As I paddled the canoe across the lake earlier this week, a moment of serenity settled in nicely and caught me unaware.
The breeze cut across the bow perfectly. The lapping of tiny waves under the hull and dripping of water from my paddle were the only sounds to be heard. The sensation of gliding was so effortless it was tantamount to weightlessness.
In such a moment, I felt I was nearly at one with the canoe and the water. Everything else in life melted away.
It struck me how simple, yet rare, it is to experience that kind of feeling, with the noise and distractions of our “advanced” modern life.
Then I returned to shore.
There were text messages from my dad. He’d sent the latest noteworthy pictures from his trail camera, this time a bear out in the daylight.
They were pretty good shots of the bear, but my appreciation was spoiled by the jarring juxtaposition of different ways of experiencing the natural world.
It seems there really is nowhere a person can turn to escape the technologies we’ve developed to improve our outdoor experience. From trail cameras to cutting-edge materials to overdesigned lures, there is no shortage of innovation designed to create efficiencies and help us realize better “results.”
As a technology holdout, I feel well positioned to observe how spending a few hundred (or thousand) dollars may be the quickest way to ruin a person’s outdoor exploits, not to mention leave notions of fair chase behind.
Take, for instance, those long-range shooting courses that are all the rage. All you need to do is buy their expensive fine-tuned rifle and scope, and learn how to use it. Then you can take a poke at animals that previously would have required some risk on the hunter’s part.
Gone is the notion of stalking a deer or elk. Little to no chance of being winded, seen, or heard. When there is no chase, measures of fairness to me seem increasingly smaller.
I can’t say I would feel any accomplishment or satisfaction in that.
Shooters shoot; hunters hunt.
One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s hard to define by law what is fair between man and beast. I’m not sure if any states have thought about addressing long-range shooting in their regulations, but some are looking hard at trail cameras.
A few have drawn the line at the ones that have the ability to send photo and video data through cellular networks to one’s phone. They have determined that fair chase lies on the low-tech side of that divide.
From what I understand, Montana, Utah and a few others disallow that use for hunting purposes.
As of the beginning of this year, Arizona banned all trail cameras for hunting, even those that require one to hike in and retrieve the images.
Some scoff and say morality’s boundaries change at state lines. But clearly there is great potential for abuse of trail cameras.
A person could easily depart from the fair realm — perhaps without even trying.
Personally, I don’t have a problem playing by house rules, however they read. And I feel good about living in a state that holds the line on many methods of take that other states allow.
Just because “they do it over there” doesn’t make it more right or less objectionable.
Wisconsin can keep two fishing rods, for example; I don’t have twice the fun when I’m fishing over there.
One thing anglers (and fisheries managers) everywhere are concerned about, however, is side-scanning sonar. Looking straight down in the water was apparently not enough for some.
Having the ability to look sideways underwater is now irresistible for those who can stomach that price tag.
I’ve heard many concerns voiced over this, especially when anglers intend to keep the fish they catch. The potential for taking unreasonable numbers of fish from a given system is the logical conclusion — if you follow the marketing messages.
Someone I know who is deeply involved with the professional/commercial part of the fishing industry has acknowledged this to me. In his words, “never before have so few been able to put so much pressure on a resource.”
It’s not hard to imagine how devastating that kind of efficiency could be to a lake. When there is a good crop of crappies in our 100-acre slice of heaven (which there currently isn’t), for example, there aren’t many places to hide from that kind of advantage.
If word got out and folks couldn’t restrain themselves, it’s not unreasonable to think that a fishery that took most of a decade to build could be gone in a week.
Would that fish fry taste any sweeter? I can’t imagine so.
If you’re wondering what my point is in all this, I don’t blame you. Let’s see if I can wind my way around to it.
Our outdoor culture has become obsessed with “success,” and our wider culture’s obsession with technology naturally intersects it. Some technologies, like outboard motors and rifle scopes, are ancient history compared to the latest and greatest that emerges each model year.
But it’s all technology, and it’s all meant to improve something.
What will come next? It’s hard to say. Somebody is always looking for a new way to make a buck.
Will it chip away at what we consider fair chase?
Maybe. It can be tough to discern after the fact, and laws always have to play catch-up.
Here is what I do know: We are collectively losing sight of the outdoor experience, and technology is often more a distracting force than an improving one.
Fair chase is sometimes traded through gadgetry for bragging rights and photos for social media. Intangibles like simplicity and satisfaction are thrown wayside all too often.
With hunting seasons on the doorstep, and ice fishing not far behind, this is a good time to take stock and think about what we’re really after when we load up and drive to our favorite destinations.
Is it camaraderie, meat or antlers?
Do we want precious time with our kids, or fish to clean?
Do we need the woods-time and exercise more than we want to flex our trigger fingers?
Sometimes we get to check all the boxes, and that’s good.
But sometimes we don’t, and that’s just as good.
Let’s not lose sight of which boxes are merely icing on the cake.
As for me, deer hunting this year will be about mentoring my daughter through her first season. Success will mostly be measured in smiles.
Maybe a month after that I’ll hit the ice with my inferior 22-year old sonar. No doubt, I will put out my tip-up in hope of some hand-to-fin combat.
Jiggle sticks may make an appearance just for fun. I will probably return home fishless more often than not, but I will always take with me a sense of quiet and renewal.
I can’t think of anything more successful than that.
Roy Heilman is an outdoorsman, writer, musician, and ethnic Minnesotan. His adventures take him all over the map, but he’s always home at neveragoosechase.com.