Thursday, April 24, 2014

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

When my ECS Gordie was a youngster, we each enjoyed a two-for-two day hunting woodcock. I killed both birds he flushed with two shots, and he made two finds and retrieves.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible cleanly to kill wild upland birds on the wing in the gnarly places where they live. I cringe whenever dispatching a wounded woodcock after it freezes me with an icy stare from a baleful eye.

Bird hunters have long been told that burning powder on the clays field is the best method for minimizing crippling shots. For the hunter just as for the inquisitive violinist in the title, their mutual solution has always been “practice, practice, practice.” Having great equipment well suited to the job at hand is certainly part of any performance equation. But for some of us geezers, performance improvement is primarily an internal process.

And so I had mixed feelings when I learned the other day that an American arms manufacturer is offering a $5,500 “integrated shooting system.” In an article introducing this arm in October, 2013, the company stated “The advanced internal ballistics computer immediately generates a firing solution….” That sounds less like the deer hunting I know and more like Burt Lancaster loading a forward-tube torpedo for a bow shot on the Akikaze in the Bungo Straits. My problem with this, after chewing on it for a few days, is that it replaces the internalized “practice, practice, practice” with its external substitute “purchase, purchase, purchase.”

The possibility that this “shooting system” may reduce crippling shots is attractive, even if the hunter’s shooting skill is improved simply through his wallet. Further, it seems to me that some if not many fair chase issues concern events happening before the shot rather than during the shot. To the extent that’s true, I’m not sure that this system, while still something I’d probably not choose to use for aesthetic reasons, runs afoul of fair chase hunting.

But I’m no expert. So, like some callers to radio talk shows, having set the table, I’ll just hang up and listen.


  1. This isn't a new discussion, since the technology and promotions hit the air and social media some time ago, but it's one worth having I suppose.

    My views on defining anything by the tenets of "fair chase" are pretty well documented around here, so I hesitate to add redundancy. But based on my views, the biggest challenge that I have with the computerized shooting solution is that it increases the likelihood of long-range shooting on game.

    First of all, we have to be clear that while the device does enhance the likelihood of scoring a hit on an animal, it doesn't have any way of forcing the hit to be lethal. If the shooter aims at center mass, as so many hunters tend to do under pressure, then the bullet will impact center mass. If the shooter chooses to shoot at a bad, quartering angle, the bullet will impact at a bad, quartering angle. Etc.

    While the effects of poor shot placement are bad enough at normal hunting distances, they are magnified when the shooting is at extreme distances. While you may be able to see the impact of a gut shot at 100 yards, it's very hard to tell where... or if... you hit the animal at all at 500. As a result, in my experience at least, many marginal, long-range shots are chalked up as misses and there is no real effort to follow up.

    Trying to find the spot where an animal was standing at long range is equally challenging, so even if the shooter makes an effort to follow-up, the likelihood of losing the animal is high unless it falls within sight of the shooter's position.

    So my issue with long-range shooting, with or without computerized shooting solutions, rests less with the "fairness" and more with the hunter's imperative of making a humane kill. But then, the problem isn't with the equipment... it's with the person behind the trigger.

  2. The problem we hunters face is balancing the two goods of fair chase and clean kill. The basic principle of fair chase is the state and self-imposed limits on equipment and methods of taking game. All of which make it harder to get the game which also can lead to a greater chance of wounding. The key to balancing is knowing your limits and the self-discipline to stay within the limits. Even doing this doesn't guarantee a clean kill every time. Just as on the skeet field most of us have good and bad days. Good equipment and practice very much helps to reduce the performance swing. Bird hunting introduces many more variables and we all miss or wound. Adding a good dog into the hunt is a big help both in being ready to shoot and in finding wounded animals.
    I agree with Philip that trying to buy our way out of wounding loss is not the way to go. It will probably increase the taking of risky shots and it for sure will reduce the satisfaction of the hunt.

  3. Regarding "integrated shooting systems" and those who claim it will reduce wounded animals, I have one word that I note is absent in their advertising: windage.

    1. Jock,

      In the interest of the facts, the Tracking Point definitely includes calculations for windage (as well as the curvature of the earth, temperature and barometric pressure, and even the cant of your rifle). From a purely technological perspective, it's an insanely well-designed piece of equipment.

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