A 40-year perspective: make no mistake, bowhunting has changed drastically over the past four decades. The question is: Is that good, bad, or indifferent?
So, as Bowhunter Magazine celebrates its [40 sup th] Anni-versary, I can celebrate a few [40 sup th] anniversaries of my own, giving me a perspective and perfect opportunity to reflect on changes over the past four decades. Since this magazine covers bowhunting, not marriage counseling, I won't dwell on my 40 years of marriage except to say that without Laura's support, I would not have enjoyed 40 wonderful years of bowhunting - or survived as a writer. Thanks, Dear!
But back to the point: With a 40-year perspective, how do I evaluate the past, present, and future of bowhunting? Have I learned anything from and about the sport? What changes have taken place in bowhunting, and are they good, bad, of indifferent? Let me give you my perspective.
Equipment presents the most obvious changes, and we all know the evolution of bows, arrows, treestands, clothing, scents and scent eliminators, arrow rests, sights, and on and on. Many writers, including me, have dissected the trends in equipment ad nauseam, so I'm going to skip those here.
But when I recall how we perceived bowhunting and how we did things 40 years ago compared to now, I can't help but think some other changes are even more profound than the changes in equipment. Bowhunting is a different world today. Or is it? To see why, or why not, let me share my perspective gained from 40 years of bowhunting.
Just to get a copy of the hunting regulations 40 years ago, we typed or wrote letters in longhand and mailed them via the USPS. To gather more detailed information, we made phone calls and talked to biologists or forest rangers or other hunters - if we could ever reach the person we wanted to talk to. I can remember trying for two or three weeks just to get a certain individual on the phone. Hunt research was generally a long, tedious, and often fruitless process.
Today, TV programs, DVDs, and a plethora of books and magazines - none of which existed 40 years ago - dispense an endless stream of hunting insight. In 1971,1 searched for months to get a basic idea of how to bugle an elk. In 2011, a rank novice can gain that knowledge from books or the big screen in a half hour - without ever leaving the living room.
Even more astounding are Internet sites. No more letter writing. Just download PDF files of the regulations for any states you want to hunt - along with big game surveys, hunt statistics, and big game forecasts. To connect with other hunters, log into chat rooms and or scan blogs to gain endless ideas on hunting areas, hunting techniques, and gear reviews. Got questions you can't answer any other way? Google them - instant answers to infinite subjects. Over the past 40 years, the information highway has grown from a single-track mountain path to a 10-lane freeway.
If websites and Google searches build the foundation for that freeway, mapping and navigational tools form the blacktop. Forty years ago, we had only paper topographic maps, and to get those we looked over an "order map," sent our money to the U.S. Geological Survey, and waited two months or longer for the topographic maps to arrive - if they were even in stock. Today, Google Earth, mytopo.com and similar satellite imagery and map sites provide instant aerial views and custom topographic maps for virtually anywhere on Earth.
Combine these with GPS technology - 40 years ago we had only magnetic compasses, if we could even figure out how to use them - and you not only can navigate flawlessly, but you also can map out the most minute details of any hunt.
To complete the hunting-map picture, add a few trail cameras. Forty years ago a good trail camera consisted of a piece of thread stretched across a trail. A broken thread meant an animal had walked that trail Pretty deep stuff. Now you not only can photograph all the deer in your area, but you can remotely load the information into your computer and incorporate it into your computer maps to build a detailed plan for any hunt. In 40 years, we've come a long way from a paper topo map, a compass, and a piece of thread.
To grasp the impact of social media, look at what happened recently" in Egypt. According to many news sources, protestors used primarily Facebook to facilitate an overthrow of the Egyptian government.
Social media have caused no less of a revolution in hunting by changing the very way many people look at hunting. Forty years ago we all knew about Fred Bear, Ben Pearson, and Howard Hill, but only because those guys wrote books, owned companies, or made movies. As a whole, the rest of us hunted for the joy of the hunt, and our only rewards were meat and antlers. Sure we photographed our trophies, but we had to wait a week to get the film developed, and then we mailed the photos to a few select friends.
Today you can photograph your trophy digitally and immediately e-mail the. photos to your entire address book. Just as likely, you will snap some pictures with your iPhone and, even before the animals eyes glaze over, text the pictures to your friends. More powerfully, you will post pictures of your hunt'onto Facehook for the whole world to see, or you will Tweet your success. Instant recognition.
Not good enough? Then videotape your hunt. No one could have dreamed of videotaping a hunt 40 years ago. Inconceivable! Today it's taken for granted, as is editing the video on your own computer and posting it on YouTube or other outlets, again for the whole world to see. Instant movie star. To top it off, anyone can create a personal website with photos, videos, and blogs to turn themselves into mini-industries.
Back when Bowhunter Magazine came into existence, most of us were happy just to be carrying our bows in the field, and we hunted for the sheer joy of hunting. Now many people seemingly hunt for recognition, even celebrity status. Whether that's good or bad you can judge for yourself, but it's sure different from 40 years ago.
THE NATURE OF HUNTING
Four decades ago, you could hunt public lands with little or no restriction, especially in the West. And you could knock on doors and get permission to hunt on private lands just about anywhere. Finding good places to hunt was pretty simple and cheap.
Now, the best private lands are leased, either by individuals, small groups of hunters and hunting clubs, or by outfitters who make a living guiding hunters. This trend creates a good news/bad news situation. On the good side, hunting has never been better. Anyone investing money in hunting lands will do everything possible to maximize deer numbers and trophy quality. QDM (Quality Deer Management), an essentially unknown concept 40 years ago, has become standard practice on private lands today. Intensive land management for big game, supplemental feeding, liberal doe harvest, and selective buck harvest all combine to produce more and bigger deer. Great hunting.
On the bad side, this trend has severely restricted access - at least free access - to private lands. Landowners lease out their lands, and you either pay or you don't hunt. To some extent, this has made deer hunting a rich mans sporty a big change from 40 years ago.
On public lands, you can still hunt for free, but not hassle-free as you might have 40 years ago. Over the years, public lands have got more crowded, leading to conflicts among hunters and, in some cases, overhunting of game herds. In response, wildlife managers have restricted hunting pressure in various ways, most commonly through limited entry via lottery drawings for tags.
Again, this trend is good news/bad news. As on private lands, restricted entry has led to exceptional hunting in some areas. That's good. The downside is that you cannot hunt prime units every year. You have to get lucky and draw a tag. But if you learn to play the system by accumulating bonus points and applying in various states, you can enjoy public hunting better than any we knew 40 years ago.
A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
Forty years ago, at age 26,1 viewed life as interminable. Unending. It would go on forever. If I didn't accomplish something today or this year, so what? I would do it tomorrow or next year. I took the future for granted.
No longer. If nothing else, the past 40 years have taught me never to take a single day in the field - actually, a single day of life - for granted. Tomorrow may never come, or it might pass by so quickly you never noticed it, and you simply cannot recover lost time. Often I hear people complaining about hunting trips., and I have been guilty of this in the past. Something always goes wrong. Bad weather dampens the trip. Quarrels arise among hunting partners. The animals just seem to disappear.
Here's what I've learned from 40 years in the field: Never let circumstances sour a trip. Go into every hunt, whether an hour in your favorite treestand or two weeks in Alaska, with optimism, determined to savor every moment, regardless of conditions or outcome. Soak up the sights, sounds, and feelings of every hunt, and let them become part of your fabric. Savor your successes and your failures. Whether you're huddled in a pouring rain or basking under a warm morning sun, whether you kill a trophy buck or kill nothing but time, have no regrets. Thank God for every moment you can enjoy the privilege of hunting. You cannot regain lost time.
Here's something else I've learned over 40 years in the field: The better you take care of yourself, the better the experience. I recently wrote an article about the value of physical fitness for hunting. Predictably, the story drew some "Get off the fitness crusade. I don't need to exercise to hunt hard ..." responses. If you're 20, 30 or 40 years old, that could be true. But what about 40 years from now? Do you want to be hunting hard then?
After 40 years of bowhunting, I've learned that the desire and excitement do not diminish. But what about the ability? It certainly will unless you make an effort to maintain it. In a recent interview at the Ford World Iron-man Championship in Kona, Hawaii, 80-year-old triathlete Lew Hollander, who was beating a lot of the younger folks, said, "If you want to be doing this when you're 80, you'd better pay attention when you're 40 ..."
Ditto, hunting. You have the option of enjoying bowhunting as much 40 years from now, when you're 60, 70, or 80, as you do right now. But to assure that option, you'd better pay attention now.
CLEARLY, bowhunting has changed a lot over the past 40 years. Whether the changes are good, bad or indifferent, I will let you decide. But based on my 40-year perspective, I would make two predictions: One, things will continue to change, and 40 years from now, bowhunting will have changed even more drastically than it has between 1971 and 2011.
Two, when you're perched in a treestand and hear leaves rustling and turn to see a whitetail buck walking toward your stand; or you're sitting on a mountain in the wind, glassing a big mule deer or listening to a bull elk bugling in the distance; and you feel your heart begin to pound and your palms begin to sweat, you'll know that nothing has really changed at all. And never will.
My first article in Bowhunter appeared in the October 1975 issue So much has changed since then. Getting access to quality private lands can be expensive these days, but hunting quality most likely will be far higher than it was 40 years ago because modern land managers practice QDM. I killed this nice Kansas buck hunting with Greg Hill of Chisholm Trail Whitetails. Forty years ago, getting permission to hunt private land was generally as simple as knocking on a few doors. Now, individuals, clubs, and outfitters lease a large percentage of private farmlands in the best trophy-prritlucing regions of the U.S. Forty years ago, a good trail cam consisted of a piece of thread stretched across a trail. A broken thread meant an animal - who knows what kind? - had walked the trail. Modern Stealth Cams and similar remote cameras have opened up a whole new world for hunters. With modern trail cameras, hunters can photograph virtually every animal in a hunting territory. Combining that knowledge with custom maps and GPS technology, they can map out a solid hunting strategy. Four decades ago, we basically hunted blind.
Dwight Schuh, Hunting Editor
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|Date:||Sep 17, 2011|
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