July 19, 2023
Successfully harvesting a big-game animal with a bow can be an incredible experience, but what happens when things don’t go your way and you don’t make a quick recovery? Sleepless nights trying to reconstruct a shot in your mind can drive you crazy.
Worse yet, going back to the scene of your shot can further disturb the area with human scent and noises.
Years ago, a good friend of mine made a “perfect” shot on a 200-class buck. But his 30-plus years of bowhunting experience was challenged when he couldn’t find the deer. After two days of searching, and still convinced he had killed the buck, he rented an airplane to search for his deer. It only took an hour of flight time to find his buck.
When my friend entered his buck into the P&Y record book, he discovered it wouldn’t have been accepted had he hunted another deer or “gave up chase” on his buck. Also, while in the air, if he “found” the buck was still alive and went in to kill it, this would be illegal because he’d used an aircraft to locate a live deer.
Additionally, many states and provinces have re-evaluated the use of tracking dogs and trail cameras in recovering downed game. Some states now allow the use of a leashed dog(s) to track deer; other states have totally outlawed trail cameras.
What constitutes “Fair Chase” for some, can be something else for others. For example, in Europe, shooting a roe deer with a rifle is perfectly acceptable, if the bowhunter can’t initially recover the animal.
Anders Gejer, from Sweden, reports, “When it comes to a confirmed hit and unrecovered deer, almost any means possible can be used. It’s not uncommon to release a dog to either bay or to pull down the deer. You can even use a vehicle to intercept a wounded deer.”
Nowadays, the use of drones and our definition of “Fair Chase” has become a new topic of conversation. The Pope & Young Club’s policy on the use of drones states, “Use of these highly sophisticated, remote-controlled aircraft to scout, monitor and stalk North American big game to aid in bowhunting activities is a fundamental violation of the rules of Fair Chase. Using drones while 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.’” The important point in the P&Y policy is it doesn’t include drone use for recovery purposes.
P&Y Records Chairman, Roy Grace, knows of only one hunter who had attempted to enter a buck into the record book while using a drone in the recovery process. It was later discovered the hunter abandoned chase after hunting another deer (a doe). However, drone usage after the original hunt was not the disqualifying factor. Grace points outs that finding an animal with dog(s), trail cameras, or drones is just another tool in locating an animal. Although you may not agree with this ruling, drone technology is the new player.
In Alabama, drone use is legal for scouting purposes — even on the same day you hunt. Think about this example. You’re deciding which food plot to hunt, so you fly your drone to check out all your potential stand sites across the hunting property. By scouting from the air, you have significantly minimized human disturbance and any scent signatures. Does this meet your definition of “Fair Chase?” Would you support such a law in your state/province?
On the other end of the laws determining drone use is Texas. Using drones to recover deer in the Lone Star State is illegal. Almost as restrictive is Tennessee, where it’s unlawful to use a drone for any purpose on a TWRA wildlife management area, refuge, or national park.
Mike Yoder, of Drone Deer Recovery (DDR) from Ohio, is incorporating his drone expertise in helping hunters find their deer. Yoder started DDR when he realized thermal technology was a viable tool for helping hunters recover deer.
DDR has spent a lot of time and money learning what works. Now they’re training, supporting, and sending deer-recovery calls to their network of certified and licensed DDR operators.
Yoder’s service already has over 1,300 applications for pilot operators and has over 25 certified operators in 15 states.
Yoder’s drones are expensive and sophisticated. Getting his drone to your location as soon as possible is a major factor, but he has found deer up to 48 hours after being shot.
Obviously, a lot of site-specific variables such as temperature, weather, time of year, foliage coverage, etc., will factor into finding your deer. Finding deer at night — when there’s no tree foliage and the temps are colder — is best, because the heat signatures really stand out.
Many hunters ask Yoder, “How can you tell if it’s the deer I shot?” Yoder has a 200X zoom camera mounted on his drone that lets him find a specific deer from various elevations in the sky, and the clarity is incredible.
Yoder’s drones have night-vision and thermal-imaging cameras to help him recover deer both day and night. If the deer is already expired, its body heat can be detected hours after the fact.
Another common question is, “Do the drones scare deer away?” Although Yoder’s drones are larger than the ones we would normally see flying around, the answer is “no.”
Yoder is required to have a pilot’s license and has several laws he must follow while searching. He can pin a location, but he’s not allowed to use his phone or radio to direct you to the exact location of the deer. In fact, it’s illegal for Yoder to assist in tracking a deer that’s still alive.
Barb Terry is on the Board of Directors of the National Bowhunter Education Foundation (NBEF). Terry has worked with DDR in two hunting camps for handicapped hunters. She summed up her feelings with, “It’s an amazing sight to see Yoder do his job.”
When a person decides to contact DDR, they go through a few easy steps: 1) Confirm that the DDR team is available by filling out an online form, 2) Pay the recovery fee of $450, plus an additional $100 if the deer is recovered, and 3) Meet at the site and watch the drone go to work. The result is usually a happy hunter with a recovered animal.
C.J.’s Summary: I believe whatever technology that’s legal in the state/province after the shot should qualify as “Fair Chase.” Steve Keithley serves on the Maryland Wildlife Advisory Commission, and he sums up the whole drone topic very well by saying, “The use of dogs to find mortally wounded deer has really grown here. Many deer are found that wouldn’t have been recovered 10 years ago. I feel any means (including drones) to recover a dead animal quickly is a good thing.”
P&Y’s Conservation Chairman Doug Clayton says, “...I’m thinking it [drone recovery] could be the equivalent of Pandora’s Box that once opened, will end up with results no one can foresee, and may not like.”