The debate over how to handle the use of trail cameras by hunters in the state of Arizona has been brewing for some time. A number of measures and moves have been put into place over the last several years to better manage the use of trail cameras in the state.
However, a recent decision by the commission delivers a soon-coming end to the use of such cameras for scouting and hunting efforts by sportsmen.
On June 11, 2021, the Arizona Game and Fish Department Commission voted unanimously to ban 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 5-member commission made the decision after months of feedback from hunters across the state, as well as around the country. Hunters will be allowed to use trail cameras for the remainder of 2021, before the ban goes into effect on January 1, 2022.
Why Ban Trail Cams?
In a recent interview with Field & Stream, Game and Fish Commission chair, Kurt Davis, said that the use of trail cams has become increasingly problematic. “We are a state with a large and growing hunter population,” he said. “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 the state, the vast majority of which are on public land and all are mapped,” he said. “When people start placing and checking cameras on those limited water sources, there are going to be conflicts.”
It’s not uncommon to find waterholes with multiple trail cameras set up. In fact, in a recent podcast, Daryl Ratajczak, Wildlife Program Manager in Santa Fe, NM, says that waterholes with 30+ cameras hanging around them is not uncommon in the western states that allow cameras.
So you can imagine the conflicts that arise, both from competing hunters at these sites, as well as the social media circus revolving around such use.
Other concerns that led to the vote were advancements in trail cam technology that potentially gives hunters an unfair advantage, conflict among competing hunters on public land, excessive disturbance of wildlife resulting from frequent visits to check cameras, and disturbance of livestock grazing on public lands.
Like other states across the west, the commission considered other options to avoid a complete ban. Options and factors such as distance restrictions, species restrictions, camera season limits, and a registration system for trail camera use were all on the table.
However, the ultimate decision came down to a full statewide ban on trail cams for scouting and hunting.
Other States with Limits on Trail Cams
With the vote, Arizona joins a handful of other western states in banning or limiting the use of trail cameras for scouting big game. Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada have all implemented restrictions on the use of trail cameras during hunting season.
Nevada’s ruling came in 2018. It prohibits trail cameras during hunting season on public land from 8/1 – 12/31 (cell cameras are banned from 7/1 – 12/31).
Nevada hunters can still use trail cameras on private land, however, with 90% of Nevada being public land, the options are few and far between.
The question is, will Arizona’s full ban push other western states to increase limitations on their regulations?
What are the Critics Saying?
Any time you have a hot topic that has considerable support on both sides, you know the thoughts, attitudes, and opinions, are sure to fly. But what is the feedback from the hunting community?
The truth is, the results are mixed. Some see the logic and reasoning behind such a decision, while others are certain it’s all a political stunt.
“I have hunted Arizona for 53 years and have never had a significant threat or was afraid for my safety over a trail cam,” says Arizona hunter, Josiah Scott. “You say someone is going to get hurt, somebody’s going to get shot over a trail-cam and/or over social media disagreements over trail cams. That is a lie that you are perpetuating. Words are not guns.”
Despite having their fair share of critics, the commission is confident the decision will benefit hunters and wildlife in the long run.
“The ruling will ensure that we protect the quality of the experience, that we protect the wildlife itself and that they are being pursued under Fair Chase Doctrine,” Davis said. “That balance is the essential part of being on the commission and setting the rules that govern how we pursue wildlife.”
What about you? What are your thoughts on the new ruling in Arizona? Will it help or hurt hunters?
Comment below and let us know what you think.