By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Killing big-game animals from behind a computer screen is something Wyoming won’t ever accept, said the state’s top wildlife manager.
“There were operations where you could sign up to shoot a deer in Texas while you were sitting at your computer in New York. The Wyoming Legislature banned that years ago,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik during a recent meeting of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force.
Those “hunts” involved using cameras and computer-controlled weapons to kill big-game animals from anywhere an internet connection could be established, he said.
The Texas scenario was an example cited during a larger discussion the task force had about how recent advances in technology have affected hunting.
The task force can’t change regulations or set policy. It’s charged with making recommendations to the Legislature and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which sets agency policy.
Live Video Feed, GPS Coordinates
Input from hunters played a large part in determining what’s acceptable in Wyoming, said Rick King, Game and Fish’s chief game warden.
A survey gauging hunters’ views on technology was conducted through the University of Wyoming in 2018. That helped shape rules set in 2020. As the pace of technology continues to accelerate, another hunter survey on the topic might be in order, task force members said.
“The 2018 survey determined that trail camera use is seen as acceptable in Wyoming, but cameras that allow live feed of images to smartphones was not,” King said.
Trail cameras can be set up at prime locations along game trails. When an animal passes by, a proximity sensor triggers the camera to snap a photo. It helps hunters determine which animals frequent their favorite hunting spots.
However, direct live feed between a camera and a smartphone could show exactly when and where an animal was present, King said.
That would give the hunter a much better chance of moving in and killing the animal, which many consider unethical and why the practice was banned in Wyoming, he said.
Even without a live feed, the growing popularity of trail cameras has caused problems in some southwestern states, said task force member and state Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs.
“We’ve already seen instances of confrontations over such things as, ‘You can’t hunt this elk because he was on my trial camera,’ or ‘You can’t set your camera up here because mine is already here,’” he said. “It’s almost escalated to the point of fistfights in some instances.”
Such dustups could be a “harbinger of what’s to come in Wyoming,” he said.
It’s also illegal in Wyoming to sell the GPS location of a game animal. There have been instances of people trying to sell the locations of trophy-sized buck deer or bull elk over social media, said task force member Pat Crank, a Laramie County sportsman.
Some have tried getting around the law by using coded language in social media posts, such as calling the locations of trophy animals “good camping sites,” he said.
Whether it’s ethical to use drones to spot big game for hunting has sparked debate across the country. Wyoming has determined it isn’t.
Aircraft cannot be used to scout or aid in the taking of big-game animals between Aug. 1 and Jan. 31, according to Game and Fish hunting regulations, Nesvik said. Any use of aerial surveillance after Aug. 1 could be considered actively scouting for game because some of Wyoming’s archery hunting seasons open later that month.
The Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee last week forwarded a draft House bill clarifying the definition of “aircraft” to include drones. It will be presented to the House during the 2023 session.