Why Tradition Matters

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Feb 3, 2001
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Cardiff, CA
Tradition Matters in the Woods

by XXX

Modern practitioners
of traditional style hunting are frequently questioned as to why the
equipment choices of some ultra modern hunters concerns us. After all,
are we all not just exercising our individual freedom and right to
choose? At some level this is true. The real problem though is that
the sport of hunting is a highly regulated activity and like it or
not, the equipment choices, ethics, and in-field behavior of all participants
plays a central role in the planning and decision making processes
used by state and federal game officials when enacting new laws or
regulations that affect us all. All too often, the popularity of some
technological advancement that is applied to a weapon or field equipment
forces game management officials to reconsider and adjust the hunting
regulations in ways that are often detrimental to the sport in general
and threatening to "Traditionalists" in particular.
In order to see this trend clearly, it is helpful to look at the history
of hunting in America.

Pure recreational
hunting in America, as opposed to market or sustenance hunting, is
a rather recent evolvement which can probably be traced to the early
20th Century for most American hunters, or at least the end of the
Depression. The rise of modern sport hunting happened to coincide with
the beginnings of modern game resource management and other forms of
conservation as America became more urbanized and natural resources
became more scarce. Regulated sport hunters in the early 20th Century
primarily used modern centerfire weapons because they were available
and had obvious utility. Over time, the mind- set was born that the
only way to hunt was with a modern weapon and that primitive guns or bows
were not adequate weapons for the taking of game. This of course is
laughable on its face, but it was widely taken for granted among hunters,
game managers, and the general public as well. If you doubt me, look
at modern game regulations in Britain. Bowhunting and muzzle- loaders
are outlawed on the widespread false justification that they are not
efficient and humane weapons for the taking large game. I am aware
of UK based primitive bow forum where British archery enthusiasts,
who should know better, sit around and dismiss the killing power of
the English longbow and bowhunting in general when someone brings it
up. It does not seem to occur to them that the Internet if full of
evidence to the contrary from American bowhunters.
When proponents of more primitive
weapons attempted to get them accepted as legal hunting implements,
such as the bowhunting pioneers in the 1930's, they were met with a
wave of opposition from modern weapon hunters and state game agencies
largely based upon this false killing efficiency argument. It was a
long struggle to change these perceptions and get these weapons legalized.
The old generation gun hunters never really dropped their opposition,
but the game agencies were brought around eventually by the facts.
ironically, the gun hunter opposition to archery and later muzzleloaders
was probably the result of a motivation to have the resources to themselves.
By the 1960's,
bowhunting was well established and the idea that the weapon could
not get the job done was dispelled. Old style muzzleloaders came back
into fashion about this time as well and many of the same obstacles
had to be overcome. By the 1970's, most states had separate bow and "primitive" muzzleloading
seasons, that were hunted by relatively modest numbers of participants,
who were dedicated to the "traditional" weapons these seasons
required. During this period, you could not effectively shortcut your
way to proficiency with either a bow or a muzzleloader just to get
more hunting time. The result was that there was plenty of room in
the woods and the hunters you did encounter in bow or muzzleloading
season were generally highly skilled, ethical, and committed to the
future of the sport.
Unfortunately, there is always
an element that is more concerned with results instead of process and
will pay any cost in order to secure these results. The sporting goods
industry is only too happy to accommodate them and the result is an "arms
race" so to speak where unrestrained technological advancement
has made it all too easy to simply pick up a compound bow or inline
and now even the crossbow and take game with them. The motivation of
these new adherents is not love and dedication to the traditional weapon
of the special season, (the specific sport) it is simply a method of
extending their hunting time, (the wider sport). This of course is
a valid and legal motivation, the problem is that it is a threat to
the purity and very existence of the special sports and their seasons
that most of us who call ourselves traditionalists love. The reason
this is a threat is because the "newer and better" advocates
and the industry they support have elevated the sophistication of compound
bows and inline rifles to the point where they are no longer much of
a sporting handicap, as opposed to what people carry in the modern
weapons seasons. Once the ability to distinguish between modern and
primitive is gone and the kill totals rise to the level where they
approach the modern season, it is likely that the need for separate/special
primitive seasons will be called into question. At the very least,
generous primitive seasons are likely to be shortened considerably
to keep the kill totals down.
Things would be bad enough
for Traditionalists if shortened seasons were the only unintended consequence
of technology creep. Sadly, we are also faced with renewed public perception
that our traditional equipment is inadequate and calls for "competency
testing" that is unfairly geared toward those using modern equipment.
Looking at archery again (since the trend is much more mature there),
the gradual acceptance of pulleys, trigger releases, and draw weight
let off allowed crossbow advocates to make the case that the Xgun is "archery
equipment" and the industry lobbied for a new special season or
inclusion in existing archery seasons. To achieve this they effectively
hijacked some bowhunting advocacy organizations by flooding them with
new membership composed of closet crossbow advocates and in so doing
changed the stance of these groups from anti to pro crossbow almost
overnight. The state of Ohio legalized the crossbow in archery season
several years ago and now the number of crossbow "archers" hunting
in bow season is greater than the number of stickbow/compound archers
combined. The deer kill by crossbow reflects those numbers and Ohio
is considering adjustments to the season. It is ironic and dangerous
that technology advocates misuse the very organizations founded to
promote and protect bowhunting as vehicles to undermine it and put
it at risk. These types are already calling on State game agencies
to adopt new shooting proficiency standards that favor the compound
bow over the unsighted traditional recurve or longbow that would make
it more difficult for someone to "qualify" for a hunting
license with traditional equipment. Such a test is already on the books
in Alaska. It is also ironic that most compound bowhunters today consider
men like Fred Bear to be personal hero while at the same time they
believe that the traditional bows he used are not effective weapons
for hunting, which means anti bow bias of the early 20th Century gun
hunter has come full circle and is now the prevalent opinion again.
The danger in this attitude for the future of any traditional weapon
is obvious. People with prominent names and industry connections are
already making similar public attacks on roundballs while advocating "high
performance" muzzleloading.
It is clear that if traditional
hunting, and perhaps hunting itself can only be saved by those who
love it, and all hunters, traditional and modern, should think carefully
about the future of the sport before making any decisions that will
change the direction of our sport and perhaps endanger its' future.
Shorter seasons, smaller bag limits, more crowding and conflict in
and out of the woods, more regulations, and potential season elimination
may seem like reason enough to oppose the "modernist" trend
in what were once "traditional" seasons. The reality is
that the modernist trend, because it stretches to the breaking point
the validity of the terms "sporting" and "sportsman",
is a main reason why hunting is often viewed so negatively by the public
at large, which is something we ignore at our peril.
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