Drowning Out Drones

Colorado bans use of unmanned aircraft to hunt and/or scout

Drowning Out Drones
Colorado wants it well-known that the use of drones to either hunt or scout wildlife areas is prohibited. (Mike Suchan photo)

Seeing the technological writing on the wall, Colorado wildlife officials are getting ahead of the game when it comes to the use of drones for hunting and/or scouting in the state.

Drones, or unmanned aircraft, will be prohibited for use for either hunting or scouting wildlife areas in a new regulation proposed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission on Nov. 14.

“Actually, we have no knowledge of anyone who’s (used drones for hunting purposes) and we’re just putting the regulations into place so the people understand that it is not acceptable in Colorado,” said Randy Hampton, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman.

Federal legislation exists that prohibits hunting by aircraft, and Colorado regulations do not allow hunting on land within 48 hours of the area being scouted by aircraft. The CPW simply wants to clarify that regulations already on the books include unmanned aircraft as well.


“We believe that those regulations would likely cover the use of drones and unmanned aircraft,” Hampton said. “However we want to make sure it is very clean and clear, and that the public understands the expectation.”


The Airborne Hunting Act of 1971 “prohibits shooting or attempting to shoot or harassing any bird, fish, or other animal from aircraft except for certain specified reasons, including protection of wildlife, livestock, and human life as authorized by a Federal or State issued license or permit.”

To most Americans, the term drones is usually linked to the use of armed, unmanned aircraft by the United States military for counter terrorism operations. However, their use has triggered privacy concerns and prompted Idaho and Virginia to restrict the use of drone aircraft by police and other government agencies.

At the root of the issue, Hampton said, is the availability and extraordinary technology growth of wireless, remote cameras on the market.

“If you go back about five years, if you talked about drones, you’d be talking about military equipment (that cost) $30,000 to $250,000 to purchase,” Hampton said. “Today, where technology is, you can have an unmanned aircraft by simply having a radio-controlled airplane and a GoPro camera strapped to it. So the technology has (made it) where it is so affordable, it’s likely we will see it in the field very soon. So we wanted to put a regulation on it so people will know that is not acceptable for hunting or scouting.”CPW Commissioner Mark Smith echoed those thoughts at the Commission meeting on Nov. 14 in Lamar, Colo.


“I don’t know what the future’s going to bring, but I am fairly certain 25 or 30 years ago we never dreamed of drones either,” Smith said. “To me, blanketing (regulation) to that degree … it would have to cover anything into the future.”

The Commission will vote on the regulation in January.

Hampton said public support has been “very high” on the issue. The Colorado Wildlife Federation and the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers both were supportive of the ban.


“Hunters are America’s first conservationists and we have a century-old tradition of policing our own ranks,” said David Lien, the co-chair of the Colorado chapter of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

We’re pleased that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has stepped up to protect our hunting traditions, by ensuring fair chase and fair distribution of wildlife.”

“Drones are poised to be very popular among civilians, and there are many legitimate uses in science, agriculture and search-and-rescue,” said Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Director Land Tawney.

“However, hunting should remain an activity of skill and woodcraft, not just technology.”

The town of Deer Trail, Colo., is protesting the proliferation of unmanned aircraft by asking voters to approve selling novelty “licenses” that would allow citizens to shoot down drones. Shortly after announcing the idea in September, the town received nearly 1,000 checks to purchase the whimsical licenses.

A vote scheduled for December on selling the licenses has been challenged in court and opponents note that shooting down unmanned aircraft would be a crime and could carry civil fines.

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