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I saw someone post pictures of turkeys they took from a drone on the MI Turkey Hunters FB page and it got me thinking. What does everyone think about the use of drones for hunting purposes (scouting/patterning etc.)?

Owning drones is legal but MI law says you can’t use them to “aid in the taking of game” or to “harass animals or other hunters” but I wanted to see what others thought about use of them as it seems the specific intel they could provide could be seen as very unsporting/borderline unethical.

For example, I could use one to track a specific animal back to its exact bedding location in the morning or roost location in the evening.

Using them to aid in the taking of game seems like it could/should encompass use of drones for off-season scouting as well as the tracking animals example I mentioned above but this person claimed his use of a drone was fine because he was using it to “look at his blind” and “if he saw turkeys during that flight so be it as he wasn’t planning on hunting that same day”. He also mentioned he used the drone for scouting in the off-season for deer and turkey on many occasions.

I highly doubt that if a CO saw him out there flying the drone that day they would see it as “fine” considering it is still turkey season and he had clearly used this drone to take video of game/scout on several occasions but I would love to hear everyone’s opinion on this topic.

Seems to me that the people that own drones and hunt would be very tempted to use them unscrupulously at some point and there would be a ton of ways to abuse them to gain an unfair advantage. In my opinion use of them for any type of scouting/hunting intel really toes the line of what should be considered ethical or fair chase but I’d like to hear other viewpoints on the topic.
 

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Satellite imagery is about the same thing to me. If I look at the feed and see where the mud line is today I have an advantage too right?

Just a thought, I really don't care but wanted to point out the obvious. I love Marty's airplane photography during ice season helping the members here be safe. That's a good thing he does for us...
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
To me, satellite imagery and use of a drone are much different in their potential to be used unscrupulously.

The average joe doesn’t have the ability to access real time satellite imagery information (I.e., updated to the exact second they need it) to look for animals any time they are out. With drones, anyone could take one out with them and use them to scout, pattern animals, and in all kinds of others ways while hunting that don’t seem very sporting using real time information.

For example, if I’m sitting in a turkey blind and wondering if there are any birds around and if I should be wait in my spot or get up and move I could deploy a drone in seconds and fly it around to the various open areas on my farm to see if a) any birds are there and b) if they are moving my way. To me that’s part of the mental game of hunting in deciding whether to hold my cards or fold them. If they are moving in my general direction I could use that drone information to stay put or if not I could use that info to make a move and ambush.

I can imagine all kinds of other nefarious uses too like a scenario where a trespasser checks to see if someone is hunting a parcel they don’t have permission to hunt using a drone before entering the property or using it to locate specific trophy animals on ground they can’t hunt to lay an ambush. Heck your neighbors could use drones to locate your treestands, watch your access paths, etc to edge in onto your property when you’re not there or at the very least to determine if you are hunting and use your movement to their advantage.

The other argument I could see is asking how drone usage is any different than using cell cams and for me the major difference is that the game cam can’t follow an animal around on the property, is pointed one direction, and can only see a certain amount of degrees in that direction, etc. To me a drone can provide much more specific and complete information on what a target animal is doing in real time than any game cam can. You also can’t really use a game cam to stake out neighbors properties over a wide area without risk of losing them to the landowners. In addition, you still have to use some degree of woodsmanship and knowledge to place the cam where you can get information on target animals. You also have to step foot on the property physically, lay down a scent trail, and put up a game cam which could be a visual indicator for game in the woods giving them a chance to avoid your cam. Basically a game cam gives a less complete picture and gives game a fighting chance to know they are being hunted way more than a drone.

As far as using drones or aerial imagery from airplane for safety, I see no issue with using them to check ice conditions, etc to keep people safe. I’m mainly concerned with the use of drones to pattern animals, scout, etc in real time and whether others see this as something that is ethical. Clearly the individual who posted about his drone usage on Facebook was using it to scout and saw no issue with it but I am curious as to what others think about this.

MI DNR certainly sees drones as a potential problem since they have laws on the books but I’m also wondering how the law is actually interpreted/enforced. For example, could DNR consider flying a drone regularly over my hunting property as aiding me in taking of game? If I gave them the excuse that I was using it to “check my blind or tree stands fly? I would inevitably see animals and that information could potentially help me kill game but if that isn’t my main purpose for flying the drone is it considered OK? Where is the line drawn on this?

Personally, I would never use a drone in any of these ways but you know there are some folks out there doing some things that really toe the line of what most some would consider ethical/fair chase with these things…

I do think I posted this thread in the wrong place and it should probably be moved to the regulations section. My apologies and if a mod wold be kind enough to move it, I certainly would appreciate it!
 

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Using them to aid in the taking of game seems like it could/should encompass use of drones for off-season scouting as well as the tracking animals example I mentioned above but this person claimed his use of a drone was fine because he was using it to “look at his blind” and “if he saw turkeys during that flight so be it as he wasn’t planning on hunting that same day”. He also mentioned he used the drone for scouting in the off-season for deer and turkey on many occasions.
Bingo, using them to scout is illegal. The law is broad enough to encompass what he's doing.
 

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Bingo, using them to scout is illegal. The law is broad enough to encompass what he's doing.
I think some CO's agree with you. In court a law being too broad typically wouldnt support a questionable ticket. The judge is supposed try to interpret the intent of the law when grey areas are presented. If there is no spelled out ban for scouting days or months ahead of time in the law that is a tough thing to read into it.

If the person didn't view a deer and then promptly pursue the deer I think it is a stretch to say it was used for the aid of taking said deer. If the intent of the law was to ban scouting days or months ahead of time that verbage would have to be included somehow in the description. My argument to the judge would be that a video of a deer a week or month ahead of time is no different than video footage on a trail camera.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Yep, part of the law seems very vague and almost not enforceable because of it. Scouting clearly aids in the taking of game so it seems any scouting would seemingly be part of the law but I can also see someone using one just to fly around their property for fun and scouting of animals was not the intent. Seems that it would be hard to actually punish a person flying a drone the way this law is written other than when a guy readily admits it (like the fellow on fb did by stating that he has used it for scouting on many occasions). Yes, it was hunting season but if he didn’t have camo or a gun and he clearly wasn’t using the info to pursue game immediately it doesn’t seem like a charge would stand. Maybe this part of the law needs to be like the Alaska rule where you can’t hunt for a full 24-48 hrs after you fly.

I can also see the point of those that argue that because you can follow an animal around a property with a drone for many days in a row, that even a 24 hr to 48 hr pause on hunting seems a bit unsporting because you can essentially use them to track your target animal to their feeding/bedding/roost locations over the course of days/weeks before the “rest” period giving a hunter a huge advantage when establishing their patterns and then hunting them. Game cameras simply can’t do these things as effectively as you would have to move them around on your property a bunch, potentially bumping animals but for sure leaving scent, etc. that could be used by game to alter their patterns and make the chase more fair. With drones you can scout without laying a foot on the property for a 4+ mile radius from one location (depending on capabilities) without the animal having any idea they are being watched (if you are careful).

The other comparison I could see would be people that use high powered spotting scopes to figure out patterns. This to me would be the most comparable to drones with the exception that you still have to move around to find good glassing locations and some areas are simply not accessible or easy to glass in a way that you wouldn’t have to move around on the property to get a good visual. With drones very little is off limits given their elevation and flight distance capabilities. Obviously some seasons it would be easier to use them to track game than others unless they are equipped with thermal capabilities (which opens a whole other can of worms).

The other part of the law talking about harassing animals and other hunters seems a lot easier to enforce because it would just require the CO to obtain flight logs and pictures from the drone to see if animals were alerted to the drones presence or if the flight paths match up with a harassed hunters complaint. The person flying the drone on fb clearly showed pictures as he was flying directly over the birds and some of the shots showed the turkeys clearly alerted to the drones presence. I wouldn’t be surprised if a CO showed up and ticketed him for those pictures but he has since removed them from fb after some feedback from others on how he was using the drone.

There is also an issue with actually catching people using drones because they can be hard to see and can be deployed from anywhere. I guess a CO would mostly have to work off tips and complaints to do a stake out to catch the user red handed. I wonder if any kind of data is sent from the drones to the FAA or something similar since they have to be registered? If so, CO’s might be able to use flight path data to check in suspicious uses.

Anyway, thanks for the responses! I am obviously interested in what people think about the ethics of this mainly because I see the potential for drone hunter conflicts to increase as long as they are available to the average hunter. The capability of drones, imagery and tech is improving drastically on these things which makes me think they could become even more of an advantage (unfair or otherwise depending on one’s own POV) in the future.

Heck the first time I was alerted to the potential problems of drones was when Ted and Jake (Hunting Public) were chased around to an overlooked public hunting spot in Iowa from someone using a drone. It would have taken a lot of restraint for me to not try to knock that thing out of the sky if I were them as that is obnoxious!
 

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I feel like a drone could have a place in hunting,,,used to locate a downed deer in a thickly weeded field or standing corn field or cattail marsh etc...as for the hunting and scouting part only so much can be done well from the air. These are the good things they could do.
On the flip side I could see using one to check a remote field in the am or pm. Or harassing critters off private on to public or vice versa. As with most things ethics always play the biggest role.
 
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