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Man who uses drones to help hunters recover deer carcasses will appeal verdict he violated laws

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania man who uses drones to try to locate wounded deer shot by hunters so they can retrieve their carcasses has been convicted of violating state hunting laws.

Joshua Wingenroth, 35, of Downingtown, plans to appeal the verdicts handed down Thursday by Lancaster County District Judge Raymond Sheller. The case apparently marked the first time anyone has been cited and tried in Pennsylvania for using a drone to recover a dead game animal and it hinged on whether Wingenroth was involved in hunting as defined by state law.

“The Legislature needs to address this,” Sheller said as he delivered his verdict. “Everyone is playing catchup to science.”

Wingenroth, who openly advertised his business in area publications, was told by state game wardens last year that such an activity was illegal, authorities said. Wingeroth, though, told them his lawyer “has a different interpretation” of the law.

On Dec. 6, an undercover game commission officer contacted Wingenroth and asked him to meet and help him find a deer he shot in the Welsh Mountain Nature Preserve. Wingenroth met the officer there within the hour and had the officer sign a waiver stating he wanted to recover the deer carcass but, if the deer was found to still be alive, he agreed to “hunt the deer another day.”

Wingenroth, who did not know the shot deer story was a fabrication and part of a sting operation, soon launched a drone and piloted it around remotely while using a thermal camera setting to show the scenery in black and white. He soon caught view of a live deer, and turned on the camera’s infrared setting to show it on a heat map.

He later turned that setting off and activated a spotlight to view the deer normally. However, he and the officer were soon approached by a game warden who confiscated the drone and cited Wingenroth for two counts of using illegal electronic devices during hunting and single counts of disturbing game or wildlife and violating regulations on recreational spotlighting.

Since the legal definition of hunting includes tracking, hunting, and recovery, authorities said Wingenroth technically used the drone to “hunt” game. He was convicted on all four counts and fined $1,500.

Wingenroth’s attorney, Michael Siddons, said his client planned to appeal the verdict. Siddons argued at trial that the state laws concerning the use of devices while hunting are “archaic,” saying they have been patched over time to cover new technologies but do not yet address the use of drones.

Siddons said if Wingenroth used the drone to locate an animal before shooting it that would have been illegal poaching, but Wingenroth instead believed there was a dead deer. He also only used a drone after hunting hours had ended and was never intending to hunt.

The Associated Press


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