Thursday, 15 October 2015

Tech in the shooting world

It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for finding deer, it doesn’t work for hitting birds, and it hardly helps gutting and cooking them afterwards. You can stare at YouTube films all you like: printed books are better, more convenient and don’t run out of battery or go pop in the rain. Worse still, tech is nerdy, like sitting in front of an X-Box, the opposite of getting out there and actually doing it. But I love tech for shooting. I am a happy nerd.

The GPS has revolutionised the gamebook. It offers the warmth of an entry that reads ‘There are more geese than ever, many thousands’, the brutality of the entry ‘Various: 4’ and it gives you something else. Ever since the coming of the railways, sport has become mobile. We can now head for the Highlands or the lowlands and, once arrived, shoulder our gun and walk forth. Thanks to Google Maps we can revisit our greatest exploits.

As someone who is lucky enough in his job to go shooting all over the world, Google Maps has made my life relivable in front of crackling fire, whisky in hand, dogs snoozing at feet. A KML file does what a gamebook should do. Upload it to Google and you can swoop in and out of the glens or the rides where you stalked, you can tramp the mud like the wildfowler you were or skim like a grouse over pixelated moorland. It can bring it all back in a similar way to the antlers mounted on the wall, or the photograph of you holding that fish.

The first example I saw of tech invading the tweedy fortress of sport was in the 1980s when a friend of mine caught a salmon and took a photograph of it on the river bank next to a tape measure. He then blew up that photograph to actual size, mounted it on a board, cut it out and hung it on a wall, providing him with more detail though less sensuality and certainly easier dusting than anything Malloch of Perth might manage. We little group of fishermen in those days tried to think of many reasons why this tech outrage might not be a good thing but we had to agree, it is effective. Thirty years later, today, many of that little group own mobile phones and a few even type their own letters.

Today there is wearable tech. I make films with George Digweed, 26 times world champion shot and – little-known fact – keen early adopter. He once made a DVD while wearing what he calls a ‘fireman’s helmet’ camera set-up that gave the viewer an idea of what he was seeing down the barrel of his gun. He has since been on the look-out for ways of recreating this sight picture even better, and experimented with everything from GoPro’s new Sportsman Mount to Google Glass. He hasn’t found it yet but he is still looking.

GoPro’s new Sportsman Mount

For my most recent birthday, I got the watch I wanted. It is called (truly awful name coming up) an LG Watch Urbane, similar to an Apple Watch but it belongs to the Google universe. It doesn’t make me any more urbane than I am already (at least in my own mind) but it does repeat the notifications from my mobile phone in watch form and allows me to ignore them with a peevish twist of my wrist, rather than fishing around in my pocket, pushing aside conkers and spent cartridges in order to locate my phone. I love that. As yet, I have found no useful hunting, shooting nor fishing app in the ‘Android Wearable’ section of the Google Play store, but I have hope that someone will think of one. It is waterproof, which will help.

Another thing it does that pleases me mightily is that it tracks my health. Like most shooting types, exercise is not my problem so much as whisky intake and I am glad it has not worked out a way of tracking that. It actually seems to be impressed that I exceed my target daily footsteps by a factor of two or three. Perhaps insurance companies will start to favour hunting types. And the best bit is that it only has four states for mankind: walking, bicycling, travelling by car, or travelling by public transport. It works out what you are doing by matching your location with topography. So, if you are walking along a railway track, it assumes you are travelling by train. It logged the 25 miles I did driving round farm tracks looking for cullable deer as bicycling, buzzed me on the wrist and gave me a perky little message about how much better I must be feeling. How right it is.

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