Trail cameras are a fun tool to get pictures of wildlife in their natural environment. Its a piece of equipment that is easy to use, and is intended for anyone to enjoy. But lets face it, the entire trail camera industry is driven by sales in the hunting market. It is a means in which hunters are able to, survey and manage properties, and is a helpful tool to find ans pattern animals, all of which come as great benefits to hunters. But this leaves us with one burning question:
Is it legal to use trail cameras during hunting season?
Nevada, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Utah have banned the use of trail cameras completely during the hunting season. There area also a handful of states that have banned the use of Cellular transmitted trail cameras during the hunting season.
Hunting regulations are formed based on the guidelines of what is known as the North American Model of Conservation that was adopted in the late 1800’s. The model was implemented to insure a healthy and sustainable wildlife resource, not only for the present time, but as Teddy Roosevelt once eloquently said, “For those in the womb of time.”
From this model, (one that everyone should take the time to read) came a blue print of how fish and game laws would be constructed, including two vital concepts to understanding the process of the legality of trail cameras.
Wildlife is in fact a public domain. It is a resource that is available to all. With that, the management of our wildlife is entrusted to the government, and its elected officials, to ensure the sustainability of the resource.
State agencies have been entrusted the responsibility to set laws, regulations and bag limits based on sound science within their jurisdiction. For this reason, each state may follow different regulations depending on the unique needs and circumstances of their wildlife resources.
Traditionally the term fair chase has been defined as the ethical and lawful pursuit and taking of free ranging game species in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over the animal.
This term can mean a lot of different things to many different people. Debates over the legitimacy of the use of bait, high powered rifles, and decoys are all common in the hunting community. But I have personally witnessed a father and son argue over the use of warm boots as a mean of having an advantage over game animals.
There is no proverbial line in the sand, and so debate will continue , and in this case, over the use of trail cameras.
When trail cameras were first available on the market, they were equipped with bright white flash and rolled film that needed to be developed. As technology changed, the typical use of collecting photographs of wildlife slowly evolved into the ability to have those photos sent to your cellular phone in real time.
All of these advancements in technology has given birth the the debate of the infringement of fair chase during the hunting seasons. Ultimately forcing state game agencies to make their own decisions as to whether the use of trail cameras during hunting season conflict with fair chase laws.
Some States such as New Mexico leave the decision to the individual hunter by expressing in their Hunting Regulations:
“Hunter–conservationists always have embraced this concept (of fair chase) and taught the ethics of hunting to new hunters for decades. It is a fairness code of mostly unwritten rules that is defined and practiced by each individual hunter. Today, as technology continues to test the limits of fairness, the New Mexico State Game Commission counts on hunters, rather than the establishment of new regulations, to decide conduct in the field and whether use of advanced equipment represents “fair chase,” even if it is legal. The department, as it evaluates future hunting rules, plans to continue public discussion about evolving technologies, “fair chase” and hunting practices. Sportsmen, sportswomen and everyone concerned with wildlife conservation are encouraged to engage in those conversations.”
Other states have taken a stance on what they deem fair chase, and have set guidelines to regulate the use of technology during hunting seasons.
States with Trail Camera Regulations
Over the past month I have read through each State’s hunting regulations, and have corresponded with state agencies to clarify laws and verbiage pertaining to the use of trail cameras as a hunting tool. This list is not exhaustive, as hunting regulations frequently change, and I advise that before hunting, you read through your state’s regulations.
Trail Camera Bans
New in 2018, Nevada became the first state to completely outlaw the use of trail cameras during the hunting season.
From the Nevada Big Game Hunting Regulations handbook on page 14:
With certain exemptions, it is illegal to place, maintain or use a trail camera on public land from August 1 – December 31 of each year. July 1 through December 31 if the camera is capable of transmitting.
Cellular Trail Camera Regulations
In the state of Alaska it is legal to use trail cameras, however they do restrict the information that you are allowed to receive during the hunting season.
With the concern of fair chase in mind, the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) restricts the use of cellular transmitted cameras. On page 18 of Alaska’s General hunting regulations the law states it is unlawful to:
Using a pit, fire, laser sight (excluding rangefinders), electronically-enhanced night vision, any forward looking infrared device, any device that has been airborne, controlled remotely, or communicates wirelessly, and used to spot or locate game with the use of a camera or video device, any camera or other sensory device that can send messages through wireless communication, artificial salt lick, explosive, expanding gas arrow, bomb, smoke, deer urine, elk urine, or chemicals (excluding scent lures).
After clarification with the ADFG they assured me that the use of trail cameras are permitted, the only restrictions are on those cameras that have the ability to send photos directly to the hunter.
Standard trail cameras, in which you physically have to check the camera to receive pictures, is legal in the State of Montana. They do, however have restrictions on the use of cellular trail cameras.
It is addressed on page 15 of the the Montana Hunting Regulations, under the rules of Prohibited Methods of Hunting:
Two-way electronic communication (radios, cell phones, text messages, etc.) may not be used to: – hunt game animals or upland game birds, migratory birds or furbearers as defined in Montana law (“Hunt” means to “pursue, shoot, wound, kill, chase, lure, possess or capture”)
This law speaks only the information received from two way communications in the pursuit of animals, however they also address the use of devices in general under subsection Motion Tracking Devices:
Motion-Tracking Devices and/or Camera Devices:
It is illegal for a person, while hunting, to possess any electronic motion-tracking device or mechanism that is designed to track the motion of a game animal and relay information on the animal’s movement to the hunter. A radiotracking collar attached to a dog that is used by a hunter engaged in lawful hunting activities is not considered an illegal motion-tracking device.
While speaking to an agent from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, she summed up the entire law by saying: “to clarify, it is ok to use a game camera, however it can not relay real time information to the hunter”
Kansas too, has prohibited the use of cellular trail cameras with the purpose of of taking wildlife. In section 32-1003 Methods of Taking Wildlife:
The following Activities are Prohibited
• using two-way radios or cell phones in any manner for the purpose of pursuing, chasing, or hunting game animals or furbearing animals, or to give information concerning the location of big game by radio or mechanical means
General Hunting Regulations Page 12:
It is Unlawful to:
• Use live-action game cameras while attempting to locate, surveil, aid, or assist in taking or take any game animal or furbearing animal during the same calendar day while the season is open (cameras that send an electronic message or picture to a handheld device or computer when sensors are triggered by wildlife).
Trail Camera Laws Under Review
In 2017 the Arizona Game and Fish Department proposed a ruling of trail camera restrictions, as a part of their continual evaluation of game laws. They offered restrictions that would consequentially end the use of all cellular trail cameras, and would prevent the use of game cameras within ¼ of a mile from any water source.
The proposal was recommended on the heals of an onslaught of hunter complaints about the abundance of trail cameras, from hunting guides as well as other hunters, that littered the immediate area surrounding water sources.
During the June 2018 AGFD meeting, the motion to place restrictions on trail cameras was voted down.
During the July 2017, Idaho Fish and Game meeting, there was a proposal to eliminate the use of trail cameras and electronic two- way communication as an aid to hunting big game. The proposed rule was to prohibit the use of trail cameras, especially, but not limited to, livestream or other transmission of real time imagery, and the use of electronic communication. This bill was eventually voted down with a vote of 5-2.
Hunting regulations change often, and it is important to understand the laws and regulations of each state before placing trail cameras during the hunting season. Be sure to click on your state below to find the most recent hunting laws in your area.