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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Arizona trail cam ban cautionary tale for Arkansas

by Bryan Hendricks | July 4, 2021 at 2:11 a.m.

Because threads in the hunting world are interconnected, Arkansas sportsmen might be interested that Arizona has banned trail cameras for hunting.

On June 11, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission passed a regulation banning trail cameras "for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife, or locating wildlife for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife." The regulation followed a customary process that included gathering public input from resident and nonresident Arizona hunters. Why nonresidents? Nonresidents who buy Arizona nonresident hunting licenses and tags are stakeholders in that state's big game resources, too.

Many hunters use remote cameras to monitor game use of preferred hunting sites. They take photos of anything that triggers a sensor 24 hours a day, allowing hunters to see how many deer visit a site, to identify individual deer that visit a site, and to determine when they visit a site. Many new cameras can be monitored with a smartphone, allowing a hunter to watch game in real time. This prevents having to remove a data card from a camera, upload the photos, format the card and reinstall it in the camera. It saves time and prevents a hunter from contaminating a site with human scent.

Ethicists have begun to question whether remote cameras give hunters an unfair advantage over game, thus violating hunting's "Fair Chase" doctrine. More practical critics question whether cameras substitute for scouting, thus eroding individual hunting skills and woodscraft.

Interestingly, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission cited conflicts between hunters as the primary motivation for banning the devices. There are a limited number of areas where game reliably concentrates in Arizona. Hunters know this, and using cameras as proxies, they concentrate at those sites, as well.

In an article published in Field & Stream, Kurt Davis, chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, said, "We are a state with a large and growing hunter population. We're also in the midst of a historic 20-year drought that focuses game movement on water sources."

There are 3,100 water catchments in Arizona, Davis added. Most are on public land, and all are mapped.

"When people start placing and checking cameras on those limited water sources, there are going to be conflicts," Davis said.

In Arizona and other western states, it is not uncommon for 30 cameras to be on a site, according to a source in the Field & Stream article. The cameras' owners often post on social media trail cam photos of trophy elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, whitetailed deer and blacktailed deer, bears, mountain lions and other animals. Those photos potentially draw other hunters to the sites in addition to the cameras' owners.

Besides Arizona, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada restrict the use of trail cameras during hunting season.

Game camera restrictions won't soon be an issue in Arkansas because, unlike western states, most hunting in Arkansas occurs on private land. Also, Arkansas doesn't have the kind of big game animals that attract a lot of no-resident hunting pressure. Black bears have that potential, but the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission eliminates that issue with black bear quotas. No nonresident is going to travel to the Ozark National Forest to kill a bear he's been monitoring on a game camera only to find that the quota is filled and the season is shut down before he can arrive.

Nevertheless, Arkansas hunters are prudent to be aware of regulatory developments in other states if for no other reason than to examine their own behavior. If hunters use game cameras and other tools in a fashion that is detrimental to the resource, and if that behavior results in regulated use, then that would be a self-inflicted wound. A great many hunting and fishing regulations are in place because enough hunters and anglers are unwilling to govern themselves.

On a different subject, the Oklahoma Wildlife Resources Commission last week passed a suite of turkey hunting regulations, one of which reduced the spring bag limit to just one gobbler. The Oklahoma Wildlife Department proposed reducing the bag limit from three to two, but hunters favored reducing it to one. Oklahoma will still have a 30-day season, but it will start April 16, which should result in more hens being bred before hunters start reducing the gobbler population.

Print Headline: Arizona trail cam ban cautionary tale for Arkansas

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