It is a question I should have asked myself several years ago writes Peter Burke. There are good heavy rain squalls falling and I don’t feel like getting wet through, so I have taken the easy option sitting under cover watching warm summer rain and mountain mist come and go. I lounge in the camp chair with my feet up watching the glory of the mountains and I ponder the question. Am I a deer shooter, or a deer hunter?
At this stage it would be appropriate to draw a clear distinction between recreational hunting and deer shooting. It can be confusing because it revolves around a definition of what one considers is hunting and what one considers is shooting, as sure as we are individuals we will have a different view. Shooting is simpler to define than hunting, if someone shoots deer they are a deer shooter. This includes the professional shooter involved in control work or commercial harvesting where the application of technical and electronic aids are acceptable and in common use. A deer shooter is not restrained by self-imposed limitations of technological (hi-tech) application. Spotlights, thermal imaging, drones and night vision are applied but do they have a part in recreational hunting or fair chase? I don’t intend to answer that, you can. However, this is very clear: ‘The use of technological aids can improve the efficiency or harvest rate for shooters.’
We as individuals and hunters have different values and conduct our hunting according to our own personal values and dare I say ethics. What is good for one is not good for another. What is acceptable practice for one is not acceptable for another. How we hunt all comes down to a matter of choice. Because you and I make different choices, it does not necessarily mean one is right and the other is wrong. For the hunter it is beneficial to decide if they want to be a deer shooter using technology to their advantage or a deer hunter who avoids or limits technology while hunting because the choice will drive the direction their hunting takes. The skills development and application will be fundamentally different.
You may not agree with me, and that’s OK, but I think: ‘The highest level of hunting skill we can achieve is individual skill applied with minimal application of technology while hunting.’ It is a total reliance on ones developed personal skill. In its simplest form, nothing with a battery is used while hunting (apart from a camera)!
For some, the value of their hunting is expressed in the number of deer taken or the trophy value of the animal, 20 deer in a season or a 220 Douglas Point sambar stag taken at 670 metres. Alternatively, the value of the hunt is in the hunting experience as opposed to the value being expressed by the number of deer shot over a season or the number of points a trophy scores. They are however all a form of hunting and I am not prepared to say which, if any, is more acceptable than the other or what should be held in higher esteem. (That’s far too complex to muse over while watching the summer rains come and go.) How we hunt is a matter of choice for the individual.
If we apply the simple rule: ‘Nothing with a battery while hunting’, it is easy to see why the skills set are so different. One level is technology driven and the other is instinct and personal skills driven. This is where making a choice allows us to concentrate on developing the fundamental skills specific to the direction we choose to take. One example is reading the weather. We can continually use our smartphone for weather updates or we can develop our ability to read the coming wind change and see the building rain or snow clouds. The phone and computer are useful tools and I have developed a tendency to use them far too often instead of looking to the sky or feeling the subtle shift in temperature.
Sitting here watching the summer mountain haze drift up the gullies and suddenly change direction to herald the drop in air temperature and the coming rain has reminded me. Today I have made a decision, weekly forecast only and relearn what I have forgotten, read the weather. It is my choice. If the skill hasn’t been developed the choice to connect via technology is both tempting and useful and at times necessary. There is of course a balance especially while developing the fundamental skills but relying on the technology will stifle the learning process.
Another possible significant natural indicator of changing summer weather is ants. A bushman pointed out the cluster of grass seeds at the entrance to an ants’ nest. His explanation, ‘In fine weather the ants bring out the seeds to dry. When rain is impending, they put them away.’ So I have spent a bit of time observing the movement of ants and have drawn a conclusion from my casual observations. What is it? I suggest you also invest some time and draw your own conclusions from what you see. It is sufficient to say that ants do not require digital information and batteries.
Maps come in several basic forms, paper and digital as well as mental. The topographic paper and digital maps were a game changer regarding mountain navigation but nothing has replaced the mental map carried around in a hunter’s head. How else do hunters and other bushmen traverse trackless mountain country without a paper or digital map in both daylight and dark? This is a hard-earned skill that can and has slipped away with the flick of a switch to bring to life the digital screen in my hand.
The compass is very similar. Magnetic needle, electronic digital GPS based or the compass in our head. Many hunters have developed the uncanny capacity to unconsciously sense direction. This is a developed skill acquired over time; the skill to use a GPS unit requires less time to learn and is for many a more appropriate form of navigation. But if we rely on or continually refer to our GPS we will never develop our true sense of direction nor achieve our potential. When navigation skills in our brain are developed, flat batteries are a minor inconvenience and not a life-threatening event. On the other hand, a GPS can be life saving. (Hint: in order to develop directional instinct and skills only turn on the GPS when absolutely necessary.)
Reading the vegetation and topography of the mountains can be as simple as turning on Google Earth (someone else’s work) or it can be a based on personal experience and the ability to read vegetation and topography/geology. The topography and geology are closely aligned and the associated vegetation varies with both the topography and the geology. North is not just north and south is not just south. Where I hunt, a ridge that runs west will have different vegetation on the north face as opposed to the south face. So, the hunter who understands this will know that when they head down the dry barren face into the gully the climb out the other side will change and be through a different style of forest. Yet digital systems can show us much the same but never in as much detail. Systems available to the hunter (at this stage) do not have the ability to think and predict where the micro climates used by the deer are located relative to the topography and geology.
The experienced hunter will know that they can read the topography from the tops of the trees. The tree tops below will show if the hill side will drop away gently or be steep. Hidden cliff faces and clearings will be betrayed by the tree line. In turn the tree tops may indicate a gully head or a bench. From a distance, the bright yellow flowers of a mature wattle tree have a different story to tell the hunter as opposed to the flowers of young wattles that have sprung up after a fire or land clearing. One will have a litter of damp wattle leaves on the ground making for quiet footsteps in contrast to the thicket of tangled growth rattling at the slightest movement of man or beast. When we turn off the batteries and open our eyes to read the forest, it has so much to tell us.
Watching the summer rains and while writing this I have made a choice, I want to get my hunting skills back to the highest level I can. The choice, nothing with a battery allows me to reclaim and further develop my personal hunting skills that have been lost to technology. Beware of the battery-operated hunting/shooting aid: it has the capacity to dumb down hunting skills. The paradox: Embrace the battery-operated device like a Personal Locator Beacon and UHF radios, they have the capacity to save your life.
If we apply fair chase principles in a one on one situation; trophy class sambar deer are probably, if not the most challenging game species in Australia. For the recreational hunter they offer the greatest reward and if that is best expressed in numbers for you, that’s your choice. If the value is in the experience … well, lose the batteries, it will be a far greater and rewarding experience based on self reliance, bushmanship and hunting ability.
The one fear I have is that the true skills of the hunter are in danger of disappearing and being replaced by technology. Who will be able to truly call themself a hunter when they bend over to digitally scan the sign at their feet and read the results from their device?
- Species: Sambar.
- Large mature stag. Possible trophy.
- Tracks very fresh.
- Recommend. Launch drone using Scan Mode 4 with thermal and sound detection proximity alert switched on
Fiction? No! Drones are freely available, thermal tracking devices and daytime thermal image detection devices with vegetation penetration capabilities to detect hidden deer are also available. Sound amplifying systems are also available. These few examples are just an indication of the high-tech systems that can be utilised by hunters.
Human reliance on electrical technology has become so essential that when it shuts down, so too does our society. As a self-reliant species, our own technology has destroyed our independence to function and it could lead to the demise of the true hunter.
I glance at the recent tracks on the ground as the gentle breeze licks my face. The crack of a twig and the rustle of vegetation have put my body, mind and soul on high alert. First the waving dogwood catches and draws my undivided attention, then, it is an ear followed by a portion of antler that holds my eyes transfixed. He comes into plain view and the decision is a matter of urgency for a few more steps and the opportunity for a shot will be lost.
He bolts at the sound of the shot and crashes like an unstoppable machine through the thicket. He has gone! I am left with nothing other than that feeling and that word … I am certain of the shot and that he is dead, but where? I have no blood tracking device or thermal imaging device to search for his lifeless form on the forest floor. But I have something that cannot be bought. I have 48 years of hunting experience to switch on. The skills of a hunter find him dead some 50 metres away and elation and relief descend to comfort my anxiety. It is time to sit with him, admire and reflect.
The time spent with the stag is as much his as it is mine and he has much to tell me. It is late November and his hide is covered in dried mud from wallowing. His antlers have fresh bark shavings from his recent rubbing activity. The fresh sign he left from rubbing was partly his downfall for it betrayed his presence and led to another two hours of searching to find him. His antlers are not great but a nice head never-the-less. One brow tine is broken clean off and he has a torn ear along with numerous scares that mark his cape, this then is part of his story of battles won and lost. But his story is bigger than that, every dead deer is a book on anatomy, colour, form and size, we just have to look and take the time to read what lays out our feet. As I said, he has much to tell me. For me, his broken antler does not distract from the true value for the reward is to be found in the hunt from start to finish and his antlers will be a trigger for my memory in years to come.
To recover the prize of his venison and antlers required a torch light carry out. I must confess, batteries do have their uses. It is after-all a matter of choice and it is never black and white. Is it the true skill of the hunter or my ego that drives my hunting and thinking when I choose no batteries for the day? We all have a choice to be a deer hunter or a deer shooter but is there a difference and is technology the dividing line?