It seems everyone is eager to launch unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for business, pleasure or someone else’s irritation. PeTA is selling a drone to stalk hunters, while Lakemaid Beer wants to use drones to deliver ice-cold brew to fishing shacks in Minnesota.
Some ideas are good, others … not so much.
PeTA’s “Air Angels”
In October 2013, the animal-rights group PeTA – known more for anti-hunting publicity stunts than actual work on behalf of animals – said it aims to launch a fleet of “Air Angels” (listed at $325 in PeTA’s catalog) to patrol the skies and capture footage of hunters breaking the law. PeTA claimed it would stream live footage via the Internet, upload it to the Air Angels page on PeTA.org, and deliver it to conservation wardens. However, no “Air Angels” page could be found on its site when checked in mid-February.
Amazon’s Drone Delivery: Prime Air
In December, CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired a segment detailing how Amazon wants to use drones to deliver packages to customer’s homes within 30 minutes.
Lakemaid Beer Delivered (by Drones) to Ice-Fishing Shacks
In January, Lakemaid Beer in Minnesota wanted to use UAVs to deliver beer to ice fishermen at their shacks on nearby lakes. Lakemaid planned to take the anglers’ GPS coordinates with each order, strap a 12-pack beneath a UAV, and fly it to their shack’s doorstep. The FAA squelched the idea, saying its rules don’t allow commercial use of drones.
Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers quickly passed a law to prevent anyone from using UAVs to harass hunters, and Alabama lawmakers are working on a similar law.
To ensure hunters don’t get any ideas about using UAVs to scout and otherwise assist their hunts, at least three hunting organizations have issued press releases condemning such tactics. The groups consider the use of UAVs a violation of fair-chase principles. Fair chase commonly means that wild, free-ranging animals must be hunted in ways that do not give hunters improper advantages over their quarry.
Here’s what those organizations said about UAVs and hunting:
Bowhunting’s Pope and Young Club
“We urge all … members to refrain from using drones/UAVs to locate, monitor, scout or stalk any North American big game species. UAV-assisted bowhunting violates the existing rule that states, ‘You may not use electronic devices for attracting, locating, or pursuing game, or guiding the hunter to such game.’ … Bowhunting (must) remain a primitive pursuit involving woodcraft and skill, not merely exploiting technology.”
Orion-The Hunters’ Institute
“The use of UAVs to aid or assist in hunting should be banned. We believe the use of airborne cameras and sensing equipment gives an unfair advantage to the hunter over game, and is therefore a clear violation of the principles of fair chase. We further urge states to immediately ban the use of UAVs in hunting before it can become established.”
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
“There is small but growing interest in using 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 poses a significant threat to fair-chase hunting and fair distribution of hunting opportunity.”
“UAV” vs. “Drone”
Confusing the issue somewhat is news accounts using “UAV” and “drone” interchangeably. PeTA, for example, while selling $325 UAVs in its catalog, shows a common radio-controlled (RC) fixed-wing airplane in its Air Angels article. RC airplanes have long been flown by hobbyists in parks and fields.
In contrast, many UAVs are small, helicopter-like airborne vehicles that can hover, fly short distances, move up and down, side to side, and land almost anywhere. They aren’t the stealthy 27-foot drone aircraft that the U.S. military pilots remotely from continents away to launch Stinger missile strikes against terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. The U.S. military’s drones made headlines in early February when the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration was considering lethal force against an American citizen overseas who allegedly is working with al Qaeda.
Although UAVs have roused fears about their potential for abuse, actual cases of hunter harassment or unethical use by hunters appear rare or nonexistent. UAVs available to civilians generally have a short range of about 400 yards, and can carry little more than small cameras.
This isn’t the first time hunting organizations have urged or worked with lawmakers and wildlife agencies to prevent hunters from gaining aerial advantages. It’s generally illegal to use helicopters, small airplanes or engine-powered parachutes to hunt, follow or harass game animals.
This also isn’t the first time that emerging technologies caused an uproar in hunting circles. In 2005, a Texan named John Lockwood launched the first “Internet hunting website,” called Live-Shot.com. Lockwood said his site could provide authentic hunting experiences to customers. His idea was to let people aim and shoot animals using online webcams. Reportedly, 40 states have passed laws prohibiting such practices, even though it’s uncertain if a shot was ever fired at an animal via Live-Shot.com.