'Unethical' high-tech hunters using drones to find prey

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Hunters in Nova Scotia say they're seeing far too many people using aerial drones to help them find animals to kill.  

Ian Avery, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, uses drones for photography.

But he says using them for hunting crosses a line.

"It's pretty unethical to use a helicopter or a plane or a drone, in this case, to go after wildlife," said Avery. 

The provincial Wildlife Act forbids hunters from using any type of aerial vehicle to hunt or chase wildlife. Avery believes that includes drones, although they are not specifically mentioned in the act.  

No one charged yet

The federation has asked the province to tighten the regulations to specify that drones cannot be used to aid hunters. 

So far, Avery doesn't believe anyone in this province has been charged after using a drone for hunting.  

The law is not stopping some people from using remote-controlled machines to pursue deer, moose and other animals. 

Drones can reduce the amount of time hunters spend trudging through woods, bogs and fields tracking animals. That's enough to entice some people to use the devices. 

Avery said it's hard to know how many people may be using drones this way.

'It hurts the outfitters and guides' 

Animals aren't the only ones suffering as drones make their way into the forest. Guides and outfitters are feeling pressure from the machines, too. 

Some worry drones could cost them business. 

"It hurts the outfitters and guides that have the training and do this for a living," said Dave MacLeod, who owns Farmland Outfitters in Millbrook First Nation in the town of Truro.

"A lot of guides, we have to have a course and a licence, and we spend time to get that. We have to know the outdoors and all the different things that we do. If someone can just take a drone and fly it around, there's really no need for us."

Good hunters know how to track

But MacLeod said being able to track an animal requires more than just a remote-controlled quad copter. He doubts most drones would be able to follow if an animal heads into thick forest.

Good hunters have to do their homework in order to be successful, MacLeod said. They need to be in the woods frequently, checking where animals are feeding, sleeping and travelling. 

He said even trail cameras aren't as intrusive as using drones. Trail cameras are small hidden digital cameras that are activated by movement. They're often set up in areas where hunters believe animals are travelling. 

Some of the cameras take pictures, which need to be retrieved by hunters. More modern models can wirelessly connect to a person's phone. 

MacLeod said that technology doesn't bother him because setting up the cameras still requires hunters to be in the woods doing legwork and looking for signs of animals. A drone operator doesn't have to do that.

'Learn how to hunt'

"Some things are getting a little bit too high-tech and I think we're losing the whole meaning of what hunting actually is," said MacLeod.  

The Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters said people should enjoy their drones for recreation — not hunting. 

"At the end of the day, learn how to hunt," said Ian Avery. "Learn how to get out there and find the sign for white-tailed deer. Spend some time in the woods and enjoy your time in the woods.

"Put the technology away and just get out in the woods," said Avery.