I heard a prediction that, in 20 years, drones will be as common as cell phones. The Federal Aviation Administration prognosticates that 10,000 unmanned commercial vehicles could be in the skies by 2020.
Drones, which are really nothing more than unmanned aerial vehicles or perhaps more accurately remotely piloted aircraft, are here to stay.
One expert on the subject predicted that “in 10 years not one of us will go about our day without seeing a drone or multiple drones going about their business.”
Several years ago we used a remote-controlled helicopter to film our shooters on a sporting clays range and we wanted the bird’s eye perspective as we hunted pheasants, but the wind came up and we had to ground the aircraft. It was fun to watch the machine and the pilot/camera team in action.
Our military uses drones and UAVs are at work in South Africa to protect rhinos against poachers.
The technology can be used to monitor crop production, protect against cattle rustlers and locate illegal marijuana grows and other environmental damage in national forests and on private land. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife could employ a fleet of drones to count deer, elk and pronghorn herds. The U.S. Forest Service could use UAVs to scout when lightning strikes send up smoke in the timber. Search-and-rescue teams could arm drones with infrared to find lost hikers and hunters.
Because of a limited battery life, the average flight time for a UAV is 10 to 20 minutes, which tends to limit its range and effectiveness, but it is likely the technology will improve.
If everyone who could afford a cell phone owned a drone too, there would be a lot of clutter in the sky. What does it mean for the hunt, for the hunter and free chase?
Besides shooting footage for personal videos or for television, I can’t think of any good reason to use a UAV on the hunt. A drone could be used to size up a buck’s trophy potential. It could be used to scout for bedding areas and funnels where animals move. It could be used to fly over a herd of caribou looking for a big one. A drone armed with infrared could locate a herd at night. It could be used to spy on and intimidate other hunters.
For these reasons some states prohibit any kind of hunting for game within 24 to 48 hours after flying in manned aircraft. But the same rules don’t apply to unmanned aircraft.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are advertising their new Air Angel drone as the new hobby for animal protectionists. From their website: “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a PETA Air Angel! Just in time for the first day of bowhunting in Massachusetts…” Sounds like they advocate harassment to sell a product.
Imagine yourself sitting in a duck blind and a drone flies over to check to see what’s in your coffee. Maybe the drone and its camera follows you from your vehicle to your tree stand. Some say they would shoot that drone down, but that raises the issue, as the FAA reminds, “shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane.” Also, shooting at a drone with a bullet could endanger lives a mile or more away.
Colorado passed a ban on hunting or scouting with drones in January 2014. Alaska, Montana and New Mexico followed suit with similar bans. Idaho and Wisconsin addressed the issue with existing regulations.
Over the last year, drones were reported to have buzzed bison at Yellowstone and bighorns at Zion National Park. A drone flew around the stone faces at Mount Rushmore and flew low over the crowd. A drone crashed into the geyser at Old Faithful, and is still there stuck inside. In response, the National Park Service turned 84 million acres into no-drone zones.
Some of us like to arise before dawn and walk soft in the woods or on the desert with rifle or bow in hand. We pit our skills and our limited technology against deer, elk, bear and mountain lions and often we go home empty-handed. We know we could cheat, but our own private ethics and our conscience make us stick to the rules of fair chase. If our skies are to be populated by machines in the not-too-distant future it might be time to address hunting, scouting and harassment here in Oregon.
— Gary Lewis is the host of “Frontier Unlimited TV” and author of “John Nosler – Going Ballistic,” “A Bear Hunter’s Guide to the Universe,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Lewis at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.