By Mountain Pursuit
At its meeting in November, the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission is considering regulation and statute changes to address increasing technology in hunting. The effort began in December, 2017 when the Commission asked the Wyoming Game & Fish Department to complete a report on new technology impacting hunting, and develop a set of regulation changes to address it.
The Wyoming Department of Game & Fish's white paper "Exploring New Hunting Technologies" covered the gamut from trail cameras to smart rifles. Of particular concern was increasing crossbow technology and long distance shooting.
In its final recommendation, the Game & Fish recommended disallowing use of crossbows during archery seasons, but did not recommend a rule change to address the ethics of long range hunting and instead advocated an educational approach, and more data collection.
Mountain Pursuit goes further and advocates regulation changes setting the maximum allowed archery hunting shot at 50 yards (bow and crossbow), and maximum allowed rifle/firearm hunting shot at 400 yards.
Framing The Issue
Four areas of concern arise concerning both the the use of crossbows during archery season, and long range shooting for hunting.
1) Increasing Technology = Increasing Effective Ranges
The latest crossbows, equipped with rifle scopes, advertise an effective range in excess of 100 yards. But it's not only crossbows, increasing compound bow technology makes it possible for experienced archers to demonstrate consistent marksmanship at 70+ yards with the latest compound bows. These ranges will only increase with improving technology.
What was once a fringe activity, extreme range hunting (400-1000 yard shots) has become mainstream with rifle and optics advances. High end rifles advertise effective ranges out to 1,000 yards, coupled with high power tactical scopes, powerful range finders, and hand-held weather and ballistic calculators. Hunting television shows, youtube videos and other media document taking of game at extreme ranges, furthering the popularity of these weapons.
Increasing technology, and increased demand has decreased the price of these weapons. For example, Ruger's Precision Rifle, the first long-range shooting rifle purpose built by a major manufacturer, sells for around $1200 - bringing it into the price range of more hunters.
As well, ammunition improvements and new loads, such as the 6.5 Creedmoor, have furthered the reach of these weapons.
Like crossbow and compound bow technology, we can safely assume that these rifle and ammo technological advances will only continue.
2) The "Fair Chase" Balance between Predator and Prey
Key to the principle of Fair Chase is the pursuit of the prey in a manner which does not give the hunter an unfair advantage. Game animals should have a reasonable chance of avoiding detection and if detected, eluding the hunter.
Any technology which tips this balance in favor of the hunter is unethical.
3) Non-Hunting Public Perception
While overall hunting participation is declining in the US, general public support for hunting remains strong. Key to sustaining this support is maintaining the Fair Chase balance where the game has a chance to avoid detection and if detected, eluding the hunter.
4) Rifle Hunter Tolerance of Special Archery Seasons
This area of concern is specific to archery. Wyoming and all other western states have early, archery-only seasons for big game, where only archery equipment can be used to take game. Rifle hunters tolerate these early seasons with the understanding that archery hunters (bow, crossbow) must get much closer to the game to kill, and therefore, harvest rates are lower than rifle seasons. Increasing effective ranges of compound bows and crossbows may threaten this rifle hunter tolerance, eventually leading to the limitation or elimination of special archery seasons.
This possibility was raised by the Wyoming Game & Fish Department in it's 2017 White Paper, Exploring New Technologies in Hunting.
"What were once limited-range weapons requiring an advanced level of skill are now being used right out of the box by hunters with limited practice to accurately hit targets in excess of 70 yards in the case of compound bows and 100 yards or more for crossbows. How does the advent of modern technology and equipment affect big game hunting seasons designed to be used with primitive weapons? Do these modern weapon types still fit within a short range weapon season framework, or have we reached the point managers need to limit the use of some types of archery gear in order to preserve what archery seasons were originally envisioned to entail and designed to accomplish?"
Regulating Maximum Shot Distances To Address Increasing Hunting Technology
Mountain Pursuit advocates and supports regulations which set maximum archery shot distances (bow and crossbow) at 50 yards, and maximum rifle/firearm shot distances at 400 yards.
Why 50 Yards or Less for Archery?
By definition, archery hunters chose to limit themselves to a short range harvest. For most archers using a bow (long, recurve, compound) a shot 50 yards or closer is required to place a vital shot with an arrow. Shorter shots means less wounding loss.
Second, a 50-yard maximum shot distance automatically accommodates for increasing technology and leads to "cleaner" kills, not "easier" kills. Compound bows and crossbows which are lethal at 50+ yards will be especially lethal at 50 yards or less. Increased lethality = cleaner kill. From a regulatory perspective, rule-making authorities will no longer have to continually adjust regulations to accommodate new technology.
Third, a 50-yard maximum shot distance honors and cements the agreement between archery hunters and rifle/firearm hunters, who tolerate special archery seasons in return for the more difficult challenge of getting closer to the game and subsequent decreased harvest numbers.
Why 400 Yards for Rifle/Firearms?
First, shots beyond 400 yards violate the hunter-game balance of "Fair Chase." Specifically, the game has a significantly decreased chance of detecting the hunter, and thus eluding him or her, at distances greater than 400 yards. Extreme range hunting tips the Fair Chase balance between hunter and game too far in favor of the hunter, and is unethical.
Second, limiting rifle/firearm maximum hunting shots to 400 yards protects hunting and hunters from general public criticism. Today the general, non-hunting public still supports hunting, but this may change if the general public feels the game "doesn't have a chance" because it being taken from ranges 400+ yards out.
Third, a precise shot of 400+ yards requires specialized equipment - long range rifle, high power scope, ballistic calculator, handheld weather meter, etc.
Fourth, a 400-yard maximum shot distance automatically accommodates for increasing technology and leads to "cleaner" kills, not "easier" kills. Long range firearms lethal at 400+ yards will be especially lethal at 400 yards or less. Again, from a regulatory perspective, rule-making authorities will no longer have to continually adjust regulations to accommodate new technology.
Mountain Pursuit is not alone here. The Boone & Crocket Club questions extreme range hunting in their Hunt Right: Hunt Fair Chase initiative HERE.
Only one state, Idaho, has attempted to restrict extreme range hunting via regulation. Specifically, and Idaho regulation enacted in 1993 prohibits the weight for the weapon, scope and sling to be in excess of 16 pounds. At the time, extreme range rifles were exceedingly heavy, and this regulation was an attempt to prohibit their use. However, current firearm and optics technology allows for extreme range weapons weighing far below this 16 pound limit. (Source: Wyoming Game & Fish Department in it's 2017 White Paper, Exploring New Technologies in Hunting. page 35).
Questions You May Have
1) What about enforcement?
We're not disputing that enforcing maximum shot distance restrictions for archery and rifle/firearms will be a challenge, but no more so than many other hunting regulations such as not shooting from a vehicle, poaching, etc. If not directly observed by a game warden or other enforcement officer, violations of these common regulations are reported to the authorities and investigated. The one issue for maximum shot distance enforcement will be likely need for enforcement personnel to be equipped with range finders, if they are not already.
As well, despite the enforcement challenge, most hunters don't shoot from a vehicle or poach. The same will be true of a maximum shot distance restrictions - most hunters will respect the rule.
2) What about the personal ethical decision of the hunter to decide his or her own maximum shot distance?
We acknowledge that for a select few hunters who use crossbows, can make 50+ yard bow kill shots, or 400+ yard rifle shots, a 50-yard archery and 400-yard rifle/firearm maximum shot restriction will take away their ethical decision of whether or not to shoot.
However, there is a greater good at work here.
For archery hunters, a 50-yard maximum shot restriction cements the "gentleman's" agreement with rifle/firearm hunters who tolerate special archery seasons with the understanding that having to get closer to the game, results in decreased harvest.
For rifle hunters, a 400-yard maximum shot restriction helps protect the tradition of hunting from anti-hunting activists who could correctly argue that at ranges 400+ yards, game "has no chance."
Finally, technology continues to increase and improve the maximum ranges of crossbows, compound bows and firearms.
Maximum shot restrictions automatically accommodate for these technological improvements, saving the rule-making authorities the need to continually update regulations to keep up with these technological improvements.