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Logan Rice (left) and his dad Lawrance Rice with their drone hovering in the background, about to scout a distant field for wild hogs. Photo by Luke ClaytonLogan Rice (left) and his dad Lawrance Rice with their drone hovering in the background, about to scout a distant field for wild hogs. Photo by Luke Clayton

By Luke Clayton
Outdoors writer

How many times have I been hunting and watched a hawk or buzzard overhead and wish that I too had the ability to observe the landscape from above rather than be limited to what was within my peripheral vision there on the ground?

Recently, I had the opportunity to join a few good friends and observe what the hawk or buzzard sees every day, all while setting around a campfire in the company of great friends, eating a dinner of grilled chicken with all the trimmings and enjoying what possibly might one of the last cool evenings of the season.

My longtime friend Lawrance Rice and his son Logan operate a drone service for sportsmen. In his 20s and highly tech savvy, Logan does most of the piloting of these amazing devices. The father-son team flies ranches and farms for landowners and does a lot of things that cannot be accomplished from the ground such as game surveys, topography, locating wild hogs and coyotes and simply getting a bird’s eye view of rugged backcountry that few people go into.

The legality of the use of drones can be a complex subject and it’s always best to contact your local game warden before putting one of these amazing birds in the sky on any tract of rural land. The regulations and restrictions vary greatly and it’s important to know the law. I am certainly not an expert in the subject, but I did learn how interesting and useful drones can be in the outdoors.

Our evening introduction to the wonders of modern-age technology was strictly a demonstration, but we all learned a great deal. For instance, my friend Paul Moore with Vineyard Max deer attractant and feeders had recently set up one of his company’s fish feeders on a 20 acre lake on the Cotton Ranch where we were visiting. The feeder has only been in action for a week or so and I had not seen it.

I asked Logan if it were possible to fly the drone over for a closer look. The lake was at least three-quarters of a mile away, as the bird (drone) flies. Logan had a Google Earth display on his controller screen and asked David Cotton to point out the little lake. Once the exact location was located on the map, Logan piloted the drone toward the lake and within a half-minute; we were looking at dock with the new fish feeder on the screen.

The words “Vineyard Max” were clearly identifiable on the side of the feeder. This was a jaw dropping experience for me. If the drone could accomplish this, what else could it do? The possibilities were unlimited.

I sat there thinking, “This could save lots of money on gasoline and time as well on any piece of property. What if a fence was down or a cow was missing? Scouting from the air with a battery powered drone would be a whole lot cheaper than time and gasoline spent driving on the ground.”

I must admit my hunting blood kicked into high gear when several small sounders of wild hogs were spotted at night via the thermal camera on the drone. On the edge of one food plot, we observed a big 10-point buck and, yes it was possible to count the points.

While hunting game animals with the help of a drone is not legal, locating wild hogs and coyotes is perfectly legal (again, check with your local game warden).

For several years, I have used AGM Global Vision thermal rifle scopes for night hunting. With the help of the drone, had we been actually hunting, we could have located the hogs and then stalked within shooting range on the ground.

Professional drones are not cheap and I asked what if the drone flew out of range or the battery ran out of power. Not to worry said Logan, the drone has an onboard safety system the automatically returns it to where if left the ground in case of low battery and the same system keeps it from flying out of range.

Wild hogs are a big problem across the state and because the critters become almost entirely nocturnal with the least bit of pressure, drones are a very useful tool in hog control. How much fun would it be to be sitting around a campfire drinking coffee with a few good friends and then locate wild porkers feeding on a particular field and then make a stalk, shoot one and field dress it, return to camp, hang the hog on the meat pole, continue relaxing around the fire and let the next guy (or gal) go out for the next stalk.

As a youngster growing up in very rural Red River County, I was sometime invited to set around the campfire with older gentlemen that hunted coons or coyotes with hounds. The guys would usually have a few sweet potatoes roasting and always a big pot of cowboy coffee (and sometime a sip or two of stronger beverages).

What would these sportsmen of yesteryear think of the today’s technology? I’m sure they would be just as amazed as I the first time they watched the drone buzz off the ground on a black starlight night and then disappear above, on its way to scout a distant field. No hounds baying off in the distance but a bird’s eye view on the goings on of all critters with a body temperature in contrast to the ambient air temp. It’s that difference in temperature that registers the images with thermal cameras or scopes. On many occasions while watching a corn feeder at night through my Rattler thermal scope, I’ve watched mice scurrying around the ground under the feeder.

Technology is certainly changing the way we hunt and fish with everything from sonar such as the Livescope that allows the angler to see, in real time, what’s under the boat on a live screen to thermal imaging for hunting hogs and predators to the use of drones.

On second thought, all this technology might just be too much for those old boys of my childhood memories. Now in my mid-70s, I have learned there is just so much my mind can grasp of this new technology.

Sometimes I long to be setting once again beside these old outdoorsmen, listening to hounds baying in the distance but then at my age, I’m not at all unhappy to have friends that can show me everything moving in the woods via a screen somehow magically displaying the image from a little ‘bird’ in the sky; all while I’m enjoying a grilled chicken dinner beside the fire.

Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton through his website www.catfishradio.org

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