High-Tech Hunting: Definition of “fair chase” at issue

By Dave Buchanan

Smart rifles that never miss? Night-vision cameras to help find and track game? Cell phone apps that turn your riflescope into a heat-sensing targeting system?

The list of high-tech hunting gear grows every year.

And so, it seems, do the advantages enjoyed by a well-wired and tech-savvy population that each year seems less in contact with the true nature of hunting.

For everyone who wants a shortcut to backcountry smarts and hunting sense there is someone willing to lead the way.

Where does it all end?

The Boone & Crockett Club defines fair chase as “the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit” of big game “in a manner that does not give the hunting an improper advantage…”

Conservationist, author and long-bow hunter David Petersen of Durango probably would observe that anything more high-tech that a wooden bow goes beyond the demands of true fair chase.

Petersen once wrote that a “minimal level of sportsman ethics afield is mandated by written law. Beyond that, say, when an action is legal but ethically questionable, or when (as Aldo Leopold long ago pointed out) no one is watching, hunter ethics is an individual responsibility.”

Some of the personal responsibility has become less so by regulation, as when in 2014 Colorado became the first state to prohibit the use of drones in scouting, hunting or taking game animals.

It’s not that there had been any problems, but people were talking and videos were showing possibilities drones might offer and this state’s wildlife commission, with a great deal of public support, opted to get out ahead of any problems.

Other states quickly followed and Boone & Crockett agreed, saying no trophy taken with the help of drones would count in the record books.

This is not a condemnation of the ongoing revolution in hunting gear. The concern, just as it might have been when scopes first came into general use, is whether these advances are being used in an unfair manner.

The world’s best-known keeper of big-game records has not had the problem of removing technology enhanced entries, but as Keith Balfourd, director of marketing for Boone & Crokett said in an interview with Game&Fish magazine online, “Fair chase exists with or without records books, and it should be a consideration for every hunter whenever and wherever they hunt.”

Balfourd, who was discussing the use of drones for hunting but might as well have been addressing the numerous high-tech advances in today’s hunting, went on to say that fair chase also means being able to constrain our desire to step over the line of what is considered fair chase.

“Knowing what improper advantage means comes from experience, but if there is any doubt, the advantage should go to the animal. That is fair chase,” says Balfourd in the Game&Fish article.

You can read the interview here: