Bill would bar aerial moose spotting for hunters

Posted: Thursday, April 04, 2002

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- After winning his first moose-hunting permit in 21 years of trying, Robert Shelton headed to the north woods last fall and spent 16 days tracking a trophy-sized bull.

Then, the morning the season opened, the Winthrop resident saw a plane circling overhead. A spotter hired by another hunter was zeroing in on the moose Shelton spent more than two weeks tracking.

''I was not a happy camper,'' said Shelton, a retired surgeon and lifelong hunter.

Shelton was prompted to act. He asked that a bill be introduced in the Legislature to prohibit the use of aircraft to hunt big game in Maine. On Tuesday, the bill received final Senate passage and was sent to Gov. Angus King. The governor's office was reviewing the bill.

Shelton said he had hunted all over the world and rarely visited a state or country where aerial spotting of game was allowed.

''I was surprised to see (Maine) didn't have a law prohibiting this,'' he said.

''It's unethical, it's not fair chase and it's unsportsmanlike. If the anti (hunters) found out about this, it would be another nail in the coffin by pulling the uncommitted over to the antis' side,'' Shelton said.

Before the bill was passed by the Legislature, it was amended so it no longer barred hunting big game on the same day a hunter flies on a chartered or privately owned aircraft.

While the legislation refers to ''big game,'' its practical effect would be to prohibit spotting moose from the air, and then communicating their location to hunters on the ground. Violators would face fines of at least $500.

The state Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department testified in favor of the bill. The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, which represents thousands of hunters and anglers in the Capitol, took no sides.

Legislators familiar with the bill said relatively few hunters use aerial spotters. They said some supporters believe the practice gives an unfair advantage to hunters who have a lot of money.

Rep. Sharon Libby Jones said she voted against the bill because it attempts to correct a problem that didn't exist.

''I have never received one complaint, an e-mail or anything else'' from someone complaining about the use of aerial spotters, said Jones, a Greenville Democrat whose district is in the heart of moose country.

Jones added that the bill does not help Maine's lucrative sporting camp and outdoor recreation industry as efforts continue to strengthen it.

Other opponents of the bill said they see little difference between spotting moose by aircraft and by pickup truck, as many hunters do.

Scotty Skinner, who operates a flying service in Patten, said he has flown hunters all over northern Maine to help them find moose ever since the hunt was restored in 1980. Skinner, who could not be reached Tuesday, has been quoted as saying as many as 20 percent of Maine's 3,000 moose hunters hire pilots to help them locate moose.

Shelton said he knows of pilots who spot moose for scores of hunters. While he believes the practice is wrong, he said it does not always give a hunter an advantage over those who use traditional tracking methods.

Last fall, Shelton shot the big moose he had been tracking before the hunter who used a spotter could get to it.

''The good guys won this time,'' Shelton said.


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