Banning Drones for Hunting in Montana

                                                                                                May 9, 2013

To: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission

From: Montana Chapter, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

Issue:  Regulating Unmanned Aerial Vehicle  Systems (Drones) in Hunting


Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems (commonly called  “drones”) are increasingly important in the military and have high potential to contribute to the fields of wildlife biology, search-and-rescue, agriculture and many other applications. However, in private hands there is small but growing interest in using these highly sophisticated remote-controlled aircraft to scout, monitor and stalk big game. BHA believes this technology represents a widespread opportunity for abuse, and if not regulated early poses a significant threat to fair chase hunting and fair distribution of hunting opportunity.

According to the UAVS Industry Association: “While military operations continue to dominate current UAS applications, the future will see increasing use of UAVs in parapublic and civil roles. It is important for the growth of the industry that paths to the civil market are opened as early as possible and UAVS takes very seriously the challenges of operating UAVs in the civil environment.”  According to an article in the New York Times, one company sells 7,000 civilian UAVs a year, more than the US military drone fleet. As one industry promoter predicted, “the sky is going to be black with these things.”

A YouTube video posted January 2013 depicts a Norwegian man stalking a moose with a remote controlled UVAS.  The moose seemed perplexed, as it watched the machine hover above and monitor its every move.    There are also online videos of UVAs with night-vision and heat-sensing technology being used to detect feral hogs in the southeastern United States.  A recent Time magazine featured an article and cover photo was about developing UAV civilian use.

It takes little imagination to visualize how an unscrupulous hunter or outfitter might use these powerful machines to scour a mountain range looking for a bighorn ram or harass a pronghorn herd across the distant prairie to hunters.  Or flush waterfowl off ponds to waiting hunters. 

While Backcountry Hunters & Anglers acknowledges the potential beneficial use of UAVS for science and game surveys, we feel strongly that state wildlife departments should curtail their use to protect the principles of fair chase and fair opportunity. While government cannot “legislate morality,” we have a responsibility to make sure that hunting remains a primitive pursuit involving woodcraft and skill, not merely exploiting technology.

Is this technology regulated in current hunting regulations?

We believe current regulations are not adequate to prevent the abuse of this technology. We believe the existing regulations can be fine-tuned to add badly needed clarity.

We have found two Montana hunting regulations listed below that approach the subject of remote cameras or aircraft to aid hunting.  We have taken the liberty of suggesting some modest changes (underlined and italicized ) that we believe would go a long way toward preventing  the abuse of such technology:

1) Airplane Spotting

“Aircraft, including remote unmanned aircraft, may not be used to locate big game animals for the purpose of:

  • hunting those animals during the same hunting day after a remote unmanned aircraft or person has been airborne, or
  • providing information to another person for the purpose of hunting those animals within the same hunting day after being airborne or use of a remote unmanned aircraft.”

2) Motion-Tracking Devices and/or Camera Devices

“It is illegal for a person to possess or use in the field any remote aircraft, electronic or camera device whose purpose is to scout the location of game animals or relay the information on a game animal’s location or movement during any Commission-adopted hunting season.”

We want to insure the law is crystal clear.   Montana Chapter Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has been in contact with FWP Law Enforcement personnel (Mike Korn) on this issue.  If directed by the Commission to  further review existing regulations, FWP may find other more useful language or may want to suggest additional wording that clarifies the prohibition of use of this technology.

Why is action needed Now?

It’s imperative that FWP act to curb this technology before it takes root, in order to head off inevitable conflicts. History has taught us that we cannot afford to fall “behind the curve.” We do not want to create a split between hunters who can afford and embrace this kind of technology and the majority who don’t want it and cannot afford it. This kind of technology could also impair already soured relationships between outfitters and do-it-yourself hunters.

Literally, drones are appearing over the horizon as we make this presentation.  They are already being marketed for civilian uses and their prices are dropping.  FAA is expected to liberalize use of these in airspace by 2015. Camera attachments using remote video feeds to users  are already in use. Heat-sensing technologies are already in use.  None of this is hypothetical.

Request for Commission Action

Montana Chapter Backcountry Hunters & Anglers requests the Commission direct the Department to decisive action as soon as possible to strengthen  hunting regulations to insure unmanned aircraft are, at minimum, not permitted in Montana hunting  seasons or scouting during hunting season.

About Caitlin Thompson