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TrackingPoint Optic Ignites Debate Over 'Fair' Chase

What would you think of a digital rifle-sight with a half-mile range compensation, automatic lead for moving game, a reticle that changes color when a computer determines your bullet will strike center – and an integral WIFI server that lets you stream video from the scope to your mobile device?

More pointedly, how would that sight affect your hunting?

The device is here in the TrackingPoint scope, which uses a digital heads-up display that delivers the target to your eye with data to help you hit. The optic even takes over the shot and pulls the trigger only when the computer says it’ll make an accurate shot.

The TrackingPoint sight is costly and weighs 52 ounces, but it’s selling to hunters keen to tap its technology at long range. And the company says that’s precisely why founder John McHale made the so-called “precision guided firearm.”

“The story of TrackingPoint began in early 2009 when founder John McHale went on an African safari. He personally saw the challenge of moderate- to long-distance hunting while taking several challenging shots in Tanzania,” the company explains. During a hunt for a Thompson’s Gazelle, McHale wondered whether new technologies could help him “factor in the range, ballistics, stability, and other factors in the time available to convert, on multiple [shot] attempts.”

And since the TrackingPoint technology debuted on the commercial market last year, the hunting world has been wrestling with its impact on the sport.

“It can help hunters kill cleanly at 200 to 300 yards, where a lot of game seems within range but is often hit poorly by shooters of modest skill,” writes hunting journalist Scott Mayer.

“At the shot, the ‘hunt’ is over,” the veteran hunter says. “You want an efficient kill — TrackingPoint’s sight contributes to that end.”

Mayer doesn’t think the device encourages long shooting.

“Ethics are personal; hardware doesn’t define behavior,” he adds.

But some in the sporting world think the high-tech gizmo is inimical to fair-chase hunting — unsportsmanlike if not unethical.

Marion Scott is by his own admission an old-timer. He and his wife Mary run a Wyoming ranch where they’ve guided hunters for years. Their own trips afield have netted them both grand slams of wild sheep and a trophy room packed with other game.

“I don’t know much about TrackingPoint sights, but a few local hunters have used them and other big scopes to shoot coyotes to 800 yards,” Scott says. “A big game hunt should be different, demand more skill and a close shot. Long shooting with powerful optics waters down a hunt.”

Indeed, shooting at long ranges once fueled cottage industries in rifles, loads and optics. What few fancied in the 1950s is now a trend. Manufacturers add fuel, even as they avoid endorsing “The Long Shot.” Distance, after all, increases error, which cripples game. Follow-up hits become difficult. Finding blood trails takes more time and effort. Even with a lethal shot, recovering an animal can be hard.

Cruelty and waste aside, though — is this hunting or shooting? Does it twist the definition of fair chase?

“I like shooting far at targets,” says Boone and Crockett Club records department chairman Richard Hale. “But close approach is a crucial part of hunting. If the game is so far off it can’t detect you, the sporting aspect goes away.”

A hunter for nearly half a century and one who’s taken game on five continents, Hale has polled B&C members about long shooting and finds a conflicted constituency.

“We can’t set an arbitrary limit on distance,” Hale says. “But there’s concern. Intent matters. I understand a hunter shooting far if the shot is sure and conditions preclude an approach. But making a video to promote long shots is making a spectacle of the hunt. That’s distasteful.”

Jack Reneau, long-time hunter and Director of Big Game Records at B&C, doesn’t use “smart” sights.

“I keep my shots short,” he says. “The best part of any hunt is getting close.”

And the Club does have rules about the use of some technology to take trophies at long range.

“B&C won’t accept trophies taken with sights incorporating laser range-finders or other electronic aids,” Reneau says.

Safari Club International, on the other hand, has historically held a more liberal view, accepting for its records book big game legally taken.

“That’s been understood to include any legal gear,” says Michael Roqueni, SCI’s Record Book/World Hunting Awards director. “Still, the Club hasn’t ruled explicitly on TrackingPoint’s scope.”

While this sight can enhance precision at distance, experienced hunters agree that distance is only one factor making a shot difficult. In a 1,000-yard competition, bullets cut coffee-saucer groups. But killing a buck quickly offhand at 100 yards after a stiff climb, and firing at a wink of rib in aspens is difficult as well. No scope can eliminate the shakes that make you miss.

A shot cannot be ethical or unethical; neither can it be kind or brutish, clever or stupid, many experienced hunters argue. And most agree, a shot isn’t too long until it becomes unpredictable. Whether long pokes are sporting is another question. Predictable first-shot kills are humane. And it’s hard to fault someone for being humane — whatever the range.

In a spot of sun the bull paused. I pressed a button. The white dot registered. The blue X blinked red against a rib. Inside, a processor corrected for bullet drop. Recoil smeared the pixels.

For some, this could be the hunting climax of tomorrow.


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