As I was paddling the lake in a canoe earlier this week, a moment of serenity set in that took me by surprise.
The breeze cut the bow perfectly. The lapping of small waves under the hull and the trickle of water from my paddle were the only sounds that could be heard. The feeling of gliding was so easy it was like weightlessness.
In such a moment, I felt almost at one with the canoe and the water. All the rest of life melted away.
I was struck by the simplicity, yet the rarity, of experiencing this kind of feeling, with the noise and distractions of our modern “advanced” life.
Then I returned to land.
There were text messages from my father. He had sent the last remarkable photos from his camera, this time a bear in daylight.
They were great shots of the bear, but my appreciation was marred by the jarring juxtaposition of different ways of experiencing the natural world.
There really seems to be nowhere a person can turn to escape the technologies we’ve developed to enhance our outdoor experience. From trail cameras to advanced materials to oversized lures, there is no shortage of innovations designed to create efficiencies and help us achieve better “results”.
As a techie, I feel well placed to observe how spending a few hundred (or thousands) of dollars can be the quickest way to ruin someone’s outward exploits, not to mention leaving notions behind. fair hunting.
Take, for example, those long-range shooting courses that are all the rage. All you have to do is buy their expensive rifle and scope and learn how to use them. Then you can nudge animals that previously would have required some risk from the hunter.
The idea of stalking a deer or an elk is over. Little or no chance of being out of breath, seen or heard. When there is no hunting, the equity measures seem to me to be smaller and smaller.
I can’t say I would feel any fulfillment or satisfaction about it.
The shooters shoot; hunters hunt.
One thing I have noticed is that it is difficult to define by law what is right between man and beast. I don’t know if any states have considered addressing long distance shooting in their regulations, but some are looking closely at trail cameras.
A few have drawn the line to those who have the ability to send photo and video data via cellular networks to one’s phone. They determined that fair hunting is on the low-tech side of this divide.
From what I understand, Montana, Utah and a few others prohibit this use for hunting purposes.
As of the beginning of this year, Arizona has banned all trail cameras for hunting, even those that require one to walk around and retrieve footage.
Some scoff and say that the limits of morality shift at state borders. But it is clear that there is great potential for trail camera abuse.
A person could easily leave the righteous realm – perhaps without even trying.
Personally, I have no problem playing by the house rules, however they are read. And I feel good living in a state that holds the line on many of the taking methods that other states allow.
Just because “they do it over there” doesn’t make it any more fair or less wrong.
Wisconsin can keep two fishing rods, for example; I don’t have twice the fun when I fish there.
However, one thing that anglers (and fisheries managers) all over the world are concerned about is side-scan sonar. Looking directly into the water was apparently not enough for some.
Having the ability to look sideways underwater is now irresistible to those who can stomach that price.
I have heard many concerns expressed about this, especially when anglers intend to keep the fish they catch. The possibility of taking an unreasonable number of fish from a given system is the logical conclusion – if you follow the marketing messages.
Someone I know who is deeply involved in the professional/commercial part of the fishing industry admitted this to me. In his words, “never have so few been able to exert so much pressure on a resource”.
It’s not hard to imagine how devastating that kind of efficiency could be for a lake. When there is a good harvest of crappie in our 100 acre piece of paradise (which currently does not exist), for example, there are not many places to hide from this kind of advantage .
If word got around and people couldn’t hold back, it’s not unreasonable to think that a fishery that took more than a decade to build could be gone in a week.
Would this fried fish taste sweeter? I can’t imagine it.
If you’re wondering what I mean in all of this, I don’t blame you. Let’s see if I can find it.
Our outdoor culture has become obsessed with “success,” and our wider culture’s obsession with technology naturally intersects with it. Some technologies, like outboard motors and rifle scopes, are ancient history compared to the latest and greatest that emerge each model year.
But everything is technology, and everything is meant to improve something.
What will come next? It’s hard to say. Someone is always looking for a new way to make money.
Will it undermine what we consider a fair hunt?
Maybe. It can be hard to discern after the fact, and laws always have to catch up.
Here’s what I know: We collectively lose sight of the outdoor experience, and technology is often more of a distracting force than an enhancing force.
Fair pursuit is sometimes traded through gimmicks for bragging rights and photos for social media. Intangible goods such as simplicity and satisfaction are too often overlooked.
With hunting seasons upon us and ice fishing not far behind, it’s a good time to take stock and think about what we’re really looking for when we load up and drive to our favorite destinations.
Is it camaraderie, meat or antlers?
Do we want precious time with our children or fish to clean?
Do we need the wood and the drill more than we want to flex our fingers on the trigger?
Sometimes we manage to tick all the boxes, and that’s good.
But sometimes we don’t, and that’s just as well.
Let’s not lose sight of which boxes are just the icing on the cake.
As for me, deer hunting this year will be about mentoring my daughter through her first season. Success will be measured primarily in smiles.
Maybe a month later I’ll be out on the ice with my 22-year-old bottom sonar. No doubt I will put out my tip in hopes of a hand to hand fight.
Jiggle sticks can pop up just for fun. I’ll probably go home without fish more often than not, but I’ll always take a sense of calm and renewal with me.
I can’t think of anything better than that.
Roy Heilman is an outdoorsman, writer, musician, and native of Minnesota. His adventures take him all over the map, but he’s always at home on neveragoosechase.com.