Drones in the woods

Drones have been in the news a lot lately. The U.S. military’s ill-fated attempt to take out suspected terrorists with a Hellfire missile launched from a drone over Afghanistan wound up killing innocent civilians. Fox News used a drone over Del Rio, Texas, to show us video of the 10,000 illegal migrants amassed near the border bridge that crosses the Rio Grande to Mexico. A recent YouTube video captured footage of an alligator snatching a hovering drone over the Everglades.

Hobby drones are being purchased and used in this country more and more by people understandably fascinated with a small, hand-operated gizmo that can provide the operator with a bird’s-eye view of just about anything within 5 or 6 miles!

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has some regulatory authority over the operation of recreational drones. Human nature being what it is, the inevitable is happening. Hunters are discovering the potential of drones as “advance scouts” for locating game.

A friend with whom I deer hunt gave me a drone demonstration recently during a work weekend at deer camp. The fascination with these bug-like buzzing machines and their attendant technology is easy to identify with. Just the potential for aerial photography is endless!

And what about using them as a hunter’s tool to locate game or promising terrain? My friend made it clear that he would never use this machine during a hunt because that would be illegal.

The law says:

“Title 12 Section 11216 prohibits the use of aircraft to assist a person on the ground in hunting Bear, Deer, or Moose, and Title 12 Section 10001(1) defines an aircraft as “a machine or device designed for flight.” Radio-controlled helicopters and airplanes are machines or devices that are designed for flight and, therefore, are aircraft as defined in statute.”

Colorado became the first state in 2014 to outlaw the use of drones for scouting, hunting and taking wildlife. The Boone & Crockett Club issued a policy that game taken with the aid of drones would not be eligible for the record books. Additionally, state wildlife agencies, the Pope and Young Club and hunter-conservationists everywhere are discouraging the use of drones in hunting.

Note that Colorado banned the use of drones for scouting. Maine apparently has no such provision. Once the deer season opens don’t be caught flying a drone over deer cover. But checking out the deer woods by drone before the hunt is permissible. But should it be? What do you think?

Putting aside the legal issue for a moment, what about the ethics of scouting deer with a mechanical device like a drone? Would this be consistent with your concepts of fair chase? The ethical hunter who cares about his or her image needs to do some soul-searching.

In this era of intense social scrutiny of hunters and anti-hunting activism, impressions count. As far as I am concerned, a drone has no place in the deer woods, period. It would be a real stretch to argue that a drone for scouting or hunting fits into the parameters of fair chase. Even if you as a hunter can rationalize use of a drone in the deer woods, you know that your non-hunting neighbor would be hard-pressed to accept drones as a fair chase device.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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