Drones Could Revolutionize Deer Recovery If They Aren t Banned First

Drones Could Revolutionize Deer Recovery If They Aren t Banned First

Drones Could Revolutionize How Hunters Recover Lost Deer … If They’re Not Banned First

A Tennessee hunter shows off a buck recovered with a drone. Tennessee is one of a few states that allows hunters to use drones to recover game. Photo courtesy Mike Yoder / Drone Deer Recovery.

Mike Yoder, a small business owner, faces a problem. He’s built a successful model around new technology that could change how hunters recover deer in the field. However, the service he provides has come under scrutiny from state agencies and some members of the hunting community. He’s now involved in legal battles across multiple states as the debate around the tech continues.

Yoder’s company, Drone Deer Recovery, specializes in using drones piloted by independent operators to recover hunter-harvested deer. He believes that drone deer recovery benefits hunters who would otherwise lose mortally wounded deer. Since starting his business two years ago, Yoder has received positive feedback from numerous hunters.

However, some hunters, lawmakers, and wildlife managers argue that using drones to recover deer contradicts fair chase principles. They claim that drones give hunters an unfair advantage and could lead to unethical scenarios.

The Drone Deer Recovery Process

The drone recovery process is simple. A hunter who is unable to recover a presumably dead deer contacts a pilot listed in Drone Deer Recovery’s directory. The pilot flies a thermal-equipped drone over the search area, generally locating the deer (after confirming it’s the hunter’s target deer using a normal drone camera). The pilot then provides the coordinates to the hunter.

A drone image showing two cow elk, taken with a thermal imaging camera. Photo courtesy Mike Yoder / Drone Deer Recovery.

In Ohio, Yoder charges $450 plus a $100 finder’s fee if he locates the deer, dead or alive. His fees include 60 round trip miles, with an additional fee of $1 per additional mile beyond that.

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Yoder claims that he and many of his pilots can often find a dead deer within minutes. Using thermal imaging cameras, even deer that have been dead for hours are often still detectable. These cameras can penetrate foliage and tree canopies to detect heat signatures, although it may take more time.

In Yoder’s experience, when searching in the correct area for a dead deer, the recovery rate is 90 to 95 percent. Deer can be found using thermals up to 48 hours after being shot and even a week after death due to the heat generated by decomposition.

According to Yoder, thousands of deer have been recovered by the drone pilots listed in the DDR directory. The drone pilots are independent operators who own their own equipment and have obtained their Part 107 certification, which is equivalent to a commercial driver’s license for drones.

Yoder’s current business model relies on licensed independent contractors to pilot the drones. Photo courtesy Mike Yoder / Drone Deer Recovery.

On the surface, using drones to recover lost deer appears beneficial for hunters. However, not everyone agrees.

Deer Recovery, Drones, and the Law

Drones Could Revolutionize Deer Recovery If They Aren t Banned First

In January, Yoder received a letter from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), ordering him to cease soliciting operators in the state. The DEC cites an environmental conservation law that prohibits the use of aircraft to assist in hunting or taking game, including using drones to track and find wounded game.

Other states are also grappling with how to regulate drones. For instance, the Pennsylvania Game Commission conducted a sting operation on a commercial drone pilot listed on the DDR website, resulting in several citations. In response, a state senator introduced a bill to amend the game commission’s regulations to permit the use of drones for deer recovery.

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The laws surrounding drone use in hunting vary from state to state. Although the National Deer Association provides a summary of state laws, there are inconsistencies. Yoder faces an uphill battle in expanding his business nationwide.

Flying north into Michigan creates another obstacle for Yoder due to a 2015 ban on using drones for hunting, including deer recovery. Yoder has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming that not allowing him to share the location of a hunter’s harvest violates his First Amendment right to free speech.

Ethical Concerns Around Drones in Hunting

Doug Duren, the architect of the Sharing The Land initiative, opposes using drones to recover deer. While he uses drones as a management tool after the hunting season, he has reservations about their use during hunting season, even for recovering wounded deer.

Many opponents of deer recovery with drones worry about the unintended consequences of using this technology. These concerns range from discovering a bigger buck while searching for a hit deer, potentially crossing ethical boundaries, to determining the appropriate action when a deer is located but not mortally wounded.

Yoder maintains a personal code of conduct to ensure ethical deer recovery. If the deer is dead, he provides the coordinates to the hunter. If the deer is found alive but not mortally injured, he makes a judgment call.

The Problem with Making YouTube Videos of Wounded Game

Opponents of drone deer recovery are also concerned about the optics of documenting wounded deer and sharing it online. Yoder often posts videos on the DDR YouTube channel showing recoveries, including when deer are found alive but severely injured. Critics argue that this footage can be damaging to the sport’s reputation. While Yoder acknowledges the potential negative impact, he believes it’s essential for hunters to confront the realities of hunting, even the difficult ones.

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The Future of Drones and Deer Recovery

Yoder remains optimistic about using drones as a deer recovery tool. He believes that witnessing the technology in action will convince anyone of its potential to aid ethical hunters.

Yoder asserts that using drones is less invasive to wildlife and property than other tracking methods. Drones are also extremely efficient, capable of covering hundreds of acres in a matter of hours. Yoder thinks that once people see it in person, they will recognize its efficiency, accuracy, and success.

Regardless of challenges from state officials and fellow hunters, Yoder maintains that drone deer recovery is ethically defensible. He attributes opposition to a resistance to new technology in the hunting world and cautious attitudes from lawmakers.

Despite the business aspect, Yoder finds great satisfaction in helping hunters recover lost deer. One meaningful instance involved assisting an elderly hunter and his son in locating a deer after a fruitless search. Recovering his biggest buck ever on a long-standing family farm meant a lot to both Yoder and the hunter.