June 25, 2021
By Lynn Burkhead
It isn't very often that hunting dominates the outdoor news conversations of early summer, but that's the case this week after the Arizona Game and Fish Department Commission met in Payson on June 11, 2021 according to news reports.
After that meeting--which had an overflow crowd according to the Payson Roundup newspaper website, the Commission voted 5-0 to ban the usage of game cameras in Arizona for the purpose of helping hunters take big game animals.
Many of the nearly 50 people in attendance reportedly voiced their opposition to the controversial move, with the Roundup noting that 31 urged the Commission to reject the ban while 18 supported the move. Despite the opposition to the idea of banning game cameras, the numerous two-minute testimonies that took place in person and over the phone, and a hearing that lasted approximately 2 1/2 hours, the Commission adopted the measure unanimously.
The ban starts at the beginning of next year and came after months of debate following a move by the Commission in December 2020. In details contained in an AZG&FD news release, the commissioners originally “…voted to open rulemaking with proposed language that would prohibit the use of trail cameras for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife.
At the Commission’s February 2021 meeting, however, the commissioners then “…voted 5-0 to open a separate rulemaking with proposed language that, if approved, would:
- Prohibit the use of trail cameras for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife within ¼ mile of a developed water source.
- Allow the use of trail cameras to aid in the take of wildlife from February 1 through June 30 as long as the camera is not placed within ¼ mile of a developed water source.
That February proposal did not replace the rule proposal set in place last December, but it did give Arizona commissioners another option to consider at the end of their agency’s rulemaking process. At last week’s meeting in Payson, the Commission decided to go with the total ban, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
The reason for the Arizona ban centers, at least in part, around the idea of fair chase, or the ethical hunting and taking of big game animals where the hunter does not have an unfair advantage over such hunting season staples as whitetails, elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and more.
Add in the fact that privacy issues come into play when people are photographed on public land without their knowledge, bitter competition ensues because of choice hunting spots and/or trophy big game animals being discovered by hunters possessing hard to draw tags, and scarce resources such as water and food becoming magnets for hunter confrontations, and the long controversy is the result.
Back east in the whitetail woods of North America, the widespread use of game cameras--particularly on private land--has been an accepted part of the hunting landscape for a number of years now. But out west, where public land abounds, food and water are limited, and the hunting culture is a bit different, the topic has been a lightning rod in western big game hunting circles for some time.
In fact, while the vote last week by Arizona made for splashy headlines and social media posts, it isn’t the first time that game cameras have been in the crosshairs of some Western states.
In fact, in Arizona itself, the state actually banned the use of live-action cameras in 2018, a move that was followed up with the rulemaking process that has resulted in the total ban that will be in place at the beginning of next year.
To the north in Utah, Governor Spencer Cox signed HB0295 into law earlier this year, a piece of legislation that gives instructions to the Bee Hive State’s Division of Wildlife Resources Wildlife Board to make rules and regulations pertaining to trail camera usage in the state.
On the northern end of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, the Big Sky State banned trail cameras in 2010, although they later amended that regulation to apply only to cameras linked to cell phones. And out west in the Great Basin, Nevada has also banned the use of trail cameras on public lands within the state at certain times of the year.
Why is the practice of using cameras—some call them game cameras, others call them trail cameras—so controversial in the Rocky Mountain states and the Great Basin, where much of the nation’s big game hunting opportunity outside of whitetails is found?
Guide Waylon Pettet, a Payson resident and owner of AZ Ground Pounders Outfitters, told the Payson Roundup that the woods in his area are “…over-saturated with cameras.”
“There’s not a water source that certain animals can go to that doesn’t have cameras on it,” Pettet told the Roundup. “There’ll be times when we go out to a certain waterhole and we’ll have 10-12 cameras on the same hole and the people are checking the cameras all the time.”
While there’s little question that the use of game cameras is an effective means of putting clients on trophy big game animals like the huge bull elk that Arizona is famous for, Pettet said that he’s not opposed to the ban.
“Right now, to be competitive in the field, we use trail cameras, but we’re willing to give up the trail cameras completely in order for it to be a fair playing field for people that don’t have cameras, as well,” he told the Roundup.
Beyond the western debate about the use of game cameras, such products are also receiving additional scrutiny elsewhere. In fact, in a feature story package forthcoming soon in Game and Fish Magazine, a sister publication of Petersen’s Hunting, the topic is examined in part from an ethics standpoint, including statements from the Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club about the ethics of their use by fair chase hunters, along with how camera usage can impact record book entry submissions.
There’s little doubt that game cameras are among the most widespread and popular tools that hunters have at their disposal these days, nor is there any debate about the fact that the industry will continue to expand as technological advances continue to push the market forward. In short, game cameras certainly appear to be here to stay, unless every state in the U.S. follows Arizona’s lead somewhere in the future.
And while the vote last week by the Arizona Game and Fish Department Commission is merely the latest salvo fired in the smoldering battle over when, where, and how trail cameras should be used in hunting situations across the U.S., it almost certainly will not be the final time that the topic gets addressed.
Because in the years to come, expect even more discussion around hunting camp campfires, around the breakfast table in local coffee shops, and in the state houses and commission meeting rooms of natural resource agencies all across the country as they wrestle with the idea.
No matter where those conversations lead, as always, expect the latest such hunting news right here at Petersen’s Hunting.