Can you or should you use a drone to hunt deer when hunting? These turn out to be two very different sides of a coin. In some States the answer is yes, you can, provided that specific regulations are adhered to. However, when it comes to the ethical side of it, the answer is not so positive, as it could be a definite “no” from many conservationists and hunters.
The controversy over this matter stretches from the ethical side one the one hand, to the “keeping-up-with-technology” on the other hand. For, according to the modernists, it is merely a sign of the times we live in; a world of instant communication and fast-moving activities.
Opposed to this, we should take a look at hunting as it was done a few generations ago. It was the time when great skills and dedication were required to move up close enough to the animal to take a shot.
Both sides have valid arguments to consider, therefore we shall take an objective look at the different opinions.
How to use drones for hunting
How it should be used:
The two main considerations are of course, that animals should not be harassed and that hunting does not become too easy.
Spotting big game – if drones are used, it should be to scout prior to the hunt and then have a waiting period of say, 48 hours before the hunter goes into the field to hunt. The idea is not to track the animal and then move in for the kill immediately thereafter.
Stalking wounded deer – if a deer is wounded and takes off into the woods, a drone can be used effectively to track it and finish the kill. This can prevent unnecessary suffering.
Scouting off-season – drones can be used successfully out of the hunting season. This helps a hunter to familiarize himself with the terrain or area where he will be hunting. Yes, the deer will of course have moved around when you get to the hunt, but you would still have a pretty good idea of the distribution of big game in the area.
How it should not be used
Driving game by drone – some hunters use their drones to locate deer and then fly it in such a way as to frighten them and force them into moving in their direction. This is seen as harassment of animals.
Same day hunting – again, this should be prohibited by such guidelines as to avoid hunting immediately after a drone was used to track the deer. A waiting period such as 48 hours which has already been implemented in a number of States, is the way to go.
No use of drones with hunters in the field – some animal conservation activists have been harassing hunters while they are in the field. Their initial goal is, of course, to ensure hunters respect animal rights while hunting. This however, could be seen as the harassment of hunters.
Limitations on amount of drones used – there should be some guidelines as to how many drones may be used by a hunter. A hunter who has two or three drones out in the field scouting will give him an unfair advantage.
Ethics of using a drone for hunting deer
It seems that man is always looking for, and will always be looking for ways to make it easier to spot and kill animals. And for those who are all for it, scouting from the air is merely a progression of mankind’s ability to do everything faster and better.
There are just as many arguments for using drones when hunting as there are against it.
Arguments in favor of:
- Hunters are allowed to use aircraft to scout for animals, so why not use drones too?
- It will make it easier for people with disabilities to hunt if they are allowed to use drones. Technology, and more specifically prostheses, has successfully been incorporated in opening up the opportunity for disabled athletes to compete in other sports. Why not use drones too?
- The capabilities of drones are misunderstood. It is not as if thousands of drones will be in the air for hours on end, tracking deer.
See, when it gets to actual flight time, it will give you approximately 10-20 minutes of flight, so in effect you will have 5-15minutes before bringing it in.
- In some areas, flying in a powered parachute is allowed for scouting whilst drones are banned in those same areas.
- Those in favor of using drones to hunt deer, argue that there is no significant difference between drones and moving scouting cameras. The modern trail cameras even send images and video to your phone.
- Drones can be effectively used as long as hunters abide to the regulations and guidelines.
- It makes at least some noise and deer as well as other animals in the area are frightened and run away.
- In practice, drones are not ideal to scout with. Most commercial and DIY drones are limited by flight time as well as what they can see from the cameras they can carry.
Hunters who have attempted to use it, explains that a GoPro is about all it can carry, which will in effect mean you have to get pretty close to an animal before being able to recognise it as an animal.
Now, the consequence here is, that when you do get close to the deer with the drone, chances are that he will get scared and take off anyhow, defying the purpose of your scouting.
- Animals will feel unsafe hiding in thick terrain, since they will now be discovered there too and have nowhere to hide any longer.
- One hunter bluntly calls it “cheating.”
- And of course, the famous heading from an Albuquerque Journal: “Real hunters don’t drone.”
- Part of the sport of hunting is the preparations, the scouting, and the process leading up to the kill. That leaves the question: “Is it really hunting if technology leads you right up to the deer?”
- When technology is used in other sports, it is mainly to assist disabled athletes, assist referees in making error-free decisions or to enhance the safety of the athlete. One example is Hawk-eye technology used in cricket, football and baseball to assist referees. In motorsports the HANS device is used to ensure the safety of the driver during a crash.
If technology such as a drone is to be legalized in hunting, it needs to be declared what exactly its purpose is. Does it benefit the hunter or the deer? Or does it merely give the hunter the advantage of an easier kill?
- The Boone and Crockett Club is an American non-profit organization that advocates fair chase hunting in support of habitat conservation. They have gone as far as to declare that no trophy taken with the assistance of a drone can be included in their record books, since fair chase should be a major consideration for licensed hunters whenever and wherever they hunt.
According to them, it has to do with “advantage”, and if there is any doubt as to what the advantage in the field is, it should go to the animal. Only then can it be a fair chase.
- The general opinion among hunting conservationists, is that when technology substitutes the basic skills a hunter should use, then it undermines the hunting experience.
Federal and State Regulations
There are no specific federal regulations governing the use of drones to hunt, since drones do not fall under the Federal Airborne Hunting Act of 1971. Such law merely prohibits the use of airplanes, helicopters and powered parachutes, described as manned aircraft, to track, harass and shoot animals.
Now, although it is not uncommon for hunters throughout the West to use small aircraft for scouting prior to the opening of the hunting season, it does prohibit tracking and shooting animals from the air. Furthermore, there are limitations on how close to the hunting season you are allowed to scout from the air.
Click here to view the specific federal governing laws.
Different States and even different municipalities have recently introduced more specific regulations regarding the usage of drones for hunting. It is your best interest to familiarize yourself with the guidelines of the local law enforcement agencies where you will be hunting.
What are the Best Drones to use for Scouting Deer
So you have done your homework, familiarized yourself with all the rules and regulations and you have decided to use a drone to scout for deer.
Your next big decision is, of course, which drone to buy. Here is a list of some of the most popular drones:
- DJI Mavic 2 Pro
- DJI Inspire 2
- Autel Robotics EVO
- DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
- Parrot Anafi
- DJI Mavic Air
- DJI Spark