Want to start a great discussion—or full blown argument—next time things are feeling a little slow in camp? Just toss out the question: “What are the greatest inventions that changed hunting?” You’ll get plenty of answers, and, when you think about it, there are a lot of great candidates. If you want to go the full spectrum of man’s existence, then certainly discoveries such as arrowheads, fire, gunpowder, invention of the gun or even the atlatl (yeah, I saw that one on a message board and have to agree, you can make an argument for it) are all worthy of being declared the greatest things to set our great hunting tradition rolling ever forward.
Even coming into more recent history, say the last 100 to 150 years, there are still too many options to really pinpoint the best. So, we went with five. Maybe you’ll agree, maybe you won’t. But there’s no denying the following five inventions had an amazing impact on the way the majority of us hunt and even live today.
Got a different invention you believe should bump one of these off the top five? Chime in on the comments below. We’d love to hear your thoughts. For now, here’s ours:
Imperfect sighting devices in some shape or form have been around since the middle of the 19th century, employing various types of magnifying glass and diopters. According to several sources, the first known telescopic sight for firearms was the Chapman-James telescopic sight, though issues with sealing the lenses inside the body of the scope were faulty allowing outside air in, which quite frequently caused fogging inside the optic. There were some crude scopes in use during the Civil War, but it wasn’t until 1880 that August Fiedler, a forestry commissioner in Austria developed the first practical rifle scope. Kahles, which has been in business since 1898 and is the longest continuing optic manufacturer in existence today, took the idea and ran with it just as much of Europe and the rest of the world were about to run smack into a pair of World Wars.
The impact rifle scopes have had on hunting in just a little more than a century is obvious as they allow shooters to see better, both in bright light and low light, and allows them to obtain a better aim. The fact is, without scopes, most of us would never be able to shoot much beyond 100 to 150 yards with simple iron sights.
Until Holless Wilbur Allen patented his “archery bow with draw-force multiplying attachments,” more commonly referred to as the compound bow, archers had little choice but to shoot recurves. Unfortunately, except for the most dedicated sportsmen such as the legendary Fred Bear, these recurves made relatively poor tools to hunt with as they had limited range, took a lot of practice to master and were hard to draw and hold back.
In looking to discover a way to get more power from a recurve, Allen sawed the limbs of one that he had and attached pulleys to the new ends. As he experimented with different pulleys and ways to attach them, he discovered that by using one with an offset axle, he could pull back much more weight than the recurve or a straight pulley system allowed. In effect, Allen had discovered “let-off,” which allows us to draw and hold bows that would otherwise be too heavy or hard to manage.
Like many new inventions that alter the norm in a sport or activity, many traditional bowmen resisted the idea of such a bow. Tom Jennings (pictured above), a famous archer and magazine editor at the time was the first to champion and eventually build at his own company, the “Allen” bow as it was called, and used his pull to get competition rules relaxed to allow the new bow. From there it was game on and as competitors, followed by hunters took interest in the bow, an entire market was born.
Ok, so the first recorded use of a firearm of any sort pops up around 1364 and for nearly the next 500 years, dudes hunt animals, wage war and conquer the planet using ever slightly improved variants of long and short guns that for the most part require loading powder and projectile separately and that work in conjunction with yet any number of devices created to ignite the powder. Then, in the late 1860, just a year after the first full rimfire cartridge was produced and as the country was descending into full scale civil war, a machinist who worked for Sharps in Hartford, Conn., patented the first true practical repeating rifle. The Spencer rifle fired a .52 cal. metallic rimfire cartridge and employed a rolling block mechanism activated by lowering the trigger guard to cycle a new round from the seven-round tubular magazine.
Even with the creation of the Spencer and the multi-shot opportunities it afforded a soldier on the field of battle, the Union Army largely stuck with the single-shot .58 Springfield front-loading musket out of concern that soldiers would fire the repeating arms too much in battle and tax an already strained supply system. However, with Yanks getting killed at a rate of four of their soldiers for every sharpshooting Reb and the war grinding on much longer than anyone expected, President Lincoln approval of the Spencer after shooting one in 1863, led to the purchase of more than 100,000 of the rifles.
As in most technological races driven by war, Spencer wasn’t the only person working to perfect a repeating rifle. The same year Spencer patented his rifle, Benjamin Tyler Henry patented the Henry repeating rifle, (pictured above) a .44 cal. rimfire that held 16 rounds. From the creation of these lever-action guns flowed all manner of future firearm developments, which today, serve sportsmen well with everything from tack-driving bolt guns, easy-cycling semi-autos, and the latest big step in our sport shooting evolution, the widespread availability of accurate, durable and super versatile AR-style rifles.
The 1970s were an amazing age in the world of hunting, and with so many innovations coming into existence at the time, the period can really be viewed as the birth of modern hunting. Indeed, another creation from that era that has touched virtually every aspect of our sport was the invention of dedicated hunting camo. It was in the late 1970s that Virginian Jim Crumley (pictured above), an avid bowhunter and turkey hunter, realized most of his hunting time was spent sitting against gray-barked trees. To better blend in with the hardwoods, he initially applied brown splotches on gray work clothes. Over a couple of years, he improved the look by drawing a bark design with a magic marker on those same gray outfits. As more hunters saw his design and wanted one for themselves, Crumley decided to begin commercially producing the suits and in 1980, and Trebark Camouflage was born.
In the years that immediately followed, Bill Jordan would create his Realtree pattern and Toxey Haas would come out with Mossy Oak. The latter two companies proved much more aggressive and successful in their marketing and eventually, Mossy Oak would buy Trebark. Indeed today, Realtree and Mossy Oak are two of the biggest companies in the outdoor industry with their patterns appearing on—and commanding premium royalties for—nearly every type of product manufactured for sportsmen. Camo is no longer just for hunting clothing and is found on everything from firearms to furniture.
Few deer, turkey or duck hunters today would even dream of walking into the woods without their camouflage on. It’s not that hunters can’t kill game without wearing Mossy Oak, Realtree or Trebark, (indeed, plenty of hunters did just that before it came along) it’s just that most of us feel like we won’t. Talk about a product changing the course of a sport!
Until the Baker Manufacturing Company of Valdosta, Ga., patented their Baker Tree Stand in 1969, most deer hunters simply hunted from the ground. Or if they were determined enough to gain the advantage of height, were limited to fixed stands of relatively short height and often hammered together using 2x4s. Throughout most of the 70s, it was the only option for mobile hunters looking to strike a lofty perch.
What the Baker Stand, as it is simply called by many who remember them, did was open up a brand new and highly successful tactic for deer hunters—it gave them an easy way to climb above the whitetail’s normal line of sight at a moment’s notice, allowing them to take advantage of the discovery of a well used trail, a rub line or a newly used food source.
Coming at the same time as the advent of the compound bow and ultimately, the explosive interest of bow hunting, Baker’s invention spawned an entire industry by the 1980s that was characterized by innovation. Safer, more comfortable and quieter climbing designs, along with spin-off creations such as the hanging stand, climbing sticks, and a more reliable manufactured ladder stand concept have probably led to the successful punch of as many game tags as bows and guns themselves in that time span. Better awareness of safety has also led to the creation of better harnesses and safety vests such as the Hunter Safety System or Seat-O-The-Pants model, and more importantly, most hunters are using them.