I guess I’m still romanticized by the old drawings on the cover of Outdoor Life and Sports Afield magazines. The lone hunter sitting by the fire in a blizzard with predators stalking around him and his trusty lever-action rifle beside him was what I thought real hunting was when I was a kid. We don’t have many blizzards or grizzly bears in South Carolina, so I had to do with hunting ducks in ice storms to satiate my hunting ideals.
A lot of things have changed over the half century that I have called myself a hunter, one being the vast amount of advanced technology that has now found itself in hunting. There is so much out there that a reasonable-length column should just cover the basic categories and leave the specifics up to the purchaser.
The most important hunting item there is in my opinion is the riflescope. From the scope’s infancy in the 1800s until the digital age, it was simply a matter of improving the lens coatings and making the objectives bigger to improve light transmission. Now with miniature technology, some riflescopes also function as a compass, range finder, angle compensator and distance-measuring device. Some even have digital computers that can compute wind speed, bullet drop and distance to come up with a solution for incredible long-distance shots.
You’ve seen the TV shows where accountants and dentists are whacking deer at distances approaching a mile. These guys are not highly trained military snipers; they simply feed information into the scope’s computer and hold the crosshairs where the scope says to.
The Eliminator series of scopes is a good example. Other scopes use ambient or artificial light to allow hunting in near-night conditions. Trigicon and Swarovski are examples of these types of scopes and that is not even counting the military-grade night scopes that have become popular for hog hunting.
Another category of technology would have to be the trail camera. The first trail device I ever used was a jury-rigged cheap digital clock with a thread attached. When an animal would cross a trail, it would pull the thread out of the clock and give you the time of day the trail was being used. Wow, have we come a long way!
I prefer to use simple Moultrie cameras like the D-880i’s. They are reliable and, believe me, I have gone through a dozen or so manufacturers. The main problem with trail cameras is that you have to check them weekly to see what the deer are doIng in the area where they are set.
The disturbance created by a human going in and out of a hunting area pretty much negates the advantage gained by the trail camera. The deer are often better at patterning us than we are with them.
Some cameras like the Spypoint W3 allow you to set up a “black box” 500 feet away from the hunting site and check the camera images there. You can go a step further with cameras like Stealth Cam GX45NGW or the SpyPoint Link 4G and check your images on your cell phone from nearly anywhere in the world.
The only downside to these devices is that you have to have a data plan with the manufacturer where you go to retrieve your pictures. Still if you are hunting a crafty old buck, it removes the temptation of checking the camera too often and pushing him out of your hunting area.
A big market has opened up in the world of ATVs. Just a few years ago the only option was the trusty old four-wheeler. Now there is a smorgasbord of ATVs on the market.
Some are battery-powered takeoffs on golf carts. Some are gasoline or diesel-driven speed wagons taken from the original John Deere Gator.
Some like the Bad Boy Hybrid are a combination of battery power when you need silence and with the flip of a switch are fuel driven to add range and charge the batteries. The drawback here is it is so much fun and convenient to drive around your deer stands with powered ATVs that you may forget that sneaking in with the right wind conditions by foot is the most effective way to hunt big whitetails.
The only positive I can see in the big carts is they do hold the human scent down if you simply can stay away from the stand areas. We use a Stealth ATV, which is simply a 4-wheel-drive modified Club Car golf cart. It is quiet and doesn’t gum up with old gas during the offseason. It is economical but does require an expensive change of batteries from time to time.
GPS has changed the game significantly over my hunting career. My friends and I used to go to Luden’s in Charleston and get Corps of Engineers’ topographical maps to plan our hunts in Hell Hole Swamp. All of that info is now available on a pocket GPS and with cell phone apps. They show topography, wind direction and even satellite maps and moon phase (best times to hunt).
Best of all, they keep you on your property and keep you from getting lost by showing landowner property lines and national forests. I lent my compass to a lost companion in the middle of Hell Hole Swamp one day. I was confident I knew the way out. It was cloudy and I was soon turned around with darkness settling in. I spent the night between the roots of an old cypress tree. At dawn, I knew which way to go with the sun coming up in the east (the direction of my car). I wish I had a little pocket Garmin on me that night. Whenever I hunt a new area like out in Montana, I always have it with me now.
The newest thing on the block is the use of thermo technology for night hunting hogs. Basically, the reliable AR-15 platform or the M-4 (shorter version) is used. The 5.6-mm cartridge is necked up to 30 caliber to create a subsonic round that can be fired through a suppressor (silencer). The 30-caliber Blackout doesn’t break the sound barrier speed of 1000 fps, so the result is a round that makes a “pop” noise and doesn’t really alert hogs at a distance.
We have gone well past the use of night scopes now. Thermal scopes pick up the heat signature of warm-bodied animals at night. I’ve been told with these rifles that hogs can be approached within a matter of feet and dispatched.
As we all know, hogs are devastating to crops and wild animals. One sow can be responsible for 54 pigs per year. These riflescope combinations cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000. Those who have the where-with-all to afford them are welcomed by farmers to use their lands to help rid them of these pests.
I had a couple of hunters on my land recently and while they drew a zero on pigs, they told me they saw 160 deer between my property and my neighbor’s. I never would have guessed the deer density was that high, but it is good to know from a management standpoint.
I know because I am near deaf at some frequencies, but many people are applying for and putting suppressors on their rifles and those of their beginning hunters. Suppressors actually increase the speed of the bullet by increasing barrel length, but more importantly they reduce hearing damage by silencing. They also reduce felt recoil and as a result the “flinching” that many young or beginner shooters develop.
Long-range rifles, AR-type hunting guns, high-tech clothing and footwear, satellite phones and high-powered illumination are other areas to be discussed, but suffice it to say that the modern hunter has many shortcuts to that elusive wall hanger these days.
That said, most hunters won't see that dominant buck during shooting hours. The deer control the game. They are smart, and they are good at it because, let’s face it, the mature buck gambles with is life every move he makes.
They depend on woodcraft and not technology. Shouldn’t we do more of the same?
Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.