Arizona trail-cam ban a different story than in the East

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Just when you think you have heard it all, some new problem presents itself.

Trail cameras are being used by thousands of hunters all across the United States and elsewhere. They act as silent sentinels, monitoring hunting sites and allowing hunters to see what animals live on the property they hunt. I have a half dozen and in addition to deer, I’ve gotten pictures of turkeys, bears, fox, raccoons, coyotes, and even a fisher. I can honestly say my trail cameras are one of the most useful pieces of hunting equipment I own. I’ve never had a problem with anyone messing with any of my cameras but that isn’t true in some parts of the country.

Earlier this year, Arizona’s Game Commission banned the use of trail cameras in that state. For anyone living here in the East, it’s easy to assume that Arizona’s recent trail-cam ban is an overreaction to a non-issue. That’s exactly what I thought after first hearing about it. Trail cameras have been a part of hunting for decades and their use has become increasingly popular but, in Arizona at least, they may be too much of a good thing.

We here in New York as well as in Pennsylvania, where I also hunt, are fortunate to have millions of acres of private as well as public land on which we can pursue game but, that’s not the case in Arizona. Kurt Davis, chairperson for the five-member Game and Fish Commission that voted unanimously to ban trail cameras year-round and statewide explained in an interview with Field & Stream magazine, that a combination of factors led to his decision to support the ban.

Among Davis’ biggest concerns was an increase in the number of complaints concerning trail cameras which went from being a non-issue five years ago to becoming increasingly problematic. Unlike many states, Arizona has a growing hunter population, and they are in the midst of a historic 20-year drought that focuses game movement on water sources. Davis noted in the interview that there are 3,100 what he referred to as water catchments in the state, the vast majority of which are on public land. These water sources are no secret because they all are mapped. Problems began when people started placing and checking cameras on those limited water sources and Davis noted there have been reports of as many as a dozen or more cameras on a single water hole.

Davis said the state’s conservation officers have noted an increase in reported hunter-on-hunter conflicts over camera placement. “As a commission, we also have to consider the quality of hunter’s time in the field,” he said. “We have multiple seasons in many units. If I’m a first-season archery elk hunter, and you’re a third-season rifle hunter who keeps checking his cameras, there’s a good chance you’re going to interfere with my hunt. And as the number of hunters increases in Arizona, the chances that a hunter or guide service will be servicing their cameras for a future hunt while you are on yours will greatly escalate, and it has been escalating for the past number of years,” he added.

The question of fair chase came into consideration before enforcing the ban. “In an arid state with highly limited water sources, do cameras really allow an elk or deer a fair chance of escaping detection?” Davis asked. “We’ve tried to hone Arizona’s fair chase ethic and feel it’s an important piece of maintaining the state’s strong hunting tradition,” he added.

Davis noted correctly that trail cameras are getting better and cheaper as well. He noted that some outfitters are running hundreds of cameras if not more. In addition, he noted some companies will place and maintain cameras for a hunter who doesn’t even have to check them. Davis explained that one of the things the Commission tries to do is to look five or 10 years down the line to determine how the Commission can maintain the quality of people’s time afield.

I’ll admit I never saw this one coming. A total ban on the use of trail cameras here in the East is almost incomprehensible but their use in Arizona is a whole other story. There are serious issues to be addressed and I’m thankful we don’t have problems like this here.

Categories: New York – Mike Raykovicz

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