High-Tech Hunting: Pushing the Ethics Envelope?

I took a great Kansas gobbler this April during a hunt with Field Editor Eddie Claypool. The bird had a 10-inch beard, inch-plus spurs and easily weighed in the mid-20s. He was a stud.

If the Pope and Young Club had a turkey category, this bird would have been close to making the book. But then again, I couldn't have entered it anyway.

Why? Because I shot it using a lighted nock.

Lighted nocks are perfectly legal in Kansas, but Pope and Young considers the use of any bow- or arrow-mounted electronic devices a violation of its fair chase principles.

That means the rheostat light on my sight -- again, perfectly legal in Kansas -- disqualifies me too.

And since Pope and Young also prohibits electronic devices for locating game, my beloved trail cameras are also out of bounds. I've been using trail cameras for years. There's no better way to keep tabs on the local deer herd, and once the season rolls around, it makes it a lot easier to pass marginal bucks when you have photographs of the big ones on your "hit list."

Before I go any further, let me make it clear I'm not trying to pick a fight with Pope and Young. On the contrary, I respect the club as a fine organization that has done a tremendous job of preserving our bowhunting heritage and conserving the game we pursue.

What I am trying to do is point out that when it comes to modern bowhunting technology, there is plenty of room for legitimate debate.

You've probably already figured out I'm a sucker for bowhunting gadgets. I'm fascinated by new technologies and personally don't see anything wrong with using them where legal. However, I still consider myself an ethical bowhunter and recognize there is a line not to be crossed; even if it isn't always easy to know exactly where that line is.

For example, I don't feel any guilt over using a light to brighten my sight pins early and late in the day. But if I use the light to afford myself a shot at game before or after legal shooting hours, I've just crossed the line from bowhunter to cheater.

Similarly, I love the fact that trail cameras can help me keep tabs on the deer using my hunting properties. I see no unfair advantage from checking the data cards a couple times each week, but I wouldn't feel comfortable using a trail camera with wireless technology to monitor deer activity in the middle of a hunt.

Of course, not all hunters -- or state wildlife agencies -- share the same opinions. Montana has prohibited in-season trail camera use since the mid-90s.

"There are different philosophical thoughts on it," said Ron Aasheim, chief of communications for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "We don't begrudge people in other states who want to use them. We just decided with the ethics of the hunt, they weren't something we wanted to have in Montana."

Montana also prohibits lighted sights, illuminated nocks and other high-tech devices such as bow-mounted rangefinders.

"The more technology and the more sophisticated you become with your equipment, the more successful you are going to be," said Aasheim, who noted that a significant increase in hunter success rates could force wildlife officials to reduce hunting opportunities through shorter seasons and fewer tags.

Absent regulations such as Montana's, it ultimately falls upon each hunter to decide if, when and how to make use of the latest high-tech equipment.

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