Drones and hunting don't mix.
That's the verdict the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission handed down last month when it decided to officially ban the use of drones for the purpose of "locating, spotting or hunting" game animals in the state.
Dan Vermillion, chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, says the new rule is meant to preserve Montana's "fair chase" tradition.
"There has historically been a prohibition on hunting within 24 hours of flying and that was designed to prevent people from flying up a drainage, finding where the elk are, landing, and then going to shoot them," Vermillion says. "... Drones are a whole new piece of technology that is emerging and becoming affordable and there was a lot of concern about people using drones for that purpose. They could send drones up, find out where the elk are and then go get them."
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a Missoula-based sportsmen's group, brought the issue to the commission's attention.The group, concerned about the potential erosion of sporting ethics, helped pass a similar ban in Colorado before turning its gaze to Montana.
"Ultimately we just think this is really a direct assault on the fair chase hunting opportunities that Montana's robust fish and game populations are based on," says Land Tawney, executive director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. "We saw the proliferation of drones ... and we decided to get on the front end of it, to get something done before anything was established and to nip it in the bud."
Tawney says his organization became concerned about drones after what was originally a military technology became available for civilian use. The group fears that if drones become popular among hunters they could alienate the general public.
"I think there is a public perception thing here," Tawney says. "Hunting numbers are going down in Montana and it is up to us to put our best foot forward to make sure we have acceptance by the public."
His organization is also pushing drone hunting bans in Alaska, Wyoming and Vermont.