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Harassing big game with aircraft illegal, unethical

As the big game rifle seasons approach, hunters are getting out in the field for some on-the-ground scouting. Unfortunately, not all scouting activity is done on the ground — some types of scouting are unethical and may even be illegal.

Some hunters and guides scout for animals using aircraft — planes, helicopters and ultra-lights. While not all scouting that is done from the air is illegal, the manner in which it is done could lead to violation of federal and state laws. The Colorado Division of Wildlife is asking for help from anyone who suspects that aircraft are being used improperly in the pursuit of big game.

“Scouting an area from the air well before the season starts is not illegal,” explained Renzo DelPiccolo, area wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Montrose. “But we have seen and have had reports that aircraft are being used to harass animals so that they move into a specific area. That type of activity is illegal.”

The federal Airborne Hunting Act prohibits hunting or harassing animals from aircraft. Anyone convicted of that activity can be fined and sentenced to a year in jail.

DOW regulations prohibit using aircraft for hunting, for directing and communicating with hunters on the ground, and for hunters on the ground to take directions from someone in an airplane. State rules also prohibit hunting in an area the same day or the day after a scouting flight was made. The penalties can include a fine of $2,000 and 15 penalty points.

“Hunting for large trophy animals is big business. Unfortunately, there are some people who will behave in an unethical or illegal fashion when there is a lot of money at stake,” DelPiccolo said.

Airborne scouting activity would probably not be apparent to a non-hunter. But hunters and people who live near big game wildlife herds might notice unusual flight patterns by aircraft that could indicate animals are being harassed or herded into an area.

Anyone who suspects that aircraft are being used illegally should contact the nearest DOW office or call Operation Game Thief at (877) 265-6648.

Pilots who are taking to the air to scout for clients should first contact the DOW to talk about regulations.

“The North America hunting model is based on the concept of ‘fair chase’ for the animal,” DelPiccolo said. “It’s important that hunters and guides live by that ethic.”