Before game cameras and specialized camouflage, there were sharp sticks and a lot of missed opportunities. Hunting gear and equipment has come a long way from the stone age (literally).
Sticks and Stones
It’s mind-boggling to imagine our forefathers hunting without bolt action rifles and a scope, but there’s evidence that as early as 400,000 B.C., humans were hunting with spears. With sharpened points, then sharp rock tips followed by metal spear heads, the spear served its purpose well… until people invented the traditional bow.
It took us a while (until about 20,000 BC), but we finally figured out you could launch a sharp stick using another stick and a string. Traditional bows are physically demanding, largely inaccurate, and not as powerful as modern compound and crossbows. However, they are much lighter and easier to carry.
It’s a miracle traditional weapons got us through. Successful hunting took patience and skill. Perhaps that’s why primitive weapons are still used today. Traditional bows (recurve and longbows) are legal to use during primitive weapons season. For those who like a little more BANG for their BUCK, however, the firearm made its debut in the early 1200’s.
It’s easy to see how firearms made other weapon choices obsolete. They’re powerful, long-range, accurate, and humane. Firearms’ biggest appeal, however, was not ease of use, but how quickly they could be used. Hunters could bag kills with the smallest time investment in history.
The Element of Surprise
Hunting stealthily used to be a lot harder. People covered themselves in mud to mask their scent, spoke squirrel, and hid themselves in chigger-filled vegetation. You might still do this (to each their own), but the modern hunter has access to blinds, tree stands, and the latest and greatest fabric technology.
There’s some argument over which is better – tree stands or ground blinds – but they both keep you comfortably sheltered and invisible in a variety of hunting locations. The best part? You can sport camouflage while you’re camouflaged.
Before the 1980s, the only camouflage design available was the military woodland pattern. Then came Trebark, closely followed by Realtree and Mossy Oak. Today, there are camouflage designs for each unique habitat type.
Wool was the material of choice decades ago, and it still works in cold weather situations, but now we have Gore-Tex and several synthetic fibers that are not only warm, but breathable, lightweight, and waterproof. Most recently, silent snap buttons and zippers—along with the latest rage among deer hunters: scent-blocking fabrics—come close to handing hunters invisibility cloaks.
Modern hunters have access to a lot more information regarding game ecology and behavior than previous generations did. Back then, if you wanted to eat, you had to go and get your dinner, whether that involved reading sign, all-day sits, or both. Nowadays, we can bring dinner to us.
Mass production and mechanization have made detailed, animated decoys available to a wide audience. Hunters have used decoys for thousands of years. Some of the oldest versions were made of reeds. In the 1800s, craftsmen began carving, painting, and selling wooden decoys. These decoys of yesteryear are still popular, but often as charming collectibles, since modern hyper-realistic versions can fool the hunter, too.
Calling in game is another old technique. One of the original methods for wild birds was to bring along a noisy captive bird. Mouth calls also got the job done. The first patented duck call was in 1870, and a variety of designs and products circulated in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Older versions were made of reeds, wood and metal. Plastic, rubber and acrylic are found in many modern calls.
Surprisingly, camera traps are relatively old technology. They were invented in the 1890s and triggered by a tripwire. The original camera traps were extremely large, loud, and bright, but they worked. Now, we have digital camera traps with motion sensors and a variety of set-up options that allow hunters to scout for game.
Most hunters have experienced the sinking feeling of realizing they don’t remember which way to go. As early as 2,000 years ago, we found a magnetized needle could tell us North from South. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than reading the stars or the positioning of the sun and moon. By 1973, the GPS project was launched in the United States to overcome the limitations of these navigation systems, and now hunters don’t need to be lost in the woods. Portable GPS units are accurate, lightweight, and only need the power of two AA batteries.
The electronic revolution has made reading sign and sun commendable pastimes to say the least. There are many hunters who enjoy the challenge and reward of using time-honored techniques, just as there are those who closely follow the latest developments in gear.
Do your part to ensure Game Day for future generations. Buy a hunting license today.