a deer. But they should have a shortened season like firearms.
    I do agree there is a loss of woodsmanship, myself included. But these are the times we live in.
    CH

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  6. Dwight C Mosby says:

    IF YOU NEED TO USE ANYTHING BUT A RECURVE OR COMPOUND DONT ARCHERY HUNT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO USE A CROSS BOW OR AIR BOW PROVE IT AND ONLY USE IT DURING GENERAL GUN THAT WAS THE LAW IN FLORIDA BEFORE THEY HAVE CHANGE IT.

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  7. I was just going to post something that just sounded like I was boasting about how many years I have in this sport and all the changes I’ve seen. All I got is KISS.

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  8. I was always taught baiting deer was unethical. These days seems like everyone is planting food plots or putting out corn piles or some other sort of “supplements “. To me that’s baiting. They talk about deer management and 100% fair chase but really they don’t want to admit that they don’t want to put forth all the time and effort it takes to kill a truly 100% wild trophy buck. It’s easier to put out lots of food (bait) and wait for the deer to come to them. Deer hunting have became a big money making enterprise. People pay big money to travel to places where someone has already done all the scouting and placed the stands for them. They just climb in the stand and shoot the first big buck they see and act like their they greatest hunter that ever lived. Maybe it’s me but that just doesn’t seem like hunting that’s just shooting. Also I don’t think these deer today that have been fed steroids through “supplements “ should be allowed in the record books. Deer hunting used to be a great sport but now we’ve gotten away from that and it’s became a big money making business. I wish I could say it will get better but it will only get worse as long as people wanna kill a giant buck and pay whatever it takes to keep from having to do the work. The hunting shows where the hunter claim to love the sport so much have all sold out to this way of “deer management “. They can get it all on film easier and more often this way. Then they can try to sell you all these gimmicks so they can make money to keep doing it. They love the sport so much that they will kill it to make a dollar doing it.

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  9. damn straight it’s ruining it.
    & the way these so called “professional” hunters act fist pumping & hi fiving is a bloody joke. Every time they shoot an animal “Man, I smoked her” only to find it was a bad shot & the animal cannot be found. The animals have been lured in with dedicated food plots & artificial scents, scent masking sprays, trail cameras almost guarantee animals are in the area and it is a path or bedding area they use.
    try stalking an animal, pitting your wits, skill & knowledge against an animal in it’s natural habitat, if you get a shot – then get excited

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  10. Jimmy da Mink says:

    I believe even a recurve bow has too much modern technology. The only true hunters go out wearing only a loin cloth and carrying a spear. The rest of us are fakes.

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    • Josh Raley says:

      Funny. I think those in loin cloths take it too far.

      The real sportsman will coat himself in mud only. Camo makes it unfair. And he must be bare foot. Boots make it unfair. Oh, and he can’t use a weapon. He has to chase the deer down, catch it with his bare hands, and bite out it’s jugular. Weapons make it unfair.

      You guys whining about crossbows, trail cams, food plots, bait piles, etc. make me ashamed to be a bow hunter. Get off your high horse, stop hating on people who are hunting legally in their state, and hunt however you like. All you’re doing with your crying is giving amo to the PETA folks and tearing down people show love the same sport you do.

      Get it together folks.

      Reply
  11. Swamp dog says:

    I think, rather know that technology improves the ethical harvest of a deer. I have made bad shots on deer and had to go finish them off as I am sure many of you have. I dont feel confident enough to judge distance so I will be using my rangefinder and I dont feel less of a hunter because of that. As far as baiting deer, what is the difference in hunting over a patch of white oaks where the deer are feeding vs corn pile? What if someone planted those oaks years ago and I hunt them now, does that diminish my kill? That being said, I mostly hunt public property where you’re not allowed to put out bait piles, but the state puts in gigantic cornfields and food plots for you. So should I not hunt close to those places since the state is baiting them in? So getting to my point, I don’t think that Hunters years ago cared about anything other than getting meat for the family. If they had the technology we did, they would have used it to feed their family just the same. I think Hunters nowadays have this ego of how they did it versus how someone else does it rather than just focusing on what brings us together as Hunters. Also show me one hunter who would pass on a trophy buck at 20 yards to shoot a doe at 10……Dont worry, I’ll wait….. Oh, and I agree with the loin cloth and spear comment. I bet the mosquitoes had a field day….lol

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  12. Mick Kramer says:

    Its all about balance, there are many gadgets that prove worthless and others that we cherish. Portable Tree Stand technology has greatly improved the experience, gone are the days of hacks constructing fixed tree platforms in the woods. Nothing is worse than people laying claim to a public parcel because they nailed a pallet 10′ up in a tree. Cameras limit wandering hunters by giving hunters confidence that deer are in fact present thus keeping roaming to a minimum, ya see less people travel in certain areas, the cameras also alert good hunters of malicious behavior. Some gadgets stand the test of time while others fade away, find what works for you and enjoy the serenity and peace of hunting. Technology may be bad for some folks but it reduces the amount of wounded deer running the woods and minimizes roaming hunters and I’ll pump my fist to that.

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