Lately you’ve probably been hearing about new laws that ban the use of drones for hunting. Here in Wisconsin, for example, it’s “illegal to hunt any animal with the aid of any aircraft, including unmanned aircraft and drones.” That last part was added back in about 2014.
When these laws were first proposed, they seemed to anticipate technology from the far distant future. But today drones with live, high-resolution video feeds are readily available and hugely popular. Fortunately, most hunters would still agree that using a drone to scout, spot, or herd game does not fit the definition of fair chase.
True, it’s also reasonable to ask about the ethics of certain other hunting gadgets. Digital trail cameras are one thing, but now some models use cellular technology to transmit images in real time. While sitting at her laptop hundreds of miles away, a hunter could watch a trophy buck stroll down the trail toward the elevated stand where she’ll be waiting in ambush on opening morning. Or, from just a hundred yards away, a hunter already sitting in his stand could do the same thing on a phone. That, too, might be taking things a bit too far. But somehow, adding drones to the hunting experience feels like an even more egregious violation of fair-chase principles.
I’d like to suggest that the same is true for fishing, and that it should be illegal to use drones for fishing in any way. I don’t mean underwater drones like these; nor am I concerned about surfcasters and British carp anglers using drones with a release mechanism to lift their baits out farther than they could cast. Yes, these are questionable developments. But I’m referring specifically to the use of drones for scouting and reconnaissance. Let me explain.
My wife, Jean Hedren, is a Realtor here in northwest Wisconsin. I help her out with real estate photography and video, and in recent years I’ve been learning a lot about both. (A brief word from our sponsor: If you’re thinking of selling or buying a lake home or cabin here in northwest Wisconsin, please contact her at JeanHedren@EdinaRealty.com. You can also visit her blog and website at www.JeanHedrenRealtor.com. Check out her YouTube channel at Jean Hedren, Your NW WI Realtor. )
Last year we decided it was time to add aerial drone photos and video to the services we provide our sellers. During the winter I studied up for the FAA Part 107 test so I could get my Remote Pilot Certificate and legally fly a drone for commercial purposes. Then, after several hours of practice flights, it was time for the real thing. That was back in May.
If you’re an angler, you know that in the Northern Hemisphere most species of fish are spawning about that time of year—often in clear, shallow water where they’re easy to spot from the air. Some species, like bass and sunfish, make gravel nests that are even more visible from above. Despite being abandoned, these nests are still obvious months later. Even if you’re not looking for them, they’re hard to not notice.
I wasn’t looking for the fish; I just wanted aerial photos of the houses. Most of Jean’s listings are lake homes and cabins, and so this happens all the time. But that afternoon when I downloaded my first lakeshore drone photos, it was quite a surprise. Just offshore from one lake home, I saw dozens of sunfish nests. Within 100 yards of a cabin on a different lake, I saw half a dozen widely scattered bass nests. I figure it’s only a matter of time before someone at a major bass tournament is busted for using a drone to locate vulnerable bass guarding their nests.
And since several lakes in this part of northwest Wisconsin have thriving muskie populations, I know of a couple shallow bays where I could easily find trophy fish next May and June. I’d just fly over on a calm, sunny day and look for the submerged logs that aren’t actually logs. Not that I would. But I could.
For more examples of unintentional fish-scouting photos, just scroll on down. They’re downsized for faster loading, and mostly shot from fairly high up. So potentially, photos like these could reveal even more. But to protect the innocent fish, I did crop a couple shots so the location is less obvious. (At the very end, as a final non-drone bonus, I also included two lucky dock shots. I tiptoed.)
And that’s why drones should be illegal for hunting AND fishing.