Last week I missed the national conference of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America, held this year in Rochester, Minnesota. Despite good intentions to attend, I got cold feet as the conference approached. Rochester is a six-hour drive from my home near the Canadian border, with at least two major road construction projects and the Twin Cities metro area in between. I wasn’t enthused about the journey.
Then again, conferences aren’t really my cup of tea. It is difficult for me to sit through Power Point presentations and I don’t enjoy the sort of cocktail-party small talk that usually occurs at such gatherings. In fact, about the only thing that really interested me was the opportunity to shoot firearms from several manufacturers on the conference’s field day.
Outdoor News editor Rob Drieslein was enthused about the shooting opportunities, too. He wanted to shoot the military-style semi-automatics that are all the rage with some in the shooting industry and some, typically younger, shooters. Drieslein, though now past 40 and trudging down the hill, fits the shooter profile. Ten years ahead of him in age, I do not.
In an email exchange, Drieslein joked that he really wanted to get a picture of me shooting an AR-15 or similar military rifle, knowing my lack of interest in such guns. Even if I’d gone to the conference, his photo opportunity was unlikely to occur. Call me a traditionalist, but I prefer guns designed for hunting. To me, the military semi-autos are just ugly, black guns.
By the way, politicians call these guns by another name: assault rifles. Former Outdoor Life writer Jim Zumbo’s career was vaporized in 2007 by editors and gun manufacturers after he criticized these guns on an Internet blog and became the target of a frenzied Internet fatwa from gun rights zealots. What was missed in all the uproar was the fact that Zumbo was an old guy who understandably might not be enamored with a newfangled development in shooting and who was, at any rate, entitled to his opinion.
My own view is broader than just military rifles and is simply this: I don’t have any need or desire to embrace all of the new hunting and fishing technology coming down the pike. My time outside is intended as a brief escape from the techno-trodden realities of everyday life. While I am not a purist in a coonskin cap, I prefer a personal encounter with Nature to a technological assault.
Newer doesn’t always mean better. For instance, the venerable lever action rifle, even though it has faded from popularity, is still available in a wider range of calibers and is likely more reliable in the field than the latest generation of military rifles being marketed as hunting guns. As another example, I recently heard of two North Shore anglers who found soft plastic baits in the stomachs of brook trout they caught. The plastics, impregnated with fish-attracting scents and marketed as better than live bait, are being used by anglers who may think the products are ecologically preferable to fishing with the real thing. Unfortunately, trout are unable to digest or pass plastic baits once they swallow them.
Nevertheless, it would be foolish to think all hunters will start buying lever actions or that anglers will swear off soft plastics. Lever actions and live baits are artifacts from the past. We are conditioned from childhood to seek whatever products are newest, coolest and easiest, and to discard whatever we used previously. While this approach may be well suited to buying a new car or computer, it isn’t necessarily the best approach to hunting and fishing.
So where do we draw the line on technology afield? Who knows? About all we can do is follow game laws that establish bag limits and basic regulations. I’ve long since given up hope that we can get any guidance from hunting or fishing advocacy groups, which generally avoid technology debates. Earlier generations of fish and wildlife biologists would at least tell us what they thought was right or wrong with new technology, even if the agencies they worked for were loathe to take action to address the associated resource issues. Today’s crop of resource professionals may have opinions, but they don’t share them with the public.
While scented plastic baits, an array of electronic and mechanized gadgets, military rifles and other techno tools don’t seem to have diminished the supply of fish and game, I sometimes wonder just how they have contributed to the slow tailspin that marks the decline in hunting and fishing participation. For instance, I have no interest in sharing a duck slough with a hunting party using a mechanized duck decoy or in sharing the deer woods with someone carrying an assault rifle. In fact, before doing either one, I just might stay home.
For me, there is no satisfaction in turning fishing into a wet video game or shooting a buck after patterning its movements with a trail camera. While I don’t need to approach hunting and fishing with a knife between my teeth, I prefer to use my skills, rather than technology, to find success. Hunting and fishing ought to be about entering the natural world and functioning as a part of it. The further we move from that premise, the less secure the future of hunting and fishing becomes.
Airdate: June 18, 2010