The other day while pondering whether major scandals would erupt on a hourly, daily, or weekly basis during the presidency of Hillary Clinton, I was smitten by a moment of blinding insight into the reasons behind the overwhelming interest in taking big game at long range. As it turns out, they’re only partly related to either shooting or hunting — they are, instead, generational.
Bringing down critters at long range is nothing new. Long shots have long held a fascination for us. Outdoor magazines once specialized in hunting tales where the nimrod nailed a Dall ram at 1,217 yards with an iron-sighted lever-action. But this was regarded as more of a stunt than anything else; something that you did maybe once or twice in a hunting lifetime and only in situations of high drama. The rest of the time, your shots averaged around 125 yards–or a lot closer–and so did everyone else’s.
But what we have emerging now are hunters who expect to take their game far beyond the limits of what was considered long range only a short time ago. How come?
Part of the reason has to do with the way the generations process information. If you’re young enough to know what an app is, and care, you spend a major number of your waking hours getting information from a very small screen, instantly, and on a constant basis. That information comes as either photographs or text, and requires no effort to interpret. A big game hunter, on the other hand, learns to look everywhere, all the time, and to pick up very small, subtle bits of information that come slowly, erratically, and infrequently.
Consider the stand hunter who has to constantly scan a 180-degree arc, hour after hour, looking for the twitch of an ear or the flash of an antler. Or the whitetail hunter, tracking a buck in snow, who must watch the track and interpret it, look at what lies ahead of him and, if he’s smart, look to his sides and behind him as well.
This is not what those who are addicted to hand-held devices are used to, nor, I believe, can they become any good at it without a long and dedicated effort. It’s much more to their liking to travel until you find something right out in the open and start shooting.
Our attitude toward shooting at long distance has also changed. In the cloistered world of riflery, the shooter who could hit at long range has always been an object of veneration. But to the general public, and to a great many hunters, they guy who crept up close was the hero, and the hunter who shot from afar something far less. The very word “sniper” was an insult. It described a soldier who killed from concealment; someone who lacked the guts to fix his bayonet and charge. Watch any World War II combat movie and hear how “sniper” is spoken.
Now there’s been a complete 180, probably beginning with the biography of Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, which depicted snipers as not only super riflemen, but as individuals with far more than their share of guts. Because of the cross-pollination of the tactical and hunting worlds, the nimrod who shoots from far away is seen increasingly not as less of a hunter, but as more of a marksman. If you got your elk at 819 yards, measured by laser and recorded on your cell phone, cool. You’re a hell of a shot. End of story.
And then of course there’s the technology of sporting rifles, which has probably progressed more between 2000 and 2014 than it did between 1900 and 2000. Much of this comes from the military, which has steadily extended the effective range of its sniper rifles to a point that was pretty much unimaginable a generation ago. The new XM-2010 sniper rifle exceeds the effective range of the M24, which it will replace, by 400 meters–from 800 meters to 1,200 meters. This is what you call a quantum leap.
Do you expect hunters to pass up this kind of technology? No more than they passed up the ’03 Springfield when they saw what it would do nearly a century ago. Younger hunters take to new technology like Congressmen take to bribes, or campaign contributions, as they’re called.
As my generation dodders off into oblivion, we’re going to be replaced by a new generation of hunters who will be almost unrecognizable, not only for the guns and equipment they use, but for their attitude toward the sport. Whether that’s good or bad is open to debate. What is not open to discussion is whether it will happen. It’s happening right now.