By Josh Boyd
If there was any question as to just how far hunting technology has progressed in the last several decades, look no further than the story of the trail camera as a benchmark. There are few, if any, products within the hunting industry that have advanced as exponentially as the trail camera.
The trail camera was born from humble beginnings, derived from primitive TrailTimer units of the 1980s, which used a trip cord to trigger a timer that recorded the time of game movement along a given trail. Later, trip cords were replaced by infrared triggers, and these units began to incorporate the use of a camera into their design, which snapped the photo of that which passed by.
For the better part of two decades that followed, eager hunters were required to take the film from their cameras to be developed, leading to excess expenditure of time and money. Finally, the development of SD card compatible cameras made the use of film obsolete, and hunters were afforded the ability to download their photos instantaneously. It seemed as if the trail camera industry had reached its pinnacle.
However, in the past several years, trail camera technology has once again evolved past the point of what was once perceived as possible. The advent of new cellular trail cameras has now made it possible for hunters to receive images on their mobile devices in real-time. For many, this has changed the way we scout, and even hunt. However, the question lingers, how efficient is too efficient, and at what point does the line of “fair chase” become blurred.
Hunting In The Technological Age
Cellular trail camera technology is new enough that most hunters still remember planning SD card swapping excursions, in the days leading up to a weekend in the stand. The question always lingered as to whether or not you would spook deer or impart unnecessary pressure when making these brief intrusions.
Today, this is a quandary of the past. Checking your trail camera photos is as simple as scanning the notifications on your phone, and sitting down in the evening to swipe through the day’s photos. Camera related intrusions are now only necessitated by a need to replace aging batteries, and even this can be circumvented by the use of an integral solar panel.
In theory, a hunter can benefit from up to the second scouting intel, without ever setting foot on the farm that they intend to hunt, until the moment that they strike out for their stand. As of the current day, this is scouting in its most efficient form.
However, questions have arisen as to whether or not this level of technological sophistication is pushing the bounds of what can be considered fair-chase hunting. Has much of the challenge associated with hunting been eliminated when one can theoretically know the whereabouts of a particular buck during the bulk of the day, if enough cameras are blanketed across an area?
It Is All About Context
Technology is a funny thing. When used as intended, advanced technology of any type can lead to enhanced efficiency and productivity. However, misuse tends to pose issues for all involved. The use of cellular trail cameras can be seen in much the same light.
For many who work long hours in a bid to provide for their family, it is not always feasible to make a mid-week run to a property in an attempt to check trail cameras. The use of cellular trail cameras can be seen as a way to provide hunters with a way to stay on top of scouting, despite making family, household, and work-related responsibilities a priority.
Cellular trail cameras can also be used in locations where it might be impractical to venture during season, such as within close proximity to bedding areas. In these cases, their use allows hunters to gain a greater understanding of how deer within the area utilize a given piece of property.
On the contrary, some will inevitably use the information gathered from the instantaneous transfer of photos to immediately pursue game on a nearby property. This is where the perception of being “too efficient” comes into play.
If a hunter were to be resting at home, and receive notification that a deer was foraging in a food plot directly adjacent to their house, and choose to immediately pursue the same given animal, such tactics could be seen as questionable. Situations of this nature appear to be where the bulk of concern lies.
It would be foolish to assume that this scenario will not play out from time to time. However, it is safe to say that this is not likely to be as prevalent as many would assume. In any event, it is unlikely that such occurrences would become common enough to sway harvest counts, or negatively impact deer numbers.
P&Y/ B&C Official Stance
In recent months, two of North America’s most significant big game record committees have issued their official stances toward the use of cellular trail cameras. While these stances center around the validity of trophy entries into each of the organization’s record books, both committees have historically attempted to uphold the prominence of fair chase practices.
“The Pope and Young Records Committee, with assistance from the Boone and Crockett Records Committee, jointly created a policy that should provide hunters with a greater understanding of how this technology can be used in a manner that still provides Fair-Chase,” said Roy Grace, Records Chair for the Pope and Young Club.
Under this policy, Pope and Young states that receiving a wireless image (photo, video, GPS coordinate, etc.), which elicits an immediate (real-time) response, guiding the hunter to the animal would be considered a violation of the Rules of Fair-Chase.
Under Pope and Young standards, Fair Chase is defined as, “The ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit of free-ranging wild game animals, that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the animal.”
In essence, each organization assumes the use of cellular trail cameras to be fair chase in nature, as long as this technology is not misused in a way that leads a hunter directly to a game animal, for the intent of immediate harvest.
A Matter of Opinion
At the end of the day, hunters have always carried differences in opinion toward what is considered an unfair advantage. Many primitive archers initially felt that compound bows were not a true form of archery, in much the same way that a number of compound archers now feel about the use of crossbows. Likewise, some hunters prefer to hunt over bait, where legal, while others steer clear of the practice.
In the same way, the case for, or against, cellular trail camera use is far from an absolute. On the contrary, the validity of such a practice often comes down to a matter of opinion. Above all else, it is important for a hunter to choose a means of pursuit that he or she feels is ethical in nature, and abides by all applicable game laws.