Is it legal to hunt Idaho wildlife by honing in on radio collars?

Yes, according to the IDFG.

Over on a popular, unnamed anti-wolf website there has been discussion of using radio receivers to track and hunt wolves and the frequencies of the radio collars on them so I asked the IDFG about this. I sent them the exchanges which have taken place there and, specifically, I asked “I would like to know if there is any language which prohibits the practice of hunting wolves, elk, or deer with the aid of radio tracking.”

The reply I received from Jon Heggen, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau for the Idaho Department of Fish & Game:

There is currently no prohibition against the use of radio tracking equipment for the taking of big game.

Radio collar frequencies are considered [just] a trade secret and therefore their disclosure is exempt from Idaho’s public records law.

The problem is that the radio collars frequencies are not a secret. A quick search of documents obtained through public records requests does reveal radio frequencies of wolves and it is common practice to give ranchers receivers with the frequencies of collared wolves. Are we to believe, that with the animosity towards wolves and, frankly, other wildlife, that this information will remain only in the hands of those with the authority to have it?

This is not only a problem with wolves. There are hundreds of elk, deer, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, wolverines and many other species that are burdened by radio devices. It appears, based on my question and the answer given, that there is a gaping hole in wildlife protection that needs to be filled legislatively or through the commission. Is the state legislature or IDFG Commission going to fill this hole as quickly as they do when the profits of the livestock industry or outfitting industry are threatened or are they going to scoff it off because it might result in the death of a few more wolves and possibly other species?

Is the idea of “fair chase” a thing of the past?


  1. Wilderness Muse Avatar
    Wilderness Muse


    Interesting dichotomy. It is illegal to use artifical light at night; illegal to locate game from the air and give contemparaneous instructions to a hunter on the ground.

    How is hunting by locating an animal emitting an electronic signal from a collar, using an electronic directional finder to pursue and kill any different?

    If the IDFG representative you spoke with is correctly stating the law, there is a serious “fair chase” law problem that needs to be fixed. An antenna or RDF is a large enough piece of equipment that it can be readily spotted by law enforcement, or a good samaritan hunter and reported. GEEZ.

    Regardless of species there is a serious flaw with this apparent inconsistency for hunting. On the other hand, if the issue is one of removal of a “problem” animal under proper authority, that is a different issue altogether.

    And while fixing this inconsistency, if they do, it does not seem unreasonable to just say no collared animal may be harvested.

  2. Save Bears Avatar
    Save Bears

    I am surprised, many states have provisions that make it illegal to hunt big game animals with the use of any electronic means, it seems it would simple for them to add this to the game regulations and close the loophole.

  3. Ken Cole Avatar

    I have contacted both of my representatives and state senator about this. I encourage you to do so as well.

    It’s as easy as sending an email.'smylegislator.htm

  4. Si'vet Avatar

    I believe the reason there isn’t a current F&G regulation prohibiting the use of tracking devices, is due to the fact it has never been an issue or (tool) until wolves were delisted, and legal hunting was allowed . I don’t believe anyone would spend the time or $$ to radio track a cow elk, or fawn. I know this subject has already been discussed in several F&G management circles and would expect this loop hole to be closed soon. Many of the F&G regulations are written after something has been developed, used and brought to the F&G’s attention. Example: compound bows / mechanical broadheads etc.

  5. jdubya Avatar

    Is the idea of “fair chase” a thing of the past?

    In a word, yes. It stopped when the ATV’s took over the burden of hiking or riding horses. Besides, as the anti-wolf crowd likes to point out, the wolves simply like to kill for killing sake, so why should they (the hunters) be any different? Fixing on these radio collars, to them, just levels the playing field a bit. Too bad they don’t stick collars on the elk as well.

  6. Si'vet Avatar

    “Is the idea of fair chase a thing of the past.” In a few words “for some” other factions of the anti-wolf crowd, (hunters) attend a lot of F&G meetings and continue to harp on the closure or severe restriction of ATV’s in hunting units, with some exceptions for people with real disabilities, other than obesity. The number one complaint of hunters by hunters is the use of ATV’s.

  7. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    IDFG Commission meeting tonight at their headquarters on Walnut St. in Boise. Public Comments are allowed starting at 7:00 pm.

  8. Wilderness Muse Avatar
    Wilderness Muse


    You are making some pretty broad generalizations that probably do not need to be attributed to most hunters. Stirring the pot to create controversey where there is none doesn’t help wolf reintroduction in the least. And if you knew anything about wildlife research, you would know that a small number of elk are, in fact, collared. Do the world a favor- get smarter.

    1. jdubya Avatar

      Well Mouse, or it is Muse, I must have hit a nerve on you.

      Are you in that “I’ve eaten too many hamburgers at McDonalds so I must drive an ATV to kill elk” crowd?

      I’m not sure this thread is about “wolf re-introduction” as you suggest. Perhaps you should use some of your saber-like wit to consider we are past re-introduction and heading towards re-extirpation.

    2. Wilderness Muse Avatar
      Wilderness Muse


      My comment to you was about tone and unnecessary condescension, where it didn’t add to the conversation. Apparently you missed that part. I don’t own an ATV, walk alot when I hunt. I probably agree with you on the underlying negative aspects of ATV’s. But this conversation was not about ATV’s, now was it?

      And the fact that you brought up the subject of “anti-wolf crowd, (hunters)” – your terms- made it a wolf reintroduction issue, as well as slapping hunters uniformly with an anti-wolf label. Not very smart for the end objective of gaining acceptance/tolerance of wolves on the landscape.

      Importantly, this conversation was about collars and electronic hunting aids, including those specifically to track down and possibly shoot wolves (maybe illegally). That raised an ethics issue of hunting – the fair chase doctrine- which most of us here seem to think is being eroded signficiantly if this practice goes unchallenged.

      Maybe a critical thinking class would help your mental processes and writing skills. Naw, dubya, you just hit my “respond to the idiot” button.

  9. Elk275 Avatar

    ++In a word, yes. It stopped when the ATV’s took over the burden of hiking or riding horses. ++ I agree.

    It happened when the general American public and hunters got overweight and it became accepted.

    As far as hunting radio collar animals, who ever give that a thought until the age of the internet.

  10. Si'vet Avatar

    WM, as you recall, a few months ago we discussed collars on this site, with regards to ALL big game animals. I said I would follow up on this issue, one because of vunerability and second due to costs. First I sent a letter to the local commissioner, and received a timely response.
    1. Many collars on deer and elk though fairly easy to see when first installed, get dirty so they are more difficult spot.
    2. If it were against the law to harvest a collared animal, an accidental kill may result in the animal being abandoned/wasted.
    3. Very difficult to enforce.
    All three of these issues made sense so after rethinking about it a bit, my thought was to try an introduce into the hunter education program a section where young hunters are taught the importance of collared animal, the cost to collar the animals, and the importance of passing on those animals. So I’m looking into the correct channels to see about getting this into the educational program for hunter safety/archery permit classes.

    1. Wilderness Muse Avatar
      Wilderness Muse

      Fantastic idea Si’vet. Good luck with the hunter education.

      You raise excellent points about the practicality of enforcing a law for a “do not shoot collared animals.” Maybe some wording in the game reg. pamphlet that says something about why the animals are collared and to DISCOURAGE hunters from harvesting them, would also be useful. Instinctively, I think most people would avoid a collared animal, anyway, but not always.

    2. JimT Avatar

      In all honesty, do you think hunters with tags for wolves in Idaho would pass up a chanced to shoot a collared wolf? Given the rabid rhetoric about wolves, I would tend to doubt it.

    3. JB Avatar

      Right now IDF&G is using radio collars to determine mortality sources for elk and other ungulate species. As we have recently seen, they use the data collected in these studies to implicate wolves as the culprit for holding elk populations down in some areas.

      If Idaho were pass a law that makes it illegal for hunters to take collared animals or even encourage hunters not to shoot collared animals, then they risk skewing the results of their study. Specifically, you reduce hunter-mortality of the species being studied and make it more likely that the collared animals are killed by natural causes (e.g. predators).

    4. Wilderness Muse Avatar
      Wilderness Muse


      You are probably are right on that, notwithstanding the fact that the data gathered on many species (not just ungulates, but predators, too) and individuals is also used for more than determining cause of mortality – maybe the other data gathering has greater purpose. For example, telemetry data is used to determine time and range of travel, and utilization of different habitats. Those are important data sets, and costly to obtain. And that data is not gathered at all, if the animal is dead, regardless of cause.

      The more I think about it, if collared wolves or other predators were also not taken by hunters, it would skew the prey mortality data even more. The animal survives and kills more prey, than if it had been taken by a hunter. It reduces the opportunity of taking one of a small number of animals, where the success rate is extremely high. For example, there may be no substitue the wolf hunter could take if a collared wolf is passed up. Trapping would not be affected because it does not discriminate against individuals based on whether they wear a collar.

      Larry Thorngren doesn’t want collars on elk because he thinks wolves target them because they look different, also skewing the data suggesting wolves take a statistically larger number of these animals. Dr. Scott Creel, basically debunked that assertion a few weeks back on another thread.

      Yep, this stuff is complex.

    5. Ken Cole Avatar

      The point of this article, and where my concern lies, is that it is legal for hunters to use telemetry to find and kill game. I don’t think that taking collared animals is the issue. I think the issue is fair chase and an unethical method of finding and taking the collared animals.

      My beef isn’t necessarily the taking of animals with collars. I think it should be illegal to find them, for the purposes of hunting, by using the collar frequencies.

      I don’t know how successful people have been but I do know it’s possible to find signals if you don’t have their frequencies. And, judging from the discussion taking place elsewhere, there has been success in doing so by people who hold ill will towards wolves. In one exchange they even discuss how to disable the collar so that it can’t transmit. Why else would they do that? Do they want to hide something?

  11. Gregg Losinski Avatar
    Gregg Losinski

    FYI- Jon Heggen is Chief of the Enforcement Bureau for the Idaho Department of Fish & Game.

  12. jon Avatar

    I have to say, hunters today are more lazier than ever. Not all, but some. Hunters who want to bag a wolf, I doubt they care about fair chase. All they care about is killing a wolf. The days of fair chase are gone in my opinion. Now you have hunters using calling devices, using bait, using hounds, etc. Welcome to the era of the fat American lazy hunter.

    1. Wilderness Muse Avatar
      Wilderness Muse


      I am not sure where you get your information. Hunters, including Native Americans, have used calls, decoys and bait of various types back to pre-history. In more recent times, duck hunters have used mouth calls and wooden ducks on the water (American Indians did too before Europeans arrived), and in the last fifty years deer, elk, turkey and predator calls have been used with greater frequency, because the technology has improved and creative people found a market for them (gotta love capitalism). Hounds have been used to hunt animals since before the time of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham in midieval times, even the wolf. No doubt similar advances occurred on every continent and culture over time.

      Also, I do not think electronic calls of any type can be used in the harvest of most big game in any of the Western states (there may be a very few limited exceptions for a predator like a mountain lion). I do not believe an electronic call may be used to hunt wolves. I don’t know because I don’t hunt wolves and never intend to.

      But, yes “fair chase” is under seige, and hunting needs the constant reminder of that tension. My pet peeve is the optics and long range rifles that “reach out and touch” from too far away.

    2. Elk275 Avatar

      ++Now you have hunters using calling devices, using bait, using hounds, etc. ++

      Jon, hounds have been used since the ancient Greeks and their gods and goddesses.

      “Actaeon, while out hunting, accidentally came upon Artemis and her nymphs, who bathing naked in a secluded pool. Seeing them in all their naked beauty, the stunned Actaeon stopped and gazed at them, but when Artemis saw him ogling them, she transformed him into a stag. Then, incensed with disgust, she set his own hounds upon him.”

      Artemis is the goddess of the hunt and the daughter of Zeus.

    3. JimT Avatar

      ElK 275, you do realize these are myths you are citing…;*)

    4. Elk275 Avatar

      I sure do.

    5. Wilderness Muse Avatar
      Wilderness Muse


      Do you suppose the hound and stag parts of the myth were made up? I am guessing not. There are actually books on “Hounds and Hunting in Ancient Greece.” Or, was your comment just a backdoor zinger to discredit Elk275?

      You might be interested in this website from the U of Chicago which discusses the use of hunting dogs in early Greece and Rome, going back to the second century AD.

  13. jon Avatar

    I forgot to add trapping.

  14. Si'vet Avatar

    Fat American lazy hunter, as compared to the rest of the “general American public”. That’s funny right there, I don’t care who you are.

  15. Si'vet Avatar

    WM, yes having it published in the hunters safety handbook and in the general regulations would go hand in hand.

  16. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Hunters have been using collars to locate or kill wildlife before they wore radio- equipped -collars.
    I worked on a Bighorn Sheep study on the Middle Fork of the Salmon way back in 1968. A guide who worked for us a summer horse wrangler, told me he had his client shoot a collared ram on Woodtick Ridge because he knew it was legal sized (3/4 curl +)from talking to the biologist in charge of the study.(The non-radio-collars we had at that time had a large number on them.)

  17. jon Avatar

    Fair chase to me is tracking the animal yourself, not using calling devices or using bait or using hounds or trapping. That is my opinion.

    1. Jon Way Avatar

      I agree with Jon’s sentence above about fair chase – doing it yourself without calls or bait (esp. bait).

    2. Wilderness Muse Avatar
      Wilderness Muse

      jon & Jon Way,

      The use of “bait” for hunting for nearly any species in Western states is illegal. It is allowed (a necessary tool?) for trapping, which is an entirely different process, mind set and is regulated separately. With very few exceptions, trapping is not about consumable meat, it is more about commericial sale of pelts, or getting rid of a perceived problem animal. The commercial trapping is a mind set I will never understand, but it is part of the heritage of the West.

      As for “tracking,” some distinctions should be made. Most hunters do not track ungulates. That is more likely a Hollywood term, for those without knowledge of hunting. It is more about intution and anticipation knowing generally how ungulates use their habitat. The use of “calls” is more about luring a game animal TO the hunter. Tracking, however, can be applied to predator pursuit, as in tracking a bear, lion or even wolf.

      Notwithstanding the historic roots, the modern day use of hounds is illegal to hunt ungulates, and is limited/sometimes prohibited even for predator hunting (bear and lions) in some states.

      So there are indeed already many restrictions already in place to ensure “fair chase” as you prefer it – calls being the exception. I doubt that will change.

      For the above reasons, Idaho’s apparently legal use of electronic devices to pursue (track) any game animal is distasteful and woefully inconsistent with other restrictions, including those on electronic devices. But this is not the first time we have seen ID at the fringe of common sense and good game or wildlife management stewardship.

    3. Ken Cole Avatar


      They certainly use bait for bears.

    4. Wilderness Muse Avatar
      Wilderness Muse


      Sorry, I should have clarified, and been more specific.

      Baiting for bear is specifically prohibited in at least MT, CO, WA, OR. UT is restricted, and prohibits baiting, except archery.

      But ID and WY, it is allowed, although bait is confined to enclosed, usually metal containers, that may be set only during the season, and may be limited to one per hunter. Baiting, I believe, is not allowed for cougar, and definitely not for wolves.

      So, I stand by the earlier statement, with the important exceptions noted.

  18. Si'vet Avatar

    Jon, I know you don’t hunt, but if you did, considering what you consider fair chase, we could have a cup of coffee, and we would take up far to much time at F&G scoping meetings. I would also restrict ATV’s during hunting season to open full size vehicle roads, and gate most of those. Also give hunters with legit disabilitites either area or season advantages.

  19. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ram from Alberta that is either #1 or #2 in the record book was shot because the guide knew that it was world record class ram because of the large, yellow, numbered tag in each ear. It had been part of a research study for several years.
    Locals, where the ram was killed, tell me that the ram was in a closed area when it was shot also. They say that the rich Texas hunter fired his first guide when the guide refused to take him into the closed area where they could see the ram. The hunter, hired another guide (who locals say was more interested in money that fair chase), and killed the ear-tagged ram. Only the hunter and his newly hired guide know for sure.
    The yellow ear tags were removed when the ram was mounted in a full body mount for display.

  20. Si'vet Avatar

    Larry, hearsay in regards to these situations only cause hate and discontent. Sometimes othere peoples jealousy whether it’s hunting, or golfing, lead them to try and discredit other’s accomplishments. If it’s true and it was poached it’s too bad it wasn’t prosecuted, “they” need to contact the RCMP. If it’s just hearsay then it doesn’t bear repeating.

  21. JimT Avatar

    Perhaps the collars on wolves..and other collared animals..should contain a device like the bags of money do..the exploding dye, so that if you tamper with it at wear the signs. I supposed you could get around this by cutting the head off the animal first…grim.

  22. Elk275 Avatar

    The hell with the RCMP or Alberta game wardens. If it was illegally taken and then transported into the US it is a volation of the Lacey Act and a federal felony.

  23. Si'vet Avatar

    JimT, in all honesty your right “hell no”. Right now wolves are definately high on the list. It would also take a lot of will power not to kill a collared 375″ bull elk or 190″ class mule deer as long as it was legal. I believe that is one reason they collar a lot of cows and fawns.

  24. Si'vet Avatar

    JimT it is currently legal to harvest collared game animals in a legal hunt, so I am not sure why you would need the dye. And criminals who poach, would come up with a way to get around it or abandon it and go after another.

  25. JimT Avatar

    Kill, not harvest. It isn’t corn.

    I think it is just ludicrous to allow any collared animal to be shot; it just destroys the integrity and legitimacy of any research effort allegedly being conducted, not to mention the waste of money, as others have pointed out. But then again, the purpose of the IDFG seems to be get the hunt out, just like the Forest Service gets the cut out. In marketing terms, it comes down to servicing your client’s wishes, I guess.

    And with the scopes used these days, there is no excuse not to see a collar under most circumstances. Now, if we went back to the fair chase debate, and banned scopes of a certain power, and had hunters rely on eyesight…;*)

  26. Wilderness Muse Avatar
    Wilderness Muse

    Just a couple of quick data points (possibly ambiguous) on legality of hunting animals with collars with electronic locatiing devices in other states:

    Colorado – no apparent restriction in the 2010 regs, BUT interesting language here: “It is against the law: 29. For 2 or more people to use electronic equipment on the ground, in a vehicle or vessel while violating any wildlife law or regulation.” WHAT THE H— DOES THAT MEAN?

    Utah –

    Montana – It is illegal for a person to possess or
    use in the field any electronic or camera
    device who’s purpose is to scout the
    location of game animals or relay the
    information on a game animal’s location
    or movement during any Commission adopted
    hunting season.

    Washington – It is illegal to use radio-telemetry equipment
    to locate and hunt wildlife with transmitters
    attached to them.

    Wyoming – a quick search produced no apparent restrictions.

    ****WA and MT seem to be pretty clear that it is illegal to hunt using electronic devices to locate. No state appears to have restriction on killing otherwise legal collared animals.

  27. Si'vet Avatar

    Harvest = the product or reward of exertion
    Harvest = to win by achievement
    JimT come spend a week with me in archery season, then
    throw stones if you still have the energy.

  28. Hilljack Avatar

    Where do I began. I know not everyone thinks hunters are rushing out to by transceivers so they can easily catch some animal. It is expensive first of all and second even when tracking collared game I can only pin point the general area of the animal. Many disappear and I never see a hair. Some hunters do have ethics. I passed on the alpha male of a pack this year because he is from yellowstone and I wanted him to keep spreading his genes. I have lat and long to several den sites but would never take a wolf or any other animal like that. I don’t own an atv or motorcycle and either ride my bike or walk every where. I could see a point in having an atv so I don’t tear up my truck on some of the crappy roads and to save gas but shooting animals from a vehicle is not sporting. Last year I bow hunted in a walking boot and for a short time on crutches and still cover several miles. I tell this so some of you think before you lump all hunters into lazy fat hillbilly stereo types. The over whelming majority of hunters still do it on two legs. I love hunting its why I became a wildlife biologist. If it weren’t for hunting I would have never discovered a love of birding and wildlife photography. I started just wanting to harvest more animals and grew into a real sportsman.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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