Laws and Ethics of Drones & Hunting

drone

I heard an amazing prediction the other day: In less than 20 years every person in the world will have a “pet drone” or at least access to a drone.

What will 10 billion of the things buzzing around the land mean for hunting? Is there any place for a drone in the deer woods? As the technology advances and drones become cheaper and easier to fly, it is inevitable that people will try to find a way to use them for all activities, including hunting.

People already have. State troopers and wildlife cops in Alaska are aware of at least one drone-assisted (and illegal) moose kill, back in 2012.

Other than shooting cool footage for personal video or a TV show (more on that later) I can’t think of any good use for a drone in the deer woods. To me it would not be ethical to fly a drone over the fields/woods where you hunt, scouting from the air and sizing up buck racks (though that would be almost impossible with a drone’s wide-angle camera), or looking for funnels where bucks walk, and then moving in on the ground with a stand for an ambush.

Alaska was the first state to prohibit hunters from spotting game with drones, and others have followed. I expect all states to follow suit with specific restrictions on drones for hunting.

A few years ago, the National Park Service announced that it was taking steps to limit and/or prohibit drones from 84 million acres of public lands to keep the unmanned aircraft from harassing wildlife and annoying hikers, camper and all visitors. Check out the drone regulations before flying on in a national park.

As mentioned, one legal and ethical use of a drone is to get killer TV footage of landscapes, terrain and hunters walking around and glassing, etc. You see it on almost every show you watch on Sportsman Channel, including BIG DEER TV. But even this can lead to potential problems.

Several years ago, one of my former TV producers alerted game wardens in the area that our crew would be out there for a week, flying a drone with a camera attached to it to get some cool footage. We would not be using it as we scouted or hunted, just to film general landscape and hunter shots in the middle of the day.

filming with drone

That was back in the day when a drone was a novelty, and size-wise, big as a small helicopter (above). One evening, the warden in the area pulled up to property where I was hunting and confronted my friend as he waited to pick me up after dark.

“Where the hell is Hanback, I hear he’s using a damn helicopter to hunt, I want to talk to him.” He roared off and said he’d be back. He never tracked me down that week, and I’m glad. We flew the drone on private land and got some good footage, but I was uneasy about it.

We’re always ethical, and authorities are more familiar with drones today, but still it can be a tricky issue, especially on public land.

Lost in all this talk is the hunt itself—the stillness and solitude of the woods, the connection to nature and the land, the anticipation as you sit in a tree stand and wait on a magnificent buck, the sight of which takes your breath…

Who wants to ponder a hunting world with a billion drones buzzing overhead, watching your every move.

Sounds weird, but they say those days are coming. What do you think?

Hunt Planner: Where to Get Over-the-Counter Elk Tags

elkNo. 1 on the bucket list for many readers of the BIG DEER blog, especially those who live east of the Mississippi, is to hunt elk. People ask me all the time, “Hanback, where should I go for elk?”

Most people who email me don’t want to spend a lot of time and money applying for an elk tag. While they would certainly love to shoot a big bull, most people I correspond with are not trophy hunters. They want to spend a reasonable amount of money for a license, go west for a week, experience all that the mountains and elk hunting have to offer, and stand a decent chance to get one.

If this sounds like you, the guys at BookYourHunt.com have put together information on where you can get an elk tag over the counter (OTC). While opportunities are limited, an OTC elk tag can be had.

Look to 3 states first: Colorado, Montana and Idaho.

In Colorado, OTC antlerless and either-sex tags are available for the archery season, and bull tags can be had for 2 of  the 4 rifle seasons in many areas. Also available are either-sex permits for some WMAs located in the plains.

In Idaho, home to some 107,000 elk, OTC tags are available in many general hunting units. Idaho is the last western state that most hunters think about, but it should be one of the first you consider for OTC elk.

While Montana has a March draw for elk tags, the state’s “leftover tag” program provides a good opportunity for non-residents. After the initial spring lottery drawing, if there are still tags left (usually there are) these tags are offered for OTC sale on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Many years I have purchased leftover elk and deer tags this way in Montana (I have one for the 2017 season in fact).  A leftover tag is good for either rifle or archery in many units across the state, but not in coveted trophy areas where only a few tags are issued each year.

You probably figured that  OTC elk hunting was not on option in the big-bull, draw states of Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah, and mostly that’s right. But BookYourHunt.com points out that Arizona and Wyoming sometimes offer limited OTC tags “in areas outside natural elk habitat” and where “success rates are very low.” This would be a tough, long-shot hunt, but at least you might be able to get a tag and go.

As for Utah and New Mexico, these states have landowner preference programs where ranchers and landowner/outfitters can obtain tags and sell them directly to their clients. This would essentially be an OTC tag purchase for you, though there is some paperwork involved.

You’re not getting any younger, and the older you get, the longer your bucket list grows.  While you might be able to squeak in a hunt in Colorado or Idaho this fall, now is the time to start planning your dream elk hunt for 2018.

How NOT to Shoot a Button Buck

button buckThere are few among our BIG DEER army who would shoot a button fawn buck on purpose, but every one of us has accidentally done it. We have an antlerless tag and drop a fat “doe” to fill the freezer…we walk up to the deer and go, “Uh, oh,” as we see its nubs and male parts.

It’s an honest mistake that anybody can make, and that’s why harvesting a young buck with less than 2” of antler is legal in most states (check your regulations).

But you obviously never want to shoot a button. These pointers from the Michigan DNR will help you differentiate an adult doe from a buck fawn, so you won’t mess up again.

–Check body shape. A mature doe’s body is rectangular, with a long neck and face. A buck fawn is square-shaped and has a short neck and face.

Study heads with binoculars. A doe’s head is normally more rounded on top between the ears, and a buck’s head is flattened near the base of the antlers.Obviously look for little nubs too as you glass.

–If you spot a single deer ambling around looking lost consider this: Button bucks are often alone, while adult does tend to travel with other deer. But plenty of does walk around alone too.

–If possible, wait until 3 or more antlerless deer are together (maybe feeding out in a plot) then after glassing, harvest one of the larger animals.

–If two juvenile deer are alone without an adult doe, one will probably be a button buck. Normally the young male is larger than the female and could be mistaken for an adult doe. Look closely with binoculars for the antler bases and nubs of a button buck.

–Wait until the deer are standing or moving slowly. It is easier to identify sex and age when deer are not moving too fast.

–Shoot with good visibility. Poor light and heavy cover make it difficult if not impossible to determine a deer’s sex and age.

Alabama: New Bill Would Expand Baiting for Deer

alberta sheldon synchro feed bucksThe Montgomery Adviser reports that a bill working its way through the Alabama legislature would allow hunters more options for using bait to lure deer and hogs. It passed the house Tuesday and heads to the state senate for consideration.

The new bill would not only expand baiting in Alabama, but also clear up confusion due to a law that went into effect just last hunting season. That current law allows hunters to use “supplemental feed” if the feed source is at least 100 yards away from the hunter and out of his or her direct line of sight.

That law caused confusion among hunters and, I suspect, game wardens last season. Just what does “out of sight” mean?  Suppose a corn pile is 101 yards away from a tree—if you sat on the ground you could not see it, but if you were up in a ladder stand you could conceivably glass the bait.

The new bill would do away with the distance and view requirement to the bait, so you could set it right out front your stand. But the bait would have to be in a container, like a corn feeder. Apparently it could not be poured out on the ground near a stand.

But the Alabama legislature seems intent on keeping any final baiting bill they come up with confusing. As of now, the new bill being considered would be a supplement to the current baiting law; it would not replace it. If a hunter wants to abide by the current requirements that bait must be 100 yards away and out of line of sight, he could still hunt that way and not be required to pay an additional fee.

If the new bill is enacted into law as written, and if a hunter wants to put a corn feeder out front of his stand, he’d have to purchase an annual $15 baiting license in addition to the regular deer hunting license. Of the $15, $1 would be an administrative fee and $14 would be returned to the state conservation department. Estimates have the bait bill raising an additional $1.2 to $1.5 million for Alabama Fish and Wildlife. That part of it would be good.

How this new bill ends up is unknown, but it seems like changes are coming to the current and confusing “line of sight” bait law that was enacted just last year.

That aside, there are millions of hunters, in Alabama and elsewhere, who do not like or accept hunting deer over bait, so that must be factored into it. Also, with the recent spread of Chronic Wasting Disease across America, many wildlife departments and experts do not like or recommend baiting because it congregates whitetails, which could accelerate the spread of disease.

Chuck Sykes, Alabama Director of Wildlife and Fisheries, has weighed in on the topic. “Supplemental feeding, when used properly, is a great management tool,” he said. “When it’s used improperly, it’s terrible. It’s just like anything else; it’s how you use it. It’s not a magic bullet. You can’t go out and pour a pile of corn and expect to kill a 160-inch deer. It doesn’t work that way. It’s one piece of a management program. If you want to use it, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. We’re not making you put feed out. It’s a choice.”

To Sykes, all the hoopla of hunting deer over bait in Alabama has taken away from the true meaning of supplemental feeding. “You need feed with 16- to 18-percent protein from February through October,” he said. “When the does have little ones and are lactating, and the bucks’ antlers are growing, you’ve got to have protein. Corn is like candy. It’s energy. In the winter, when it gets cold, corn will help them out when they need energy to stay warm.

“But a supplemental-feeding program is totally different than baiting. With supplemental feeding, you’re doing it for the wildlife. With baiting, you’re being selfish and trying to kill something instead of getting out and hunting.”

How do you feel about baiting?

Bottle Kills Whitetail Buck

bottle deer tongueTwo weeks ago, somebody dropped an old chair and a refrigerator in a parking lot of the state forest where I hike with my dog. I reported it to the authorities, but nobody seemed to give a damn; I doubt a deputy checked it out. I suspect the litterbug knew that, because yesterday, a few hundred yards from the first dump site, I found an old TV rolled off the road, down a bank and into a creek. This pretty little state forest is becoming some criminal’s personal trash pit.

With littering on my mind and mad as hell about it, this article and picture from QDMA hit me hard and made me even angrier.

The other day some guys found a dead buck and (excerpt): …someone looked in the buck’s mouth. Somehow, the buck had stuck its tongue into the mouth of a glass bottle and couldn’t get it back out. The bottle had broken off, but the ring of the bottle’s mouth remained. It had apparently cut off blood flow to the tongue…

…it is likely the deer died of thirst, which would have killed it faster than starvation. Thirst may also explain why it was found beside a pond.      

Click here to read more and see more pictures. If this doesn’t make you report littering, I don’t know what will. We all need to keep pounding the authorities until they start catching and fining those who would desecrate the land and, in some cases, kill our wildlife.