Pennsylvania Drone Operator Convicted For Helping Undercover Game Warden Locate Deer

drone deer recovery
Drone Deer Recovery

For the first time in Pennsylvania history, a man has been convicted for using a drone to locate an injured deer during an undercover operation game wardens undertook in December of last year.

According to Outdoor Life, Joshua Wingenroth, a Downington resident and owner of Wingy Drone Services, was contacted on December 6th to assist who he believed to be a hunter attempting to locate and recover a deceased deer.

As it turns out, that hunter was a PA Game Commission official, and when Wingenroth spotlighted a live deer with the drone, a second game warden appeared, seized the drone, and issued a $1,500 fine and four citations: Two counts of using illegal electronic devices while hunting, one count of disturbing wildlife, and one count of violating regulations on recreational spotlighting.

Despite a bill working its way through the PA legislature to legalize drone usage to assist in recovering deer, a judgement was made last week by Judge Raymond Sheller, convicting Wingenroth on all four charges, although the judge admitted there was a lack of regulatory guidance that needed to be addressed.

The crux of case lies in whether Wingenroth was actually participating in “hunting” as defined by the law. Wingenroth believed he was not and was only involved in the recovery of a deceased animal. In fact, he made the undercover officer sign a waiver stating that he was only assisting in recovering a deceased deer, and if that deer was found to be alive, the officer would have to continue the hunt another day.

Wingenroth’s lawyer added to this position by pointing out what he perceives to be a self-defeating argument in the game commissions policies:

“Both the arresting officer and the undercover officer — both a game warden for over 30 years each — testified that it is illegal to recover downed game at night without a weapon.

This position is against all known conventional understanding of the hunting public, [and] the requirements under the Game and Wildlife Code regarding a hunter’s legal obligation to use all best efforts to recover downed game animals.”

PGC communications director Travis Lau gave their interpretation of the law to Lancaster Farming, saying:

“Our position has been unified that hunting and recovery are the same. The definition in Title 34 includes tracking and pursuit. Tracking a wounded animal would be hunting under the letter of the law.”

Wingenroth will be appealing the case so he did not speak directly to the press, but many have come to his defense, especially those in other states where using drones are legal for recovering deer – people like Mike Yoder, who owns the Ohio-based Drone Deer Recovery company. You can hear his take on the case in the videos below.

Although the legality of certain parts of hunts can be debated, what can’t be debated is the need to be properly prepared. First Lite is the first place you should check out to make sure you’re ready for whatever nature throws at you. Whether you need camo, undergarments, boots, or jackets, First Lite has you covered (literally).

Time will tell if Wingenroth’s conviction is upheld, but this serves as a reminder to legislative bodies that urgency is needed in updating laws to maintain pace, or at least stay close behind, changes in technology.

While no one believes that government bodies will be able to foresee all issues that potentially could arise when novel products hit the market, they do need to be held responsible for maintaining clear and concise rules and regulations for how the utilization of those products will be judged.

Keeping laws ambiguous serves no one and only creates distractions from larger issues at hand. This case, while the first of its kind in the state, will certainly not be the last, especially with a new framework for drone recovery laws being worked on as we speak.

Mike Yoder Commentary – Part 1

Mike Yoder Commentary – Part 2

And you can also see more of Yoder’s drone deer recovery work here:

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A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock