by Paul Lindholdt
On a logging road in Pennsylvania many years ago I met an old boy who claimed he had jumped from a rolling truck, chased down a deer, and expertly knifed it dead. A steep slope slowed the deer and leveled the killing field. Back then I believed technology and hunting have little in common. Even today, conventional wisdom about hunting says it pits human wits against beastly wile to concoct a contest either one can win.
Browsing through a catalog of Nebraska-based Cabela's, the "World's Foremost Outfitter" of hunting and fishing gear, you can see how far the stakes of the contest have changed. High-tech gadgetry promises to transform shooting sports beyond recognition. As hundreds of businesses line up to seize market share, fair chase is becoming a fable.
The Cabela's catalog incites its trusting buyers to keep up technologically. "If you're like most hunters, your pockets are already bulging with shotshells, pocket knives, calls, and about a hundred other accouterments you can't possibly live without. That's where the FS-50A Free Spirit Field Dog Trainer comes in handy." The Free Spirit zaps the dog ("provides seven different levels of stimulation") into submission. If the hunting dog ever roams too far, barks too loud, or threatens to fight - zzzap! Like a spirited child, the unruly hound needs correction. Technology affords the means.
Unless the hound exceeds its range, that is, like the bitch I found on Lolo Pass in Montana during the 1993 spring bear season. Panting, spent, the antenna on its collar bent, the dog wore a tracking device that allowed her master to trace it with a hand-held antenna. Collar as devices of control and domination tie hunting to slavery. Errant slaves had to wear muzzles, tongue suppressors, and other devices redolent of medieval torment. "A state of bondage, so far from doing violence to the law of nature, develops and perfects it," wrote Georgia lawyer and Confederate Colonel R.R. Cobb in 1858.
Some enterprising criminologist, some penal professional somewhere now, is wondering if shock collars might be just the thing for managing drunks, sexual offenders, or methamphetamine cooks on the loose. But what an outcry would arise if one proposed granting dogs the same rights as our fellow humans who commit the baser crimes.
Military-style laser sights are revolutionizing shooting sports. The military excels in developing technologies that corporations co-opt to invent civilian needs. The huge U.S. defense budget helps corporations profit, and hunters hunt, with the greatest of ease. Binoculars, monoculars, spotting scopes, and riflescopes now are available with the Night Vision feature, formerly available only for military use. Poachers of animals, it stands to reason, need all the after-hours ocular assistance they can get. The Yardage Pro Laser Rangefinder "can make you a better hunter, no matter what kind of hunting you do."
Walker's Game Ear II, only $199.99, helps the clever hunter "detect and amplify sounds that would otherwise go unnoticed." Every snap of a twig, chirp of a bird, every curse, cough, and gunshot augmented. If I were a hunter I'd worry the "safety shut-off device" on my Game Ear might fail, deafening me with the amplified blast of my gun.
Even hunters with enhanced eyes, ears, and firepower can gain from robotic duck decoys. Motorized wings on remote-controlled decoys are proving so effectual that some state officials hope to ban them. A & M Waterfowl commands nearly $200 for each unit. The wings on robotic ducks spin at 500 RPMs, guaranteeing to deceive the sharpest eyes.
Wildlife feeders available from Cabela's mail-order include a "high-torque motor, electronic microprocessor, memory back-up," and a "quartz clock that ensures accurate, dependable feeding times." See how easily you can habituate your favorite prey to free lunch. And when feeding after dusk, the Game Call Spotlight might be just the ticket.
If jacklighting disappoints you, an Electronic Game Caller features "20 Hrs. of Continuous Calling." Picture a stakeout, I mean a stand - your microprocessor spewing food, your speaker playing come-hither plaints, your laser-sighted rifle seeking heat. And of course there are Global Positioning Systems, used by cops and hunters alike, to find the way back to that salt lick discovered before the season began, or back to that flocking duck pond in a secret spot. Just call up those stored coordinates and go.
Enough. You might be growing cross with my topic and tone. You might suppose me an animal-rights radical sneering at the tradition of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, Teddy Roosevelt and Ted Nugent. Even Aldo Leopold, a father of ecology, he who saw the "fierce green fire" die in the eyes of the wolf he'd shot, kept on slinging lead.
Never would I claim all or even most hunters wallow in technocratic gadgetry like the Cabela's catalog offers up for sale. Some throwback sports today use bows or black-powder guns. But all gunheads enjoy a technological supremacy their fathers never knew.
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