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Editorial: Drones take the sport out of hunting

Last modified: 1/27/2015 10:46:33 PM
Hunting in a hilly, wooded state like New Hampshire can be difficult and frustrating. Each season, about one in five hunters bags a deer. The ones who tag out every year are the hunters who know their quarry and their weapon, put in the time pre-season to scout, pay attention to things like whether it’s a good or bad year for beechnuts and acorns, have a few prime spots, read the wind, mind the weather, hunt early and late, stay calm and shoot straight.

That’s the way it should be. It’s a matter of sportsmanship, fair play and ethics. It’s also why many people who don’t hunt nonetheless respect or at least tolerate those who do, a tolerance that helps to explain why non-hunting land owners do not post their property.

Technology, including the use of drones to scout for game and even track and herd it toward hunters, could change that.

The state Department of Fish and Game, and the commission that oversees it, should join the handful of states that have already banned the use of drones for hunting and scouting.

The department is also considering a ban on the use of so-called smart rifles – 
computer-assisted weapons that measure distance, adjust for wind, track a target and fire automatically. It should make their use illegal, as well as the use of game cameras that transmit real-time photographs to their owner’s cell phone or similar device – information that makes the hunt much less sporting. The proposed bans have the support of groups like the New England Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which fear that reducing the sporting element of the hunt will reduce support for hunting.

The human drive to create new and better tools is probably as old as the now somewhat atavistic human drive to hunt and fish for food. Despite their keen senses, wiles and fleetness of foot or fin, wildlife are ultimately no match for rapidly evolving technology. There are exceptions to that, at least in the short run, among them viruses and bacteria, rats, bedbugs, cockroaches and invasive species like the wild boar plaguing the American south or the pythons of Florida. But technology – witness the extinction of the passenger pigeon, near extinction of the buffalo and near commercial disappearance of cod – is too powerful to go unregulated.

Bob Washburn, this paper’s grizzled hunting columnist, even questions whether it’s time to limit the use of the growing number of inexpensive trail cameras used to photograph game and record the time and date of its appearance. To give game more of a sporting chance, he’s proposed that once the three-month deer season is under ay, the use of the cameras for hunting purposes should be illegal, a proposal Fish and Game should consider.

To that proposal we would suggest that the department consider an end to bear baiting, a practice that the other New England states, save for Maine, have banned. How proud, after all, could a hunter feel after shooting a bear while it was eating a donut?

It could be that bear-baiting is necessary to keep the state’s bear population within limits that reduce bear-human conflict and bear mortality, but that’s something proponents of the practice should have to prove.

New Hampshire should be a state that’s proud of its hunting heritage – a heritage that values sportsmanship.


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