Northern Wilds Magazine
Points North

Points North: Emptiness Where the Hunting Ought to Be

By Shawn Perich

“Did you ever wonder if you’re the only hunter who doesn’t have trail cameras set up everywhere?” my friend asked me as we got ready for hunting one morning.

It was a rhetorical question to which I didn’t reply. But I thought about it. I don’t own any trail cameras. For that matter, I haven’t ever given serious thought to purchasing one. Where would I put it? For what purpose? Maybe I could set one up in the yard and look for passing critters or trespassers. Mostly it would take pictures of my dogs.

Perhaps I could set up a trail camera somewhere to look for deer prior to hunting season, although I seem to just fine now without one. I don’t know if I would shoot a deer after taking its picture. Somehow, it just wouldn’t seem right to me. But my lack of interest in trail cameras has less to do with ethics than it does with batteries. My life is generally better off without them.

I’m the sort of person who only turns on a cell phone to make a call–for two reasons. The first is that I already spend more than enough time on the telephone. I greatly appreciate the times when I’m disconnected from it. The second reason is I perpetually worry the cell phone will run out of juice.

Mechanically disinclined and Ok with it, I generally regard battery-operated devices as failures waiting to happen. The power usually runs out when you need it the most. Besides, most devices need more pampering than a princess. You have to keep them warm and dry, and cushion them from hard falls or drops. In the woods, I have enough trouble doing all of the above for myself, much less some gadget.

Flashlights are the exception to my battery bugaboo. Usually I have one in my vehicle or in my pocket, because even a flashlight with a fading battery is better than trying to light your way while burning your thumb with a disposable lighter. Sometimes, I carry a pocket camera, though far less often than a man who makes his living from words and pictures really should. However, I’ve learned that forgetting to bring a camera is a sure way to improve your hunting and fishing luck.

Another exception, arguably born of necessity, is the on-board depth-finder in my boat. I paid 300 bucks for it about 10 years ago and it does what I need it to do, albeit with less bells and whistles than some of the newer models costing at least five times more. I don’t own a portable depth-finder to use in my canoe or when ice fishing, although I once did. Then came the day when I found myself out on the ice, shivering and watching a blank screen. I realized my reliance on the depth-finder had reduced ice fishing to a cold equivalent of watching television.

When the fog rolls in while I’m boating on Lake Superior, I wish for a GPS. Then the fog rolls out and I forget about it. I own maps and compasses, know the landmarks of familiar places and seem to find my way around. If I had a GPS, most likely the batteries would go dead in the fog or I’d forget the device at home. Admittedly, a GPS is useful for the navigationally challenged and, in some emergency situations, may provide directions that could save your life. That is, if you don’t forget it at home.

Many battery-operated gadgets now considered “must-haves” by today’s hunters and anglers really aren’t necessary to ensure hunting and fishing success. Does anyone really need a motorized duck decoy or an electronic goose call? How about an electronic wind detector? Can you get by without a stereo sound system in your boat?

Granted some gadgets have a utilitarian purpose, such as two-way radios, laser rangefinders and electric dog collars. Others, electronic wind detectors come to mind, seem frivolous. But the gadgets which trouble me are the ones which allow hunters and anglers to trade battery-operated technology for basic hunting skills. There is no art to attracting ducks with a remote-controlled decoy. Instead, there is just emptiness where the hunting ought to be.

It’s human nature to always seek better and easier ways to accomplish tasks. The rise of civilization is largely attributed to our endless quest to improve the ways we procure food and kill our enemies. But that quest need not be a part of modern hunting and fishing, unless we are out there solely to seek things to kill and eat. With little prompting, most hunters and anglers will tell you gathering food is just a part of why they go afield. What they really seek is a way to reconnect with nature—and their humanity.

It’s easy to forget about reconnecting with nature when you are browsing an outdoor retailer’s website or wondering if you can kill a deer in the few short days you have to go hunting. It’s even easier when you live in a world inundated by technology, where powerful gadgets like smartphones are not only the norm, but most users say they can’t live without them. Many folks are switched on to one device or another nearly all of their waking hours.

We all see them—and you may even be one—the gizmo zombies who stare endlessly at the tiny smartphone screen in their hand—texting, tweeting, surfing the web and who knows what else–oblivious to the world around them. It isn’t hard to imagine one of these zombies sitting in a deer stand, perhaps listening to music through headphones and, as always, staring at a tiny screen. You have to wonder if they would even see a deer if one ambled past or if they can hear the tweets made by real chickadees. I guess they enjoy themselves. Yet I can’t help but think there’s some emptiness where the hunting ought to be.

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