Last Thursday the New Mexico Game Commission voted 5-1 to prohibit the use of drones in harassing wildlife or assisting in the harvest of game animals. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are seen by many in the hunting community as an unfair advantage and a violation of fair chase ethics. Colorado led the charge to ban drone use for hunting when it outlawed the practice earlier this year, causing other states to consider similar regulations. Alaska and Montana quickly followed suit. Although it is not known exactly how many hunters use drones to scout or track game animals, hunters in New Mexico say they see more aircraft in the skies every season.
“It was a growing problem,” Game Commission vice chairman Bill Montoya told the New Mexico Watchdog.
“We’ve got what we call fair chase, and I think we’re getting to the point where using drones and so forth doesn’t give the animals a chance,” Montoya added. “It’s not sportsmanlike.”
Hunters caught using a drone under the new regulations will face fines of up to $500, as well as the risk of getting their gear confiscated and license revoked. The ban is largely supported by hunters, including sportsmen’s organizations such as the Pope and Young Club, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), and Orion, The Hunter’s Institute.
So what kind of “unfair” benefits do drones offer hunters? Sportsmen say that these aerial vehicles can fill a variety of roles that give its operators a decided advantage.
“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 to flush waterfowl off ponds to waiting hunters,” wrote the board of BHA’s New Mexico chapter to the Game Commission last year.
You can read our interview with BHA Executive Director Land Tawney and his concerns over drones here.
New Mexico was not the only state eyeing changes to its drone policy. According to the Associated Press, Vermont is also considering prohibiting drones for hunting, and Idaho and Wisconsin already made minor changes in existing regulations.