Top 10 Hunting Products of the Past 50 Years

There's no doubt that improvements in technology and equipment have made days afield safer, more enjoyable and more productive than at any time in history.

Top 10 Hunting Products of the Past 50 Years

In his 1949 classic, A Sand County Almanac, the writer, sportsman and conservationist Aldo Leopold lamented that the outdoorsman of his day was becoming a “gadgeteer,” more dependent upon “stuff” than woodsmanship. If he could only see us now! Still, there’s no doubt that improvements in technology and equipment have made days afield safer, more enjoyable and more productive than at any time in history. Here, in no particular order, is my list of the 10 most important product innovations of the past 50 years.

1. Non-toxic shot bullets

A 1970s study estimated that between 1.6 and 2.4 million waterfowl died annually from swallowing lead shot, and the Fish & Wildlife Service banned its use for waterfowl hunting in 1991. Since then there have been bans on lead bullets in some states. Though high cost remains an issue, as the technology for producing lead-free ammo has improved and availability widened, its acceptance has grown. It’s been good for both the environment and our image.

2. Gore-Tex

In 1969, Bob Gore created expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) and, somewhat by accident, invented the waterproof, windproof and breathable material known as Gore-Tex. When laminated to certain fabrics, this created a whole new class of outdoor clothing, footwear and accessories, which in turn spawned popular specialty companies like Sitka, Kuiu and others that provide dealers with big margins and a cult-like following.

3. Variable-power, waterproof riflescopes

It’s hard to imagine that variable-power riflescopes were not developed until the late 1940s, waterproof scopes did not make an appearance until 1960, and fully multi-coated lenses were not commonly available until the early 1970s. Today, more than 90 percent of all scopes sold to hunters are variable-power scopes. There’s no question that today’s scopes make accurate shooting so much easier than when I started out with my old Lyman Alaskan 2.5X fixed-power scope in the 1960s.

4. Treestands

Inspired by the platforms he saw Japanese snipers use in the treetops in the Pacific theater in WWII, Floridian Andy Anders developed the “Andy Stand” in 1947, the first commercially made platform designed specifically for deer hunting from trees. Later there was the Baker climber, often called the “death trap” for its propensity to slip down a tree trunk with the user still aboard. How times have changed for both treestand design and safety! And speaking of treestands, the development of quality safety harnesses — begun back in 2001 by brothers Jerry and John Wydner and their company, Hunter Safety Systems — has made hunting from above infinitely safer.

5. Laser rangefinders

Rangefinder history is fascinating, the first rangefinder was developed back in 1880, with coincidence-type and radar rangefinders being used in WWII. In 1964 the first laser rangefinder prototype was invented, with the Soviets employing them on tanks as early as 1972. When the technology was made cost-effective for sporting use, it was a game-changer for both bowhunters and riflemen.

6. Expandable broadheads

Archers had been experimenting with mechanical broadheads for a long time (think 1956 Mohawk, 1959 Geronimo, 1972 Pioneer Game Tamer and 1983 Viper) before Greg Johnson brought his game-changing Rocket Aerohead to market in the late 1980s. Acceptance was slow at first, but as both compound bow and arrow performance improved, soon it was apparent that mechanical broadheads were here to stay. Today, top-end mechanicals outsell all other broadhead designs in America.

7. One-cam bow

Matt McPherson is one of the most talented and humble men you’ll ever meet. His first company, McPherson Archery, paved the way for reducing compound bow let-off from 50 to 75 percent. When the company sold in 1989, Matt’s idea for a radical new one-cam design formed the basis for Mathews Inc., and his SOLOCAM revolutionized the archery industry. Today Mathews compounds, like those from other bow makers, primarily incorporate a dual cam system. But it was the one-cam that upped the bar in compound bow design and changed the game forever.

8. Scouting cameras

First it was the Trail Timer, which recorded the time an animal tripped a string stretched across a trail. Next the Trailmaster sent an infrared beam of light to a receiver, which did the same thing. But hunters didn’t know exactly what “flipped their switch” until 1989, when Camtrakker developed the first device that incorporated a film camera. This all morphed into today’s digital scouting cameras, the most sophisticated of which can be viewed from your home computer or mobile device. Scouting will never be the same.

9. GPS units and hunt apps

I’m not sure many millennials can use a map and compass. But why would they when they have access to relatively inexpensive GPS units that incorporate weather reports, mapping tools and more? Apps like and many others are growing in popularity by leaps and bounds.

10. Inexpensive, accurate rifles

State-of-the-art manufacturing processes that allow the manufacture and sale of MOA or better rifles for under $500 have changed shooting and hunting. When I started shooting seriously in the 1970s, sub-MOA accuracy was achieved only by handloading for expensive custom-grade rifles. Today that same accuracy is possible with relatively inexpensive rifles from several different manufacturers shooting factory ammo. I find that amazing.

Honorable mention: Electronic predator calls, night-vision optics, mechanical release aids, electronic hearing protection and multi-tools. And, of course, the internet.

What products should be on this list? Drop me a note at — I’d love to hear about it and share it with our readers.


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