The Back Porch


Bowhunting’s “Infinity of Contraptions”

This story is featured in Montana Outdoors September-October 2015 issue

BowhunterArchery season has arrived, and with it all the outdoor catalogs and sporting goods stores full of the latest gadgets, gizmos, and geegaws.


How much is enough? How much is too much? If you’re looking for help in deciding what is legal, check the FWP hunting regulations. But if you’re looking for help with the ethics of it all, you’ll need to talk to a higher power (or your own conscience).

Montana game laws state the legal length and weight of an arrow, and describe in detail what constitutes a broadhead.

But no law says to the archer, Thou shalt not shoot at an elk or deer walking 75 yards away. Only the knowledge that such a shot will likely result in a mortally wounded animal that may not be found prevents most bowhunters from releasing that arrow.

The problem as seen from this corner is that the latest bowhunting technology might lead an archer to believe that 75-yard shots are the rule and will result in easy meat in the freezer. But 75-yards shots are not the rule and rarely result in easy or even any meat in the freezer. They are shots that should not be taken.

We now have unfathomable technological advantages when it comes to bowhunting: GPS units, range finders, trail cameras, and bowsights that glow in dim light. Not to mention the new no-scent, lightweight, waterproof, windproof clothing that’s now available.

Let’s be clear. Advances in gear, archery equipment, and clothing are wonderful. They are also not the culprit. The problem is not technology but what it does to us. It can lead us to believe that, in our hurried lives, modern conveniences can replace practice and proficiency.

Just a few arrows into the hay bale in the backyard and we’re good to go. No.

Perhaps an invisible line is crossed when we no longer use mechanical aids but are used by them. More than 65 years ago, Aldo Leopold, founder of the science of wildlife management, decried the gadgeteer: “He has draped the American outdoorsman with an infinity of contraptions, all offered as aids to self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, or marksmanship, but too often functioning as substitutes for them.”

Do you have so many gadgets that your next yard sale might compete with the local sporting goods store?

I’m no judge, as I have far more factory-made trinkets than necessary. Yet there has to be a limit, as Leopold stated, “beyond which money-bought aids to sport destroy the cultural value of sport.”

Perhaps the answer to right and wrong lies in our morning mirror. After all, hunting is the one activity that has no judge, jury, referee, or umpire. Once again, Leopold said it best: “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching—even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”

The bowhunter who takes the 75-yard shot, wounds the elk or deer, then makes little attempt to find it, does so without a witness. That archer can walk away, legally, and do it all over again the next day.
Legally he is a hunter. Ethically, not so much.

Hunting is tough and should be. Somewhere lies the invisible line between too much stuff and not enough ethics.Bear bullet

Bruce Auchly manages the regional Information and Education Program in Great Falls.