How much is too much when it comes to abiding by fair chase?
Long-range shooting is a hot trend in hunting, driven by improvements in rifles, optics, and ammo. I’m a poor long-range shot. I don’t practice at those distances and so have no business shooting game at extended ranges (to say nothing about what can go wrong at such distances with even the most proficient shooter). But there are more fundamental reasons why I try to get as close as possible when I’m hunting. In our annual optics test (p. 34), you’ll see that there is an arms race among companies to build riflescopes that use rangefinding technology, Bluetooth, smart reticles, and phone apps to make it possible for hunters to shoot accurately at ranges that would’ve astounded our fathers and grandfathers. Equipment that aids in making a clean, quick kill— the primary goal of any ethical hunter—is a good thing, but if that were the only goal, we’d shoot gamebirds on the ground. Sporting ethics also include the hard-to-define concept of “fair chase” and the idea that hunting should never be too easy. Almost 70 years ago, hunter and conservationist Aldo Leopold was already concerned about these issues. This prescient warning comes from his classic Sand County Almanac: Then came the gadgeteer, otherwise known as the sporting-goods dealer. He has draped the American sportsman in an infinity of contraptions, all offered as aids to self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, or marksmanship, but too often acting as substitutes for them.… I have the impression the American sportsman is puzzled; he doesn’t understand what is happening to him. Bigger and better gadgets are good for the industry, so why not for outdoor recreation? It hasn’t dawned on him that outdoor recreations are essentially primitive, atavistic; that their value is contrastvalue; excessive mechanization destroys contrasts by moving the factory to the woods or the marsh. What would Leopold think now? Technologically advanced gear can be a great thing, but we always need to consider these issues. As technology races forward, we should carefully weigh what is gained and lost with each relentless step toward the better, easier, and more convenient. I’m not going to tell anyone which type of technology diminishes the outdoor experience, or how far they should shoot, or at what range fair chase turns into “too easy.” Everyone needs to decide that for themself. But in our quest to be more successful in the field, we should not lose touch with the ancient predator-prey relationship, where the predator fails more often than succeeds. This primitive connection offers me rewards that I can find no other way. Memories of two very similar mule deer hunts might be the easiest way to explain what I mean. In each case, I spotted a great buck at more than 600 yards. If I’d had the right rifle and optics, and the shooting skills to match, I could’ve killed them from where I sat. At that range, the bucks couldn’t see or smell me, so they’d never know I was there; I had plenty of time to set up for a good shot. Instead, I plotted a way to get closer. Each stalk required backing out over a ridge, a hike around and up a draw— watching the wind the whole time—and finally, a belly crawl over exposed ground to get within 300 yards. The stalks were hard and painful, and pushed my hunting skills to the limit. In the end, one of the bucks dropped at my shot. The other busted me in the final moments, and I went home without venison. Both experiences were equally exciting, and each made me feel deep in my gut what is so rewarding and special about hunting. We’d love to hear your thoughts on long-range shooting and technology in hunting. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.