Some hunting like shooting fish in a barrel
I haven’t fished in decades, and the only things I’ve ever hunted are missing car keys and loose change under sofa cushions, so my understanding of these activities doesn’t extend much beyond vintage TV shows: Opie Taylor carrying a pole to his favorite pond in Mayberry; a shotgun-wielding Elmer Fudd tiptoeing through the forest, finger to lips, whispering, “Shhh … We must be vewy, vewy quiet.”
No doubt some hunters still silently track wabbits — er, rabbits — the old-fashioned way, just as many old-school fishermen use no more sophisticated tackle than a hook, line and sinker.
But as a friend pointed out to me the other day, there’s been an ever-escalating technological arms race among both groups that seems to test the “fair chase” credo adopted by the Boone and Crockett Club, which calls itself North America's oldest wildlife conservation organization.
I first observed this phenomenon while kayaking a few years ago, when a powerboat puttered slowly in my direction. Instead of watching for dimples on the surface or birds circling overhead the fisherman stared intently at a small, thwart-mounted video screen that displayed shadowy piscine images taken with an underwater camera. He then adjusted his course accordingly.
Such rudimentary devices have more recently been refined so they not only present high-definition videos that make it easier to distinguish a largemouth bass from a submerged rubber boot but also transmit GPS data to smartphones, thus pinpointing fish location.
Various angling apps also offer sonar readings and bathymetric maps, and automatically analyze temperature, depth and seasonal data to improve catch productivity. There are online chat rooms that allow anglers to shares reports about when and where fish are biting, and even an electronic alarm that sounds when you’ve got something on the line.
Talk about shooting fish in a barrel.
As for hunters, critter cams, drones, electronic tracking devices and other forms of high-tech surveillance now provide them with an even greater advantage over four-legged and feathered prey.
Back when humans mainly ate what they could catch, people didn’t think twice about employing any possible means to put food on the table: burning down forests to deprive deer of cover; driving buffalo off cliffs; hunting animals to extinction. Ethics became an issue only after more civilized societies passed fishing and hunting regulations.
These vary from country to country, as well as from state to state, and I wonder if we may one day see restrictions on the use of electronic aids in hunting and fishing.
Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, you can’t hunt bears, but they’re fair game in Maine, which is one of only a dozen states that also allow hunters in some regions to set out bait barrels.
Wisconsin also permits bear baiting — but only to shoot the animals, not, heaven forbid, to photograph them.
In 2016, despite protestations by Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, President Barack Obama banned the use of helicopters to hunt wolves and bears on federal land, but that hasn’t stopped Alaska from allowing limited aerial hunting on state and private lands when these predators threaten livestock. Most other states prohibit shooting animals from any vehicle.
Chasing hapless animals by air is bad enough, but one of the most egregious forms of blood sport is still technically legal in about 10 states: Remote hunting.
A Texas-based hunting website came up with the idea more than a decade ago: lock animals in a pen, set up a tripod with a camera and firearm, and allow online hunters to shoot them by remote control.
The reaction was so swift and universally condemnatory — probably the only time the Humane Society, Safari Club and National Rifle Association ever agreed about anything — that 40 states passed laws against the practice. While the company still organizes hunts, it no longer offers remote-control shooting, though I suppose it could one day try again in those states where it’s still legal.
As for me, I’ll stick to watching animals, not shooting them. I am tempted, though, to spend 99 cents on one particular fishing-related app. It allows you to load a photo of yourself and then add a picture of a huge fish — great white shark, giant tuna, barracuda, marlin, whatever — to produce a realistic image demonstrating your prowess as a master fisherman.
Then again, I think I’d rather be known for the one that got away.
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