Innovation, Technology and Scientific Advances

Posted by Jay McAninch on August 22, 2013 in Bowhunting
Bowhunting flying in Debating advances in archery equipment is commonplace yet, in all this talk, it's rare for anyone to debate which non-archery equipment gives modern bowhunters an edge.

The Pope and Young Club’s Board of Directors recently decided that animals killed by arrows with lighted nocks are not eligible for the club’s record book. This decision expands the list of equipment the Board thinks unfairly assists bowhunters. The other item on P&Y’s forbidden list is crossbows, which is one step worse than the asterisk designating record-book animals taken with compound bows exceeding 65 pounds of let-off.

The club will continue debating archery equipment as long as some people feel compelled to define bowhunting for others. Yet in all this talk about changes in bowhunting equipment, I’ve never heard anyone debate which non-archery equipment bowhunters should be allowed to use. For consistency’s sake, if we set arbitrary limits on what’s permissible in bowhunting equipment, shouldn’t we also limit gear that helps people shoot or roam the woods? After all, for many years we’ve specified which disabilities people must have to hunt with a crossbow.

Hunters today have access to more helpful, innovative technology than ever before. Doesn’t all that ancillary gear and accessories help bowhunters succeed?

To explore this question, I crafted a hypothetical profile of 100 bowhunters using 2012 data from studies by Mark Duda and his team at Responsive Management. My 100 individuals fairly represent hundreds of thousands of North American bowhunters.

Among these 100 people, one shot a longbow, four shot recurves, 20 shot a crossbow and 75 shot compound bows. Further, 15 shot more than one type of bow. The longbow hunter used wooden arrows and no sights. Of the four recurve shooters, one used a sight, one used wooden arrows and three used carbon arrows. The compound and crossbow shooters used a variety of carbon and composite arrows. Their choices of sights, releases, stabilizers, and rests showed similar diversity. All but three crossbow hunters used a scope.

This group also used bait, calls, a bicycle, a wheelchair, binoculars, rangefinders, snowmobiles, ground blinds, smart phones, deer decoys, face paint, portable radios, tree stands, safety harnesses, 4-wheelers, scent canisters, digital cameras, GPS units, lightweight boats, hand warmers, lots of synthetic noise-free rainwear, temperature-rated boots, hearing-enhancement devices, and scent-control sprays and clothing. In fact, one bowhunter had a satellite phone. Several Western bowhunters also used pack animals to ride and/or carry gear into the backcountry. One of the nonresident bowhunters flew to his hunting destination, and a couple of others flew directly to their hunting camp.

The bowhunters in my example benefit from other technological or scientific advantages, too. Among these 100 individuals, we count one pacemaker; two artificial hips; five artificial knees; 22 scars from arthroscopy surgery; a few wrist repairs from carpal-tunnel surgery; several sets of laser-corrected eyes; several hearing aids; a few survivors of testicular, prostate and breast cancer; one transplanted kidney; one gastric bypass, and one prosthetic leg that goes nearly everywhere. Several also require special medication for migraine headaches, and another had medication to battle diverticulitis. Further, many inhale allergy or asthma medication, and nearly everyone carries pain relievers.

And let’s not forget that more than half the bowhunters beyond age 40 were taking pills to lower their blood pressure. Among the 10 female bowhunters, several were taking calcium supplements, and all but two were taking birth control pills. Two men had Viagra prescriptions in their wallet.

Without a doubt, that representative sample roamed our woods and forests this past fall, and will again the next few months. So, which of these many advances in science and bowhunting contribute most to bowhunters’ success each fall? Is it their archery equipment? Their hunting aids? Their physical and mental condition? Or all of these factors?

Bowhunting has evolved in a world in which all outdoor pursuits have changed dramatically. These changes affect bowhunting participation, and its past and future traditions. And yet some folks focus on archery equipment as bowhunting’s defining element; as if equipment operates independently of all other aspects of hunting and society.

We didn’t arrive at this point by design or accident. This is an evolutionary process that occurs in every outdoor sport and activity. Everything changes so gradually that we usually take it for granted, whether it’s a game’s rules, an activity’s culture, an individuals’ condition, or the way we view, communicate and commemorate our experiences.

But through it all, bowhunting survives our bickering and becomes the better for it. That’s because it’s bigger than all of us.

Photos: John Hafner