February 2009
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

Last month, I went "on a tear" about turning 50 this year and then went on to mention when life seemed simpler than it is now. I asked the question, "When did hunting become ‘hi-tech’?" Let me expand on that and ask the question, "When did hunting and fishing get not only hi-tech, but when did it get so darn expensive?"

I have started receiving all of the outdoor catalogues for the spring season and now I have made the mistake of letting my wife know I officially don’t need anything I can think of, all I can do is look.

I don’t need a fishing rod, but I was looking just the same and I couldn’t believe my eyes!

I grew up in an era where hi-tech was actually going to a bait shop and purchasing a cane pole. If you had a cane pole with a manufacturer’s sticker and varnish, you were "uptown." Sometimes we actually bought a red and white bobber that clipped to the line instead of a cork. I never bought a hook until the last few years. Usually when you needed a brim hook, we just rummaged around in Dad’s tackle box until we found one down in the bottom. You scrape the rust off, stick a piece of wire through the eye so you can get it tied onto the line and you were ready to go.

Now things are different. I actually turned a page in that catalogue and when I saw a rod and reel combo for close to $400 I think I actually heard the thump from Baldwin County as my dad turned over in his grave.

Look through your latest catalogues and check out not only the prices, but also what’s available now.

I saw a reel that is electronic and has a blinker and a beeper to let you know when you’ve got a bite!

I saw a spinning reel with a computerized brake on it to prevent backlash. Now what fun is that? The few times I have used one of these reels (I am a dedicated closed-faced reel guy), half of the challenge was untangling a thousand yards of fishing line while everyone else is catching fish and not killing someone.

I saw reels of various types that were in the $400-$500 range and rods that were in the $300 range and these were fresh water rods and reels.

I saw ultra-lite reels that will fit in the palm of your hand.

I saw one reel with "supermicro-pitch adjustment." Now I am nearly 50 years old, have a college degree and have been fishing for as long as I can remember, and I can’t even imagine what they are talking about and why I would need it, what I would do with it and how have I managed to get along all these years without it?

They won’t even leave camping alone. The last time I checked, people went camping to enjoy the outdoors, sit by a fire and roast marshmallows and hot dogs on a stick, and basically breath fresh air, sleep on the ground and get dirty and bug bitten. It was fun.

When I was a Boy Scout, it was a matter of pride to be able to start a fire without matches, cook on a campfire without burning everything to a crisp, sleep under the stars without a tent, bake a cake in a Dutch oven and come home with dirt so thick on your body your mamma would gasp and make you soak in the tub for an hour.

Now, you have camp ovens where you can prepare a gourmet meal, you can sleep in a tent that can withstand a hurricane and has several rooms, you can take either a solar shower or a propane-heated hot water shower, and, back in my day, a "pitch it yourself potty" had a totally different meaning than it does now.

Now we have game cameras that will shoot film or digital images and even send it to either your cell phone or e-mail; what ever happened to looking for tracks?

Now you have hi-tech hiking shoes with custom-fitted insoles; used to be we knew how to doctor blisters so they wouldn’t get infected and kill us (like "The Rooosevelt Boy," which I never understood but my mom used to tell us anyway).

We have electronic turkey calls the mere mention of which will infuriate most turkey hunters I know, so I’ll stop there.

We now have GPS to keep us from getting lost, whatever happened to being able to find the North Star at night and pointing the wagon tongue in that direction so the next day you know which way is north? Used to we knew that most rivers in the eastern U.S. flow south and, if you followed a river, you would eventually come to a town. We knew that in most cemeteries the tombstones face east and the last time I checked, the sun still sets in the west.

Where will it all end? Radar-guided, heat-seeking bullets and arrows? Hunting knives engineered not to cut you?

Did you know that you can subscribe to a website that allows you to watch a white-tailed buck’s travels via a camera strapped to his head? In real time?

Thankfully someone ended the remote-controlled hunting lodge. You remember, this was the place where they were trying to get to the point where you could log on to this website, punch in your credit card and you would pay for the type of animal you wanted to harvest, remotely control a rifle, shoot the beast and then they would recover the animal for you, bill your credit card for any trophy fees, have it stuffed and ship it to you!

I am for the life of me trying to figure out how our Native American brothers and the mountain men of the old days survived in a world without scent control, game cams, compound bows, GPS units, cell phones, text messaging, hunting buggies, four-wheelers, flat shooting rifles and all the other gadgets and gear we now have available.

I remember watching a hunting show where a guy had gone out West to harvest a bison on one of the reservations in Montana. They were heading to their hunting area when their Native American guide made them stop and get out. The video showed him standing on the Montana plains just watching the sky. Finally, the host of the show asked him what he was doing. He said that he was watching an eagle and waiting for him to tell him where the buffalo were. After nearly an hour more of watching this eagle, the bird stopped circling and flew in a certain direction. The guide hustled to get the hunters loaded up and headed in the direction the bird had headed. Wouldn’t you know it- that’s where they found the bison. I’m still trying to figure out how he did it without all of the hi-tech equipment. (I don’t think an eagle is considered hi-tech but I’ll check.)

I hate to get so wound up about this subject, but it bugs me. I’m teaching my daughter just to enjoy being out there, no matter what. To me a successful hunt is walking through the woods with my daughter, having her lean up against me in a shooting house or holding my hand going back to the truck like she did when she was five or six. And folks, there ain’t nuthin’ hi-tech about that!

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.