Western States Beginning To Address Drones And Hunting

At first the moose moves away from its tormentor, perhaps hoping thicker woods will ward off the super-sized mosquito that’s inscrutably immune to winter’s cold.

But then, after a few moments getting used to the high-pitched buzz a few yards above its head, the cow turns around, raises its nose and eyeballs the drone.

“What are you,” the animal seems to ask.

Or, possibly, “Go the hell away and leave me in peace.”

EIRIK SOLHEIM'S GOPRO FOOTAGE, TAKEN FROM A "QUADCOPTER" IN A NORWEGIAN FOREST LAST WINTER, SHOWS A MOOSE LOOKING UP AT HIS DRONE. (YOU TUBE)

EIRIK SOLHEIM’S GOPRO FOOTAGE, TAKEN FROM A “QUADCOPTER” IN A NORWEGIAN FOREST NEAR OSLO LAST WINTER, SHOWS A MOOSE LOOKING UP AT HIS DRONE. (YOU TUBE)

Either way, the men watching the feed from the GoPro mounted on the quadcopter giggle like schoolkids — and the video that one posts shows what, in a world where every tree seemingly already has a trail cam, may be the next evolution in the observation of wildlife without one’s own eyes firsthand.

It’s being touched on to keep the technology from spreading to hunting.

“Our largest concern is the erosion of fair-chase principles,” Land Tawney of Backcountry Hunters and Anglerstold the The Times-Picayune last November. “Whether drones are used for scouting to find animals or, in a worst-case scenario, where they’re used to pinpoint a particular animal for a hunter to kill, it’s a problem.

“The scenario is, Joe Bloe works with an outfitter and has one of these drones that has GPS capabilities, and he tells the outfitter exactly where that animal is at this very moment, and the outfitter walks the hunter to that animal.

“That forms a disconnect between the challenge of a hunt and the reward for that challenge. It really cheapens the hunt.”

Not long afterwards, the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s commission took up the issue. Late last week, it acted sharply. According to commission documents:

C. It shall be unlawful to use a drone to look for, scout, or detect wildlife as an aid in the hunting or taking of wildlife.

1. For the purposes of this regulation, drone shall be defined as including, without limitation, any contrivance invented, used or designed for navigation of, or flight in the air that is unmanned or guided remotely. A drone may also be referred to as “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” (UAV) or “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System” (UAVS).

In a post-amble, Colorado officials explained:

Drones for Hunting-Related Activities
The practice of using drones as an aid in the scouting, hunting and taking of wildlife has become an emerging issue, especially in the more open country habitats such as Colorado and many western states that are not heavily forested. There is concern that this technology which is getting cheaper and better can be used in the scouting, hunting and taking of Colorado’s wildlife, in particular mule deer on open winter range and highly sought-after and limited hunting opportunities for the big game species such as Bighorn Sheep, Rocky Mountain Goat and Moose. The use of this technology violates the principles of fair chase and fair opportunity. Colorado statute (33-6-124, C.R.S.) that covers the use of aircraft and the federal Airborne Hunting Act are inadequate as those laws focus on “any person while airborne” as the use of unmanned aircraft was not contemplated at the time those laws were enacted. These regulations define drones and prohibit their use in hunting-related activities. It is not within the authority nor is it the intent of the Commission to prohibit their use in agriculture, education or any other type of non-hunting-related activity.

Though Idaho’s hunting regulations don’t specifically address drones, this past season was the first that Oregon’s did.

Before, ODFW’s pamphlet only noted that hunting within eight hours of flying in a helicopter or airplane anywhere outside of established airport was forbidden.

But for 2013 the rules were amended to read:

No person shall: Hunt within eight hours of communicating with or receiving information on the location of game mammals from an aircraft. For the purpose of this rule “aircraft” includes unmanned aircraft such as drones.

Usage of drones in the U.S. is going to do nothing but grow and become more affordable. Already private-citizen footage from unmanned aerial vehicles has popped up on the network news.

Their potential use for hunting caught the sharp, skeptical eye of the Spokesman-Review‘s Rich Landers today, and that caught mine.

Technically — at least to me — it seems like Washington’s rules address it: “It is illegal to: Use an aircraft to spot, locate, or report the location of wildlife for the purpose of hunting.”

But I’m sure a lawyer could find a 31-inch-wide hole in that law for the right client.

When I asked WDFW if they were talking about the issue internally, Game Division manager Dave Ware responded, “We have not heard reports of their use or any interest in their use, but will review our current laws and determine if it would be something to include in our next hunting season regulation cycle for 2015-17.”

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