Jack Hope

is an environmental writer who lives in Manhattan and hunts deer in the Catskills

As a lifelong hunter from New York's Catskill Mountains, I learned to hunt whitetail deer using the age-old methods of stalking or sitting silently in the woodlands and brush lots where the animals live. By necessity, we hunters in the 1950s and '60s acquired a certain woodsmanship and endurance: following tracks, finding the antler rubs made by bucks, waiting in cold or rain for deer to appear. We also learned - with frustration, and respect - just how quickly a deer could vanish when it heard our footsteps, caught our scent, or spotted our slightest movement.

But over the last few decades, American sportsmen have learned to hunt far more efficiently by incorporating techno-mechanical devices into hunting.

Because wary whitetail deer can often evade us if we hunt them from the ground, it's standard these days to hunt from enclosed deer stands, little houses mounted 10 feet up in trees (or on platforms), where the animals cannot see, smell or hear the hunter. The stands typically have ladders, carpeted floors (to muffle sound), propane heaters, weather-proof roofs, gun slots cut into the scent-proof walls, camouflage window curtains and a chair or swiveling stool for the hunter to shoot from.

Deer stands may be homemade or store-bought, permanent or portable, and made of wood or polyethylene, and can go for over $2,000 for spiffy and spacious models such as the "Scentite Deluxe Condo" sold by Cabela's.

In a warm and cozy deer stand, today's sportsman can feel free to move about, talk on a cell phone, even smoke a cigarette without spooking an approaching buck. The only hunting skills needed are aiming the gun and pulling the trigger.

Instead of searching the landscape for deer as they feed naturally at dawn and dusk, modern hunters have learned they can bait their prey into vulnerable, shootable locations by using either "deer apples" or commercial deer feed (sold at farm stores). The commercial grain is better: You can load 300 pounds into a factory-made wildlife feeder (about $250), then set its battery-powered timer to spew out a few pounds once or twice a day. Using timed feeders, sportsmen have discovered they can condition deer, Pavlov-like, to feed at any time of day that fits the hunter's schedule.

Where I hunt, slightly more than half of today's hopeful deer slayers motor into the forest each morning on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The main advantage of an ATV is speed. On one of the noisy, gas-sweating machines, a hunter can reach deer that live deep in the woods, animals inaccessible to hunters, like me, on foot. Also, since whitetail deer are not frightened by motor vehicles, an ATV hunter can ride up close to a deer (far closer than a walking hunter) and kill the animal from the driver's seat. Most states prohibit killing deer from a vehicle, and most hunters don't start the day intending to. But if they happen to encounter a big buck while riding to or from their stands - .

Seemingly without shame, today's sportsmen use global positioning systems (about $250) to find their way in the woods, mount digital "scouting cameras" (about $400) along game trails to determine precisely when deer pass by, and clamp "DeerView Mirrors" (about $20) onto tree limbs for an animal approaching from behind.

The success or failure of a traditional hunter depends on how well he adapts his behavior to the natural world, especially to the wonderfully keen senses of his prey. But the intent of technological hunting is to ensure success by eliminating the troublesome influences of nature.

Most modern hunters deny that their embrace of technology has eroded sportsmanship and hunting skills. Curiously, they still see themselves as old-fashioned woodsmen, intimate with their prey and with the outdoors.

But I have the strong suspicion that if one were to ask a high-tech hunter if he had the slightest notion how to track and stalk a whitetail buck, he would slink away in embarrassment.

E-mail Jack Hope at jackehope@aol.com.