Laws and Ethics of Drones & Hunting


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?

5 thoughts on “Laws and Ethics of Drones & Hunting

  1. Mike, I can think of one thing you did not mentions that I would like to use a drone for – and I am sure you will understand when I share it with you. South Texas brush country, late spring, the bucks are shedding antlers and it sure would be nice to be able to use a drone to locate sheds out in the brush, then figure out a path thru all the cactus and brush with needle sharp spines, thorns, etc. It just seems we never find that many sheds along the various rights of way and senderos where it is grassy.

  2. Totally agree with this. I believe they shouldn’t fly drones over hunting fields and woods. Happy to know Alaska already started prohibiting hunters to use drones.

  3. I’d take it one step further…

    I don’t think drones OR real time game cameras should be allowed to be used during the deer hunting season.

  4. Cameras are no different. On any public land, get all the tech crap out of the woods. There are morons who get a good buck in a pic and they feel like they have some kind of claim to that animal. This leads to a lot of dumb activity’s. Trespassing, poaching, and theft just to name a few. The morals of the hunters in this country have gone to crap. The electronics in the woods have greatly aided this . Private land is a different story.

  5. Morals and ethics have been out the door for a long time in this country and game lawmakers won’t have the spine to stop all of these modern tech gadgets.

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