GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Ever since man picked up a rock to kill dinner, hunters have been technology pioneers. These days, they've got more gadgets than ever to choose from.
Heat sensors will spot wounded game in dense brush, remote-controlled cameras can scout game trails. There are motorized duck and deer decoys, electronic duck and coyote calls and even holographic archery sights.
But some of the latest in hunting tech pushes the ethical envelope, and some states are outlawing high-tech innovations that game managers feel give hunters an undue advantage.
A San Antonio entrepreneur recently created an uproar with a Web site, www.live-shot.com, that aims to allow hunters to shoot exotic game animals or feral pigs on his private hunting ranch by remote control, with the click of a mouse, from anywhere in the world.
"The idea of sitting at a computer screen playing a video game and activating a remote controlled firearm to shoot an animal is not hunting," said Kirby Brown, executive director of the Texas Wildlife Association, a hunters' group. "It's off the ethical charts."
The Texas game commission appears to agree, and is moving to outlaw remote-control hunting for native game animals. But it will take an act of the legislature to stop it with exotic game animals on private property, and at least one lawmaker says that is just what he will do.
Live-Shot owner John Lockwood figured his idea was not much of a stretch from the predominant Texas practice of shooting from a tree stand at deer drawn to mechanical feeders and would allow disabled hunters and servicemen overseas to continue to enjoy the sport.
Under his plan, the hunter would aim and fire a .30-06 rifle by remote control from a computer terminal, with a video camera allowing him to sight in on his prey. An attendant in the blind with the rifle could override any unsafe or unethical shots.
"It's just like it was if you paid for a guided hunt on my ranch, or any one of a thousand of them here in Texas," said Lockwood. "Ever since we stopped running after our prey and killing it with our hands we have evolved into distancing ourselves farther and farther from the game and making it more and more efficient, for whatever reason we want to take it."
For some game regulators, it was mechanical duck decoys with spinning wings — one of them goes under the brand name Robo Duk — that crossed the line when they began showing up at blinds. Following Pennsylvania's lead, Washington state outlawed them in 2001.
"The issue for Robo Duk is similar with some of the other technological advances," said Dave Ware, game division manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Because they appear to give hunters an advantage, they presented regulators with a dilemma: should the devices be allowed but the duck season be shortened?
"When we asked hunters what their preference was, outlaw equipment or shorten seasons, they were very definite they would rather we outlaw equipment than shorten seasons because time in the field is so important to them."
Oregon followed suit in 2002, and included a prohibition against mechanical deer decoys. California restricted mechanical decoys to the latter part of duck season.
When Alabama decided last year to begin allowing decoys for turkeys, the state drew the line at motorized decoys.
The issue continues to be hotly debated around the country.
Finlay Williams created Robo Duk in Santa Maria, Calif., after seeing that a kite with shiny metallic spinners would draw in ducks mistaking the flash for the wings of birds landing on water.
He figures the mechanical decoy gives the occasional hunter a chance to have a more satisfying outing. Besides, the ducks that survive one encounter with Robo Duk aren't often fooled again.
To justify the longer seasons for archery hunters, Oregon outlaws such innovations as mechanical broadheads, which have blades that expand on impact, allowing the arrows to fly more accurately without the wind resistance of broadheads.
Another group that enjoys longer hunting seasons around the country are hunters who use muzzleloader rifles. In Oregon, whether they set off their blackpowder charge by flintlock, side-lock percussion, or the modern inline percussion, the ignition systems must be exposed to the wind and rain.
"It's back to the intent of maintaining a primitive weapons hunt," said Tom Thornton, game program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Rather than going more modern, Walt Christensen, past president of the Washington State Muzzleloaders Association, is heading the other way. He plans to hunt next season with a flintlock, joining friends seeking the challenge and romance of the older technology.
"No matter what kind of weapon you use, in hunting you still have to come back to that concept: You don't shoot a game animal that is 4,000 yards away just because some advertisement says that's a reasonable thing to do," said Christensen.
As hunting innovators develop more reliable ways to take game, more ethical questions are sure to arise.
Lockwood, the Web site-hunting entrepreneur, thinks the ultimate innovation is just around the corner and is a technology that won't be very difficult to adopt.
"The next one will be lasers," he said. "How far can you shoot a laser in a straight line? As far as the eye can see, basically."
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