Regulating Hunting With Drones In Vermont

DronesWhileHuntingVERMONT - Dave Cowley is the owner and pilot of a quadcopter - also known as a drone. He flies it often in the crisp afternoon skies over the Kingdom. And, he says, the device could change the way hunters find game in Vermont.

 "I think it's really clear why they'd want something like that because it gives you eyes in the sky," Cowley said.

But is it fair, ethical and a violation of fair-chase principles? That's the question the Vermont Dept. of Fish and Wildlife is asking the public. They're proposing regulation that would ban the use of any aircraft, and drones, to find and pursue animals for the purpose of hunting.

Cowley enjoys using his drone to take video and pictures from above. An aerial look at the beauty of the mountains - the trees, lakes and rivers of the Northeast Kingdom - is breathtaking.

But some hunters, Cowley says, have noticed the advantage a drone could offer when it comes to pursuing game. They've even offered him money to join them and assist in their hunt.

"I've never done it, but it is interesting to see how hunters react to the use of drones," Cowley said.

The Dept. of Fish and Wildlife says the use of drones while hunting in Vermont is not an issue just yet - but it is in other states. So, they decided to start a conversation - and pursue legislation - here.

"We kind of wanted to get ahead of the curve on the issue - before it ever became an issue," said Brian Ames, the Chair of the Dept. and Fish and Wildlife board.

The board held a public hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 21 in Montpelier.

The hearing offered an opportunity for input on the proposal that would ban use of drones while hunting. Only three members of the public attended - a sign, Ames says, that the regulation is approved and desired by hunters in the state.

"It's sort of like shooting fish in a barrel," said Joanne Bourbeau, who traveled all the way to the capitol from Jacksonville to attend the hearing. "Where you know exactly where the animal is - what kind of, I just don't understand how a true hunter could get any enjoyment over that?"

But Cowley says hunters in the Northeast Kingdom are asking for the assistance of a drone. The real-time technology it can carry, he says, would make it easy for them to find what they're looking for.

"It's very light-weight, heat-sensing cameras - and it's just kind of like an in-software overlay that will show heat signatures making it easy to see or even the movement tracking; so something's moving through the woods it will kind of light up," he said. 

But many hunters, including members of the board of the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, say using drones in their pursuit is cheating - and that it takes away from the wildlife serenity and challenges that hunting in the woods offers.

"The hunting community is a very vocal community," said Brenna Galdenzi. "Certainly if there was any opposition, we would've heard about it tonight."

The drafted regulation still needs to pass in the Legislature before it can become law.

Chairman Ames says that since he hasn't personally heard a single mention of opposition, he does not think it will be a problem passing the ban.