Earlier this year a close friend who is a fourth grade teacher asked my opinion on an issue they were debating at their school. They were discussing the need to continue teaching map reading skills in this day and age of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other navigation systems.
It took me about five seconds to respond: “Absolutely, people need to have a mental image of where they are on the face of the earth and what the landscape around them consists of.”
Electronic navigation systems are amazing tools, but they have a tendency to focus the user on listening to instructions instead of looking around and understanding the landscape. Learning to use a map to identify rivers, hills, cities, road systems and routes of travel is valuable, and it requires us to use our minds to develop a mental image of where we are and where we want to go.
This discussion got me thinking about how technology has influenced hunting over the past decade. While improvements in firearms, archery equipment, clothing and other hunting-related items have always occurred over time, it seems as if the race to develop new and better products has intensified in recent years.
We see it at the Game and Fish Department on a regular basis. Someone stops by or calls and asks if a new piece of equipment is legal for hunting or fishing. And then our internal debate begins, just like at the elementary school.
All technological advances are not necessarily a negative, and in many cases they are a distinct positive. Take cell phones for example. The first cell phone call I made from the field was in 1996 while sitting on a hilltop in the Killdeer Mountains. I called home to let my wife know that we were successful in our pronghorn doe hunt, and we were going to stay an extra day to chase some sharptails.
At the time it was a novel experience, but of course today such calls are routine to the point where if you don’t call in with a location and an expected time of arrival, someone will start to worry.
Cell phones serve many purposes, including safety in times of emergency, tracking weather changes, and communicating with family back home or with other members of your hunting party. Following a recent law change, hunters and anglers can now store an electronic image of their license on their phone, in lieu of having to produce a paper license if checked by a game warden.
While I believe people still need to have an innate sense of direction and understanding of where they are, the advent of GPS is, overall, positive for a number of reasons. Knowing where you are, and if you can hunt in that particular spot, is important, and the combination of reading a map such as our Private Land Open To Sportsmen guide, combined with a GPS system, can certainly assist a hunter and clarify their location.
The list of technological items is long and growing every day. The following are just a few examples: electronic predator calls, spinning-wing decoys, neoprene waders versus the old rubber and canvas; rifle scopes, range-finders, and spotting scopes; compound bows and all the improvements that have occurred in recent years; trail cameras; inline muzzleloading rifles; improved walkie-talkies; moisture wicking fabrics for warmth and dryness; and the seemingly endless changes in bullets, powders, primers, shot pellets and cases used for loading and reloading all sorts of ammunition.
In most instances these improvements to gear, clothing and equipment are positive and provide hunters with increased comfort, and more often than not a perceived increased opportunity for success. And therein may be the biggest problem.
The manufacturers, retailers, television shows, print ads and marketing schemes in general are directed at convincing hunters that their chances of success will be improved if they buy and use certain products.
While that may be true in some cases, long-term improvements still depend on whether there is enough habitat to support wildlife out there on the ground. Without habitat of the proper quality and in the right quantity, you will not have enough wildlife to meet people’s expectations. While improvements in technology by themselves may increase hunter expectations, ironically that couldn’t come at a more tenuous time.
When you find your way into the field this fall, whether you use your GPS or simply the latest printed version of the PLOTS guide, you will see changes to North Dakota’s landscape in many areas. As our Department has noted repeatedly over the past several years, habitat losses we are experiencing will reduce wildlife populations and hunter success.
Unfortunately, this trend that started in about 2007 is not only continuing, it has accelerated in the past year. The loss of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, native prairie, wetlands and shelterbelts is ongoing at an alarming rate. Many of the following updates mention this loss of habitat as it relates to future population prospects for the species we hunt in North Dakota.
That said, North Dakota has plenty of opportunities for successful hunts this fall. Some of that technology can help make the season better, but technology does not create habitat. Only people can decide on and implement actions that protect, restore or enhance wildlife habitat.
By RANDY KREIL the Game and Fish Department wildlife division chief.