MAY 9, 2022   |   Voice of Leadership Panel

Guest Column - The Advancement of Technology and Hunting Ethics

Leica Takes a Proactive Stance - Interview with Ryan Trenka of Leica’s Sport Optics division

By Leica Staff

Doing things the right way means a lot to the sport optics division of Leica USA. When researching and developing new products, such as the new Geovid Pro 32, one of its core considerations - and debates amongst its staff - centers on that non-negotiable respect for the quarry, that skill of knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot.

Technological advances have changed sports beyond all recognition in recent times, be it VAR in football and soccer or Hawk-Eye in tennis, making for an even playing field and removing those close calls that can sometimes ruin the spectacle. So what about the role of technology in the field? Surely it is imperative that its use should not replace that which the hunter should already know, or cloud the traditions which are absolutely vital for it to stay true to its core values. Hunters are, after all, whether for table or for conservation, using their equipment to kill.

Someone with the hunter’s moral code at heart is Ryan Trenka of Leica’s Sport Optics division, a man who lives and breathes the craft he has enjoyed since he was a boy. For him, technology should never make it easier for hunters to hunt; if anything, it should make it safer and be a tool which can help them prove they have welfare at the forefront of their minds before pulling the trigger.

“I talk a lot about fair chase”, says Ryan, who is based in Bozeman, Montana. He argues that although it’s in our DNA to hunt, it can no longer be justified solely as a means to feed a family owing to lack of financial resources. He’s also acutely aware of the nuances of the term across the globe. “Fair chase means something different in various countries, just like trophy hunting.”

Leica has a proven track record of putting ethical hunting at the heart of its products: the Leica Geovid binoculars (released in 1992) were the first to include an integrated rangefinder: the Rangemaster CRF 2000 B has the ability to measure temperature and air pressure; while Geovid HD-B models feature an integrated micro-SD memory card slot which allows for ballistics parameters of the hunter’s rifle to be downloaded to ascertain the accuracy and ethicacy of the shot.

The release of Leica’s Geovid Pro 32 rangefinding binoculars in January - which offers advanced GPS mapping and GPS tracking to help bring the user close to their target - has coincided with a partnership the brand is forging with the Boone & Crockett Club, an organization which has had fair chase at its core since the 1880s. The club, which is at the vanguard of high standards, has been firm in upholding its traditions at a time when technology, if over- or mis-used, has, as it puts it, the “potential to undermine the special nature of hunting that is passed from one generation to the next”.

“When new products like the Geovid Pro 32 come out there are people within the industry who ask us “is this fair chase?” That’s a good thing,” says Ryan, who was inspired to contact the club after reading an article by Andrew McKean in Outdoor Life about a change to its stance on the use of certain types of technology in big game hunting. “We want to be on the right side of this movement, because it is a big movement, and we want to make sure that organizations like the Boone & Crockett Club understand what we’re doing,” he adds.

“When I knew the Geovid Pro 32 was about to enter the market I reached out to the Boone & Crockett Club and asked them where they thought the restrictions on the use of technology in order to achieve a place in their records should end. I presented what we were doing with the binoculars and said customers can use the Geovid Pro 32 the right way and the wrong way,” says Ryan.

“From a sales point of view, I don’t want the club to come out and say no more laser rangefinders or waypoint mapping because these are the things the binoculars can do very well,” he adds. “The club suggested we get together and support the technology that isn’t violating any laws, but could if it were used the wrong way. We want to educate people on the right way and say don’t be “that person” [who misuses their equipment].

The two-way partnership will be ongoing, and will seek to open up a conversation within the wider hunting community, rather than be measured in sales figures or hits on social media. A podcast is planned, during which Leica and the Boone & Crockett Club will work to spread the message of ethical hunting.

So does Ryan see the collaboration as an opportunity to head off future challenges that hunters in the US will face?

“I think so,” he says. “If we do this now it’s a smart move. Guns shoot further, rangefinders see further, you can shoot an animal at 2,500 yards - but should you? We don’t want to market this product as “a better way to kill bigger deer or elk, or make your hunt any easier. We want to be proactive and say you can use this technology incorrectly. It’s just like a cell phone, you can have a cell phone in your pocket and you’re guiding someone towards an elk. That’s wrong. That’s unethical. That’s illegal. The technology we’re using in the Geovid Pro 32 isn’t illegal anywhere and we don’t want it to get that way.”

I suggest to Ryan that since hunting and shooting across the globe is under scrutiny like never before, being seen to be doing the right thing by the quarry is not only ethical but absolutely necessary, no matter what the brand...

“We’re more serious than ever about ethical hunting,” he says, noting how the final Geovid Pro 32 was quite different to its original drawings thanks in part to ethicacy conversations. “The mapping feature was a culmination of the right people asking the right questions and wanting to come out of our comfort zone,” he adds.

“We are very careful in our marketing, our approach, how we talk to people and express our views. We are reminding customers that they cannot use certain products in certain States, and that they need to follow individual laws and guidelines. We’re in the process of developing some really cool products, but we make sure we tell people that they won’t be able to use it in some places. So it’s more important than ever, especially now at a time when you’re seeing scopes that are 100% digital and do everything for you except pull the trigger, so I can see in the short term a time when we’re asking ourselves “is this right”?

And is there ever a time when doing the right thing is not the right thing to do?

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The Voice of Leadership Panel is an appointed group of outdoor industry leaders who have volunteered to contribute their voices on key hunting and outdoor recreation issues to inform, inspire, and educate participants within our community.

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  • James “Jay” Pinsky, Editor, The Hunting Wire
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