Droning On About Drones… Some More

May 6, 2014

Drones and hunting.  Drones

It’s a hot topic, no doubt, as we see states like Alaska and Colorado moving to ban the use of drones for hunting, while hunting/conservation organizations are mobilizing their memberships in opposition of the technology.

I’m no expert on drones, outside of a couple of cool sales demonstrations, some YouTube videos, and social media advertising, so I try to temper my own response accordingly.  But I can’t help wondering, how much of this ado is about nothing?

For example, how, exactly, do the opponents of drone technology see these things being used by hunters?  It’s easy to fantasize about possibilities, of course, but what are the realities… even given a few more years for the technology to develop?

I’ve considered the most obvious.  You fly your drone out until it spots game, then you run (or drive) to the location and shoot the animal.  This is similar to how some folks have used traditional aircraft in the past, and the tactic was so successful (and controversial) that most states have banned the practice.

But when you consider that scenario… along with the technological limitations on commercially available, civilian drones… it really should give you pause.

My first question is how much advantage would a drone, with a line-of-sight range of around a mile, give a hunter?  Would it be that much better than simply getting to a high point with binoculars or a spotting scope?  Wouldn’t using quality optics (at a fraction of the cost of a high-end drone) actually improve your ability to locate distant game animals… not to mention presenting far less likelihood of spooking the quarry with the noise of a small aircraft?

I think that some of the dissonance here probably comes from a public perception of drones that is driven by images from the Middle Eastern war… the idea of drones circling silently for hours or even days, providing high-resolution telescopic and infra-red visibility to the movements and locations of “targets”… and, of weaponized drones delivering deadly payloads on these “targets”.

First off, let’s immediately dispense with the idea that weaponized drones will ever be legal for civilian use in the United States.  Outside of some hobbyist videos (of questionable authenticity), that sort of thing isn’t going to happen.

The reality is, in the civilian market, the war materiel we see on the evening news is not the kind of technology that’s currently available to JackLittle drone or Jill Hunter.  And what is available is either going to be a nifty version of existing model aircraft, or it’s going to be pretty closely regulated by the FAA.  As you might imagine, it’s unlikely that the skies over America are likely to be filled with unmanned, personal aircraft with the size and capabilities that would be required to create an appreciable, ethical dilemma for US sportsmen.

The FAA has been tasked with the challenge of producing a comprehensive set of rules for unmanned aircraft by September of 2015. The primary consideration is public safety, and restrictions will more than likely include the requirement to fly these aircraft within physical sight of the operator at all times.  This means that, while a hunter may fly his device over a canyon or woodlot, he’s not (legally) going to be sending it on missions over the tundra to track caribou, or out across the Rocky Mountain wilderness in search of distant elk.

So what, then?  Using drones to drive animals to the shooters?  I guess that idea has some sort of merit to it, because it is, at least, theoretically plausible.  I could envision flying your Orthocopter out to the far side of a thicket, and slowly buzzing overhead to push the deer out of cover.

But is it unethical?  By what measure?  Wouldn’t that same thinking suggest that using hounds to drive game is equally unethical… if not moreso?

Given the glut of technology currently available on the hunting market, I simply can’t see why the drone issue has become such a hotbed of controversy.  With game cameras that can transmit wireless signals over the cellular phone networks and long-range rifle systems capable of making kills at 1000 yards (or more), the fantastical suggestion that drones are somehow a breaking point seems sort of ludicrous.

The whole thing gives rise to another thought, out on the darker, cynical edges of my mind.  Is the drone (non)issue, due to its high visibility, actually just a vehicle for recruitment by the conservation organizations who are raising the battle flag?  With social media providing a free, high-traffic platform for promotion, are the organizations simply taking advantage of the situation to generate support and rally membership?

Is it because it’s such an easy win, unlike more divisive topics such as high fence hunting and baiting?  In social media discussions, the opposition to the use of drones for hunting is practically unanimous.  The handful of folks, like myself, who challenge the status quo do so not because we support the concept, but only because the idea itself is so unlikely (and because legislation to pre-emptively ban an imaginary boogie-man is destined to misfire).

So are these organizations (and has anyone else noticed how many there are, all of a sudden) simply preaching to the choir, building up a furor until the collection plate can be passed around?

I don’t have the answers… just my thoughts.  But the whole drone thing seems to be much more of a tempest in a tea cup than a substantial, ethical consideration.

Don’t we, as sportsmen and conservationists, have more important things to deal with?


5 Responses to “Droning On About Drones… Some More”

  1. Joshua Stark on May 6th, 2014 12:00

    You probably shouln’t write a long-ish essay that ends by implying that I just wasted my time.

    : )

    Interesting points, though. Thanks, Phillip.

  2. Phillip on May 6th, 2014 13:39

    One thing I can promise, Josh… when you visit this site, you’ll always get at least as much as you paid for. 😉

  3. Droning On About Drones… Some More | on May 6th, 2014 15:44

    […] Droning On About Drones… Some More […]

  4. Jeff on May 9th, 2014 12:06

    just doesn’t strike me as fair chase and that’s part of hunting in my book..

  5. Phillip on May 9th, 2014 12:44

    Hi, Jeff, and thanks for dropping by. A couple of questions for you…

    What about it doesn’t strike you as “fair chase”? Can you give me an example of how you think drones are being used today by hunters? How do you think they will be used in the future? What is your concern?