Finding the Balance - Hunting Technologies

I had chased the bull for several miles, sporadically calling to keep tabs on him as he led me down canyons and across creeks.  Finally, about mid-afternoon, he seemingly had enough of the lovesick cow that had followed him all day and he came to investigate.  He stopped broadside, 35 yards away.  Because rangefinders were unheard of at this point in time, I overestimated the distance.  Watching my arrow sail over the back of the big six-point is as vivid in my mind today as the day it occurred 20 years ago.  If that same experience were to happen today, my rangefinder would have provided me with an exact yardage to the bull. Advanced hunting techologies also make me pause to consider -  is the edge a rangefinder provides me ethical, and is it fair to the animals I pursue?  - Jake Powell, Southwest Region Wildlife Biologist


Technological advances create unique challenges for wildlife management. Technology such as global positioning units (GPS) and advanced communication devices are common field tools used to obtain and store data, and maintain personal safety. On the other hand, using the aid of technology while hunting often results in questions of what constitutes “fair chase.”

Some examples of technological advances and the impacts include:

  • Trail cameras are being put up on water holes and feeding areas making it more effective for hunters to scout an area before and during a hunt as opposed to physically scouting an area themselves. The impacts and use of trail cameras for hunting is concerning enough that their use is outlawed in some states during hunting seasons.
  • Range finders and high-tech scopes help hunters judge distance, which, in part, led to the growing popularity of long-range shooting of big game animals. Whereas these tools have enabled practiced shooters to take long-range shots with higher accuracy, they have also encouraged less practiced shooters to take long-range shots that may be unethical. This technology increases success rates, which can lead to reduced hunting opportunity, e.g. shorter seasons and controlled hunts.
  • Two-way radio communication has made hunting in pairs or groups much easier. A spotter can now put a stalker in the path of the big game animal they are pursuing. This form of communication for hunting is now prohibited in some states.
  • Technology has made bows and muzzleloaders shoot faster, farther, and with greater accuracy. Historically, archery and muzzleloader seasons, due to their reduced hunter success rates, were longer and during times of the year when game is more vulnerable, e.g. during the rut, than rifle seasons.  However, increasing success rates in archery and muzzleloader hunts to nearly equal the rifle harvest success rates in some hunts, raises the question, “What constitutes a ‘primitive’ weapon?”

Ultimately, decisions on what and how technology should be used in hunting as “fair chase” is a social issue. Because technology can lead to an increase in harvest success rates, periodically the Idaho Fish and Game Commission needs to redefine what is an appropriate hunting tool. Managing harvest by adjusting the technology used to hunt will be important to help manage harvest in order to maintain populations within objectives as well as retain hunting opportunity.  If society demands to use additional technological advances for hunting, it will likely come at the cost of shorter hunting seasons, season dates during unfavorable times of the year, and limited or controlled hunts.