To Cell Or Not To Cell, That Is The Question. Photo By Michael Patrick McCarty
Use them, or not. Love them, or not. Game trail cameras have revolutionized the way hunter’s hunt. It didn’t take long.
They can be extremely effective in pinpointing and patterning game, and they can provide visual insights into your hunting area that are not possible through other means. The results are often eye-opening; the entire process can be fascinating, and fun. Proper use can greatly increase the odds of success.
All things considered, it would be safe to say that game trail cameras, in one form or another, are here to stay.
The fairly recent advent of “Wireless” or “Live Action Cameras”, on the other hand, present an entirely new set of considerations, both practical, and ethical. It may take some serious contemplation to sort them all out.
Standard trail cameras collect and store images on a SD, or Secure Digital Card, which requires a periodic visit to the camera location to retrieve or download the images on the card.
Wireless technologies allow for the transmission of images from single or multiple cameras directly to a cell phone or computer in real time , without the necessity of a physical visit. It is also now possible to create a wireless mesh network consisting of multiple trail cameras, which can then transmit their images to a single SD card on a “Home Camera”. This allows a hunter to source all images from a single collection point, rather than visiting each camera location over an area of several square miles.
Ethical considerations aside, and tabling the issue of Drones, for now, Wireless Cameras can provide real “on the ground” benefits. Once installed, the system greatly reduces the number of intrusions into an animal’s home range, and perhaps most importantly, the disturbing presence of human sound, or scent.
Fish and Game regulations are unique to each state across the country, and each can choose to address, or not address, the issue of Standard and “Live Action” game cameras as they see fit. It does appear that some states have been slow to react, though, in some cases, it may be that available technology has moved so fast that the appropriate agencies have simply not had time to catch up.
Wherever you hunt, the first question you might wish to ask of those who know is: Are trail cameras, particularly “Camera to cell phone, or computer capable” cameras, legal? The answer may be more complicated, and confusing, than you might think.
A quick look at the regulations for my state, found in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2019 Big Game Brochure, for example, lists under Illegal Activities, #4, page 14:
“It is illegal to …Use the Internet or other computer-assisted remote technology while hunting or fishing. This includes unmanned or remote-control drones used to look for wildlife. Hunters and anglers must be physically present in the immediate vicinity while hunting and fishing”.
Clear as mud, right?
A call to the headquarters of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Office left me even more bewildered, after a customer service representative informed me that live action cameras were legal except during the hunting seasons, when all cameras must be removed.
Truth is, rules governing the use of all game trail cameras in Colorado can be found in The Code of Colorado Regulations, Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The issue is specifically addressed in Chapter W-O-General Provisions 2CCR 406-0; Article IV – Manner of Taking Wildlife, #004 – Aids In Taking Wildlife; Section 3, Other Aids; Section E., Live-Action Game Cameras.
““Live-Action Game Camera” means any device capable of recording and transmitting photographic or video data wirelessly to a remote device, such as a computer or smart phone. “Live-action game camera” does not include game cameras that merely record photographic or video data and store such data for later use, as long as the device cannot transmit data wirelessly.”
It also states:
“No person shall use a live-action camera to locate, surveil, or aid or assist in any attempt to locate or surveil any game wildlife for the purpose of taking or attempting to take said wildlife during the same day or following day.”
The question is, what exactly does all of that mean?
For one thing, it is clear that the use of standard trail cameras are legal throughout the year, including the hunting seasons, because the device stores images on a SD card and does not transmit data wirelessly.
That all changes when the camera can transmit data wirelessly. Surprisingly, (at least to me) this also applies to the use of a mesh network of cameras that tie in to a home camera with a SD Card. Even though the images on this type of network are not transmitted to a cell phone or computer, the network cameras collect and compile their images and then send their data to the home camera and it’s SD Card “wirelessly”, and therefore would be subject to the “same day or following day” provision.
With this being said, it is obvious that a “live action” camera can be used during the hunting season in Colorado. It would then be the timing of the hunt, after the receipt of downloaded, or collected images, that becomes the issue.
I have heard it said, for example, that one could not hunt for 48 hours after receiving an image of wildlife on your live action camera. At first look that reads about right, but actually… no.
The regulation states that you could not take or attempt to take wildlife during the same day or following day, which means that depending on the timing, could be much less than a 48 hour period.
For the sake of argument, let’s say, an animal could show up on your trail camera at one minute to midnight, which means that one could not hunt for the remaining minute of that day. A hunter would then need to wait out the next full day, and then could legally hunt the early morning of the day after that. In that scenario, one could hunt about 30 hours or so after the “surveillance” of game.
The timing of your hunt can also become tag specific, which means that you should be very aware of any “wildlife” that you may legally harvest with whatever tags you have in your pocket. “No person shall use a live-action camera to locate, surveil, or aid or assist in any attempt to locate or surveil any game wildlife for the purpose of taking or attempting to take said wildlife during the same day or following day” covers an amazing amount of unplanned contingencies.
Should you find yourself anxiously prepping to hunt a particular bull elk, for example, keep in mind that the waiting period required by the “same day or following day requirement” provision would change if a cow elk traveled by that same camera at a later hour, and you held an either sex elk tag. You might not, then, legally, be able to harvest that bull at that time.
I can easily think of several other potential conflicts with the regulations, but for now what I can simply say is that “gray areas” abound when it comes to the use of Live Action Game Cameras. The speculations, in fact, could go on forever, and possible infractions in the field may or not be easily defensible.
Perhaps in the end, my first contact at Colorado Parks and Wildlife was more right than he knew. At the very least it may not be a risk that you are willing to take, as game law violations have become an ever more serious matter.
Depending on your state regulations, it may in fact be much smarter to remove all wireless cameras from your hunting area during the hunting season. It would be far less confusing, and much more preferable than the possibility of staring directly into the investigative barrel of the courts and justice system.
We shall save a look at the ethical considerations…for another time!
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We Would Love To Hear About Your State Game Laws And Your Experiences With Wireless Cameras.