Picture this: a bowhunter lands a well-placed shot on a large buck. But when it comes to finding the downed deer, the task proves challenging. Enter Drone Technology, a contemporary solution that some see as a game-changer and others as a matter of ethical debate. Today we explore the place of drone technology in what's known as “Fair Chase” hunting.
In this high-tech age, drones, a Chinese-made DJI Matrice 30 in this case, are becoming increasingly prevalent in various sectors, including the hunting industry. This shift raises questions about Fair Chase, the ethical standard that has defined hunting for decades. Is using drone technology to locate a downed deer still considered Fair Chase? Opinions vary.
Years ago, a seasoned bowhunter could spend days fruitlessly searching for his kill, as in the case of a friend who resorted to renting an airplane to locate his deer. He was successful, but the event raised eyebrows.
For one, it raised questions about the application of the Fair Chase rule, which disallows using aircraft to locate live deer. The rules, however, were ambiguous when it came to locating a downed animal.
Since then, the use of technological aids has expanded, with the likes of tracking dogs and trail cameras employed in several states. But the advent of drone technology has ignited fresh debates about the nature of Fair Chase.
According to the Pope & Young Club's policy, “Use of these highly sophisticated, remote-controlled aircraft to scout, monitor and stalk North American big game to aid in bowhunting activities is a fundamental violation of the rules of Fair Chase.” But notably, this policy doesn't exclude drone usage for recovery purposes.
Roy Grace, the P&Y Records Chairman, elaborated on this nuance. He said that using drones or other tools to locate an animal is not the problem, but abandoning the pursuit to hunt another animal would disqualify a hunter from record book consideration.
Drone usage laws also vary across states. For instance, drone use is permissible in Alabama for scouting purposes on the same hunting day. Meanwhile, Texas and Tennessee enforce stricter laws, with the former outlawing drones for deer recovery and the latter banning their use entirely in certain Wildlife areas.
Advocates like Mike Yoder, founder of Drone Deer Recovery (DDR) from Ohio, argue for the benefits of drones. DDR leverages thermal technology of a DJI Matrice 30 drone, enabling hunters to recover deer more efficiently.
Yoder's services, which already count more than 1,300 pilot operator applications and 25 certified operators across 15 states, are seeing a growing demand.
Yoder's DJI drones are high-end and sophisticated, equipped with night-vision and thermal-imaging cameras. They can detect body heat from a deer hours after it's been shot, which proves invaluable in recovery efforts.
Yet, the use of drones still raises questions. For instance, does drone usage scare deer away? According to Yoder, despite his drones' size, they don't disturb the wildlife. However, Legal constraints mean Yoder cannot direct a hunter to an injured deer, thereby only aiding in locating already-expired animals.
The consensus on the use of drone technology in hunting is still far from uniform. Some laud it as an innovative solution for efficient recovery, while others worry about the potential for misuse. As Doug Clayton, P&Y's Conservation Chairman, put it, drone recovery could be like “Pandora's Box,” with unpredictable and potentially unwanted outcomes.
Nonetheless, as technology continues to advance, the parameters of Fair Chase are likely to evolve, too. The goal remains to promote ethical hunting practices while also maximizing the benefits of technology to ensure no animal's life is taken in vain.
The question isn't about drones or technology per se, but how these tools can best serve the spirit of Fair Chase. As the narrative continues to unfold, it's up to the hunting community to guide this conversation, maintaining respect for the hunted at the heart of all decisions.
Photo courtesy of Drone Deer Recovery.
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