Gadgets and instincts

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has been at camp again, and is amazed at all the new gadgets that are supposed to improve the odds of hunting success.

(Lange) Fifty years ago, everything I wore for hunting was wool, except for my Bean boots. Sitting on a watch could be an agony of shivering. Not any more. Everything now is acrylic, polyester, or recycled plastic bottles made into fleece. The pants and jacket are still mostly wool, but it’s been treated to keep out the wind, shed rain, and hold its creases. The boots still look like rubber, but they’re lined with space-age insulation. I’m almost embarrassed to be cold anymore.

I was out alone yesterday, just sneaking along, when somebody spoke up, right at my elbow! Scared me half to death, but there was nobody there. I’d put a little transceiver into my pocket, and the guys on the other radios were having a conversation.

What changes we’ve seen! Not in the woods; the virgin pines I knew as a kid are still standing. But the camp has grown from an Army surplus tent to an insulated building with a hot shower and a great view. The radio plays whenever the generator’s running. Friends in four-wheel-drive vehicles come up most evenings for drinks before supper, and bring the daily newspaper. The potatoes still get baked in the wood oven, but there’s a microwave, too.

The hunting also is more technological. I’ve been retrogressing myself – going back to old-fashioned peep sights and my first rifle. But the young guys carry arms that would make Ernest Hemingway envious. There’s a new gimmick to help hunters in dim twilight, a tiny battery-powered fiber-optic that illuminates the crosshairs of a telescopic sight.

A hunter’s magazine article recently revealed that many laundry detergents leave a residue visible in ultraviolet light; and further, that deer can see in that part of the spectrum. So now in camp we have an ultraviolet light hung on the ceiling over the bathroom sink. We get dressed to go, switch on the light, and see ourselves in the mirror as deer allegedly see us, gleaming like light stick at a pep rally. Finally, when nothing glows, we’re ready for the hunt.

It’s a wonder any deer survive, and an even greater wonder the old man who started all this ever could have shot even one with his battered old Savage. But when we reminisce about the best hunters we’ve ever known, he’s our unanimous choice. He did his best to pass it on before he left. When I watch one of the kids working his way through the woods like a dark, silent, watchful ghost, I can see the old man again. For all our gadgets, it’s instinct and experience, and the love of just being here on this mountainside and in this magnificent forest, that make the difference. I hope we can pass all that on to our own kids before we have to leave.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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