Exploring new tech in big game recovery

Stay Sharp

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Oct 6, 2015
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As a guy that been bowhunting for nearly 50 years in many many states and for many many species and who has been on hundreds of archery tracking jobs for myself and others, the importance of recovering game cant be overstated. Some folks are good at it and other, not so much but of equal importance is when do you call it? When do you determine that all efforts have been exhausted? When do you call in the big dogs (literally)

Ideally when release the arrow or bolt or bullet, we go to the spot the animal last stood , we take up the trail and it leads us to the animal but this is not always the case. Sometimes we start with conventional blood trailing, then grid searches and then a buddy or two, then a dog. Then the lingering doubt about the hit, the sleepless nights, then the "did I do enough?"

I think every bowhunter and crossbow hunter that has a few years under his belt can relate. What if there were an additional tool in the tool box? That's what I thought while on stand this last season after a rather lengthy search for a hog Id arrowed.

So I began investigating another tool for the big game recovery tool box. I researched and then contacted my state's DNR and was directed to the LT. in charge of exactly what I was considering as a new tool. Then I came across another person who was one season ahead of me in employing the exact same methodology to searching for big game animal carcasses. His success rate was 100%

Despite this person not being a bowhunter (he did however enjoy gun deer hunting) he was asked by a friend to aid in the search of an arrow shot deer. He agreed and found the deer in short order.

His method of search was a Thermal imaging capable drone. WI has some wording about using aircraft to aid in the hunting regulations but nothing about drone usage for carcass recovery. To the casual observer, they might not understand that differences between hunting with an unmanned aircraft and using the same aircraft to search for the carcass of a dead animal but its exactly these subtle differences that are key to the legality of using a drone for carcass recovery.

I wrote up a usage plan for thermal drone recovery with some pretty strict guidelines that I would adhere to and sent them to the WI DNR person in charge of all things drones. I copied the vice chair of the WI Natural resources board as well as my local warden.

Since that time, Ive shared a few emails with the DNR lead person assigned to drone usage and a few conversations with the Natural Resources Board Vice chair. All the conversation were positive and provided the legal affirmation I needed to go forward. I was fortunate in that the person before me that was using a drone had also worked with the DNR to ensure legality. In fact, that person has conducted carcass recovery with a DNR warden participating in the recovery.

Again, What I am talking about is currently the laws regarding Wisconsin. I have not explored others states and cant speak to the legality there.

Here are a few of the self imposed regulations I included in my draft document that I sent to the DNR and NRB vice chair.

1. At no time during this recovery effort is any member of the search party allowed to be in possession of a weapon (firearm, archery gear or crossbow) (exception for CC holders). This speaks to the difference between hunting and simple carcass search but limiting the personal protection rights and the 2nd amendments rights is a sticky situation that I cant ask another to wave.

2. If during the carcass location process, the animal sought after is determined to be alive, Drone search efforts will immediately be terminated. The reason is then we switch from carcass recovery to locating a live animal so this fine line must be walked. IT would then be up to the hunter

3. I cannot and will not fly in the following conditions: Rain, Snow, dense fog, or winds in excess of 20 miles per hour. If any of these conditions develop after the search has begun, the search will be terminated.

4. Depending on the location of the search, and upon checking sectional maps and B4Ufly, it may be determined that the airspace involved is restricted or prohibited regarding the use of a drone. Should a carcass search originate in an unrestricted area but later move into airspace that is restricted or prohibited, the search will immediately be terminated.

Some of those items are regulated by the DNR, other regulated by the FAA and still others I will insist upon myself. As of this writing I am studying for the FAA's Part 107 exam in an effort to become certified to use a drone in such a manner.

I cant find game animals with a thermal drone without buying one first, so I bought an Evo II Dual. This is a public safety tool used by police, fire and search and rescue specifically due to its Flir Boson camera. This particular drone is very new to the market having been released in spring of 2020 and even getting one was a challenge as they were in high demand.
 

Stay Sharp

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This drones capabilities mean that its rather pricey. This Evo II dual cost quite a bit and that was just the start. Since Ive bought ive spent a bit more to get all I need for such an endeavor.

This link will explain the Drone's abilities.


In theory, this is how it will work. I myself or another will shoot an animal and if unable to recover, I will Follow the guidance Ive written and if all is clear, I would put the drone in the air and begin search, climbing to about 200 feet, switching to thermal mode and begin the search in the last known area the sign directed the search to begin at.

In practice, the only other person in the state doing this sort of recovery, (mentioned earlier) has been recording his efforts. Im linking a few of his deer recovery videos.

If you are impatient fast forward to 3:45 mark of the video.

[video]
1:50 in this video

[video]
In this video, fast forward to 3:20

[video]

I think Those videos explain it pretty well. You are seeing what the pilot saw as transmitted back to him from the camera. The screen on the controller is very small and wont lend it self to seeing the level of detail I will need to see to spot the heat signature so I tried linking my Iphone7 as the display screen. It was better but still too small. I needed to upgrade to an Ipad mini to have a larger screen. Then because I know I will likely be in heavy cover for most searches, a signal booster would extend the range and communication between the controller and the drone So that accessory was included. When flying during the day, a sun shield will reduce the glare on the Ipad screen so that was the next addition.

All of these items will of course be attached to the controller itself. Upon adding these items, the controller got to be about 3 pounds. It was not comfortable or very manageable especially when one hand is removes to select items on the Ipad touch screen. I needed to invent a solution.

This is what I designed and printed on my 3D printers.


It entirely likely that I wont be able to get to the search area with my 4x4 truck or even my ATV and may need to walk in to find a suitable location to launch. That means all the gear need to be packed in so portability will be important. The drone came with a sturdy case with a handle but Id like to be hands free so I modified the case so I can wear it both walking or on my ATV. That case will weigh about 30 to 35 pounds.

Here are the contents of the upper tray.



The lower tray



I modified the case by adding back pack straps.







Its its own separate bag will be the launch pad and lighting. because I cant predict what the ground will look like at a launch site or if tall grass and weeds or soft snow will be a problem.



I learned very quickly that the legs of the drone are too short and the very expensive gimbal make contact with the launch pad during landings. There is not enough under clearance.



So I designed and 3D printed leg extensions to increase the clearance. They added very little weight.







As such, I needed to modify the case.



The expensive camera under the drone is protected by a Gimbal cover. The gimbal cover MUST BE REMOVED prior to launch. Failing to do so can damage the gimbal. After only a few time removing as reattaching the gimbal cover, one of the legs broke (I later learned a common problem with the design) Without the tab the cover will not function.

I opted to design and 3D print my own gimbal cover, one that is self flagging so it will alert me to the fact that I have not removed it before flight.

[video]
This thermal drone is pretty expensive and there is always the possibility that a crash could happen and the unit could go missing due to a signal loss. To increase the chances of recovery, Im adding some things to the drone to make finding it easier. The first thing was getting a very loud beacon that also includes a flashing strobe (for night time recovery of a missing drone) Despite its small size, its as loud as the smoke alarm in my house. Next was creating a mounting method via my 3D printer.



Again the 3D printer comes to the rescue and now the beacon has a home.



I also added some strobe lighting Pay no attention to the red and green covers, those are snap on/off. I will run these lights without the colored covers so the strobe lights will be white.



There are specific FAA requirements for drone lighting for night time operations. The lights have to visible for 3 Statute miles. There are only a few makers of such lights. 2 of the lights came with the drone. I added a few more to exceed FAA minimums. This is a video I made of the lights. You will also see the lights I will need to pack in to illuminate the launch pad. (I have since added more lighting after this video) Not only will the strobes meet the FAA requirement but they will help me keep visual line of sight with the craft while flying both day and night.

All accessories will be attached with Dual Lock (better than velcro)



These additions will increase the odds of finding the drone should it go missing during a flight.
 

Stay Sharp

Very Active Member
Oct 6, 2015
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[video]
Because the person I would be doing the carcass recovery will know the approximate location of the animal and the lay of the land better that I will, they will need to see what I am seeing. This means they will have to peer over my shoulder the entire time as they will recognize landmarks that will mean nothing to me. If the person is shorter than me and if I care to social distance, I need and alternative means for them to see what the thermal camera sees so I added a Live Deck and will carry a small laptop to link to so the other person can view the search from a distance. This is what live deck does.

[video]
So now I need to haul in the live deck the laptop and cables. I have also purchased a few additional batteries (each has roughly 40 minutes of fly time. This will be reduced when weight is added or its windy. (the backpack straps are looking more and more appealing now.)



In prior videos you were able to listen to the drone sound. It sounds like a swarm of angry bees. Its fairly loud so when I learned about low noise props, I bought some. Then I brought out my sound meter and compared the noise levels.

[video]
At this writing Ive not attempted a carcass recover. Ive been learning to fly (this is my first drone) But I have been practicing and videoing my efforts.

[video]
Then during another practice flight I encountered a deer.

[video]
I will continue to practice flying and learning the controls and the features in preparation for next seasons hunts. I will also take the part 107 exam to get certified. In the meantime, Im contacting local law enforcement and public safety to offer this tool as an asset to them should the need arise.

This is a work in progress and I will have plenty of time to perfect the process before the 2021 deer season. I will keep a running blog on the progress of this new tool and recovery methodology. What is unknown at this writing is the time factor. How long will a big game animal give off a heat signature that is warm enough (meaning warmer than its surroundings) that it can be picked up by the camera. That will be dependent on the temperature of the ground and the amount of time since the animal died. I will learn as I go but Im also aware that even if the carcass has gone cold, warm things such as coyotes, wolves, bear, bobcats, vermin and even crows will show themselves on the thermal camera while they dine on the carcass so it may very well be that Im searching for the heat signature of other critters that will lead me to the target.

I intend to you this carcass recovery enterprise as a learning and data gathering tool. And because I will always want to know what Im getting into before I agree to a carcass recovery, Im working on a draft document that will be answered and the terms agreed to by the person wanting such a search conducted. Those draft questions are shown below.

--------------------

***This is a work in progress and will be revised as needed***

Carcass recovery questionnaire

***At no time during this recovery effort is any member of the search party allowed to be in possession of a weapon (firearm, archery gear or crossbow) *** (exception for CC holders)

***If during the location process, the animal sought after is determined to be alive, Drone search efforts will immediately be terminated ***

***I cannot and will not fly in the following conditions: Rain, Snow, dense fog, or winds in excess of 20 miles per hour. If any of these conditions develop after the search has begun, the search will be terminated***

***Depending on the location of the search, and upon checking sectional maps, it may be determined that the airspace involved is restricted or prohibited regarding the use of a drone. Should a carcass search originate in an unrestricted area but later move into airspace that is restricted or prohibited, the search will immediately be terminated. ***


Name of person requesting carcass location service: ____________________

Phone Number of same person: __________________________________

County where carcass search will be conducted: ________________________

Nearest municipality (city/town/Village): _______________________________

Nearest intersection of 2 roads:______________

Will the search take place on private land or public land : ________

If public land, it the land county, state or federally controlled: ____

Is the property a military operations area? :____________

Do you anticipate that the animal remained on the property you have permission to search or do you think it may have crossed onto a neighboring property? :________

If the animal crossed onto another property, do you have express written or verbal permission to enter that property? :______________

Does the property where the search will be conducted contain any of the following
Power transmission lines, Cell or radio towers, Wind turbines? :_______________

Species of animal carcass to be located: _____________________________

Weapon used while hunting (firearm, archery gear or crossbow): ____________

If Firearm, what caliber: ______________

Was the animal shot with a crossbow?:_____

Was the animal shot with a vertical bow and arrow?:______

If archery or crossbow, what broadhead was used: _____________ Fixed____ Mech.____

did you get an arrow or bolt pass through or is it assumed, still in the animal: _____

What time and date was the animal hit: __________________

How far (in yards) have you already tracked the animal: ________________

How far (yards) from last tracking sign can a 4 x 4 truck be brought in:__________

Is the start point for the search accessible by 4x4 truck:__________

If not accessible by truck, is the area accessible by ATV:_________________

Using the image below, give the number and letter intersection of the assumed impact: _____


 

JimP

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While it may be legal in some states as of right now in most western states it is not legal to use a drone at anytime during the hunting seasons.

It would be nice if it was legal and would be a great aid in retrieving animals, but sooner or later some will start to use it at times outside of the legal side of it.
 

mallardsx2

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Jul 8, 2015
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Also you need to be very careful to operate within each states regulations...for instance I had to have a separate test to operate in NC.

You will need a Daylight Operations Waiver to operate at night if I recall and they dont issue those overnight. So thats something to think about. A waiver of any kind can take a VERY long time to get. So keep that in mind.

Also there is no waiver that I am aware of for not maintaining VLOS.

Use the below to pass your part 107 and know how to read the charts because they are on the exam..

 

Stay Sharp

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Oct 6, 2015
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Also you need to be very careful to operate within each states regulations...for instance I had to have a separate test to operate in NC.

You will need a Daylight Operations Waiver to operate at night if I recall and they dont issue those overnight. So thats something to think about. A waiver of any kind can take a VERY long time to get. So keep that in mind.

Also there is no waiver that I am aware of for not maintaining VLOS.

Use the below to pass your part 107 and know how to read the charts because they are on the exam..

Daytime waivers are a thing of the past under the new FAA drone regulations.
 

mallardsx2

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If I ever hit a deer at grid location A4 (Hit and sunk) I will give you a call!

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. lol
 
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Stay Sharp

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Sounds like your all set to go find deer for people who are helpless then.

Enjoy!
Everybody can lose the trail at times. It happens. This is just another option to keep game from going to waste. Folks will still have free will and can opt NOT to seek help with a buddy or dog or drone if they think that they are less of a hunter if thehy cant find the animal they hit. If personal pride means a person leaves an animal to become coyote food, Its up to the hunter.
 
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Stay Sharp

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Yea, I'll pass. That's part of the woodsmanship of being a hunter, accurateshooting, blood trailing, tracking. Can't do it without aerial backup then i don't know what to say.
Everybody can lose the trail at times. It happens. This is just another option to keep game from going to waste. Folks will still have free will and can opt NOT to seek help with a buddy or dog or drone if they think that they are less of a hunter if they cant find the animal they hit. If personal pride means a person leaves an animal to become coyote food, Its up to the hunter.
 

go_deep

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Everybody can lose the trail at times. It happens. This is just another option to keep game from going to waste. Folks will still have free will and can opt NOT to seek help with a buddy or dog or drone if they think that they are less of a hunter if they cant find the animal they hit. If personal pride means a person leaves an animal to become coyote food, Its up to the hunter.
Your right, everyone can lose a trail at times, but figuring it out is what makes you better.
 

go_deep

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And then when you still come up empty?????? When you have tried everything and still cant find it???
That's the problem with the world today, we have to have a solution to fix everyone of our problems, we just can't fail. At all cost, at all expense, regardless of how over the top of might be, we must be successful...

Sorry, we don't need to win at all costs, failure sucks, but failure makes most people a better person by learning.
 

Stay Sharp

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I guess coyotes gotta eat too. You are REALLY overthinking this and making it something it is not. Its an optional tool that freedom of choice will dictate when and if a person wishes to employ. I cant see how it is a "fail" . I intend to use it as a learning tool. I think there a good bit of info that can be gained from a tracking job that comes up empty but then dogs or drones could teach folks about tracking later on in thier hunting lives.
 
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taskswap

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That looks pretty amazing - as a tech geek I'm fascinated. There's some really good work here just getting a rig like this together and all the collaboration with the DNR on acceptability. But I get stuck on three things.

First, the cost of all that gear is just honestly higher than a deer is worth. Not that I'd argue you shouldn't do everything you can to locate an animal you shot. I mean the opposite: if I thought I needed that every time to find one, I just wouldn't bother with hunting at all. Now, I'm a guy who happily purchased multiple rifles and what must be a half dozen packs by now. But they're all multi-purpose and have long useful lives (I'll be handing my rifle down to my children and it'll still be great). Technology ages fast and you have to figure you're only going to get a few years out of high-tech gadgets, so you have to look at costs in that light too.

Second, that case for the whole setup is bigger and bulkier than my entire hunting rig. I hunt elk in the West where multiple trips is just a thing you deal with, but adding a trip just for a single purpose item plus another trip to get it out, and all on the chance you MIGHT need it, seems like a deal breaker to me.

Finally, the bulk itself has another problem. I believe the time you'd want something like this the most is archery season because that's when the animal needs to bleed out and has time to ramble. In rifle, if you're not laying that animal down right away, or MAYBE it's running 30-40 yards, maybe tennis is more your thing... :D That's not to say there aren't plenty of hardy animals that can get farther. It's just percentage-wise a smaller need.

It's really the percentages that break this. How often do you lose an animal? If you only "need" something like this one out of every 10 trips, and you take 1 trip a year, it'll be obsolete before you even get a chance to use it. Maybe it would make sense for a hunting party pooling together and sharing it, but I have to imagine those parties are also the MOST successful at recovery, just because they have more searchers in the first place.

I'm not trying to piss in anybody's cheerio's, but if you really want FLIR for game recovery why not look at the Leupold LTO Tracker 2? It's a handheld IR spotter that you can get for $699-$1399 depending on if you want HD, it fits in the hand, and only weighs 7oz. Sure it doesn't fly, but a fair portion of most hunting seasons and regions trees aren't actually bare anyway, not to mention hunting in conifer. Personally I think a drone actually has a lot of disadvantages from that perspective. The Leupold has its own questions of legality, but it's a practical device from a usability perspective if you really want something in this category.

If you want a silver lining you should trot this out to your local Search and Rescue groups. They'd LOVE it, it would be hugely useful for them. Not all of them have good budgets and I bet they'd just love to work with a guy who knows the woods and has useful gear to use in it... Anyone fighting forest fires probably would as well. A common challenge for those guys is after a fire is out, looking for hot-spots that weren't fully extinguished. IR is just the ticket for that. They usually use satellite but the resolution is very low, and aircraft overflights are often budget-breakers. Lots of them are already investing in this tech, but not all have the funding...
 
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Stay Sharp

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Thanks but you may not have read all the contents of my post. I will be using this in Wisconsin and for my traveling hunts in the USA and Africa. Cost was not really a concern. Im blessed to have won lifes lottery via the American dream of working hard and becoming wealthy by starting a bowhunting products company and working for a few other bowhunting companies developing products for them. I doubt I personally will make much use of this as I have the good fortune of watching the game I arrow, fall from where Im standing. This will be used for those that contact me, after they have exhausted their search.

Also, As I stated in my post that you may not have read

"In the meantime, Im contacting local law enforcement and public safety to offer this tool as an asset to them should the need arise. "

Also, Im not a firearms hunter. After 46 years of hunting with a rifle I gave it up a few years ago as I saw not challenge or reward or satisfaction is killing with a gun any more. I only bowhunt. Aside from that, I have plans on how to turn this thermal drone into another profit center with both hunters and the farming industry.
 
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