(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
Cows and other livestock seem to ignore the drones. Horses may look up and if they are skittish, they will move away a bit, but most seem indifferent. Cows are cows and have looked up when the drone is within 10 feet of them, but even the threat of landing on the cows back didn’t phase a couple of them. Without an attachment of some sort cows can’t be bothered. My drones have proven very valuable to help find lost cattle on lease land. Several times I’ve been able to locate missing cows after the roundup, which has saved several days on horseback trying to “bird dog” the missing cows. I spotted the animals from 800 feet up, snapped a picture of the draw, emailed it to the hands, and they recovered the animals. Finding 12 missing animals that easy is a big help and makes you friends.
Chickens, ducks, and other fowl absolutely hate the drones and will scatter for cover when it is within 100 yards. Seagulls are wary and I worry more about accidental strikes than attacks from seagulls. Eagles however will attack! Flying along rimrock north of Yellowstone Park (not in the Park of course) my drone suddenly started tumbling from the sky! I was 750 feet up and 100 feet from anything but thought I’d hit a tree or something. The drone was over 1.3 miles away and fortunately it caught itself, stabilized after dropping 250 feet, and continued the flight as if nothing had happened. Later that day we reviewed the video feed frame-by-frame and saw a talon and tailfeathers. Next frame showed a wing, and the third frame held an angry head and beak of a Golden Eagle! The only damage to the drone was the smallest of chips in the Phantom’s blade, though about a year later that same motor started acting up a few times. Then, on a flight along a ridge in Idaho’s panhandle that same motor quit altogether, and the Phantom tumbled 800 feet from the sky to leave a debris radius of 30 feet! I believe the eagle got its quarry in the end. To deter this, I’ve added vinyl decals to the back of my drones – eyeballs looking back on a potential attacker – and no further eagle attacks so far.
I can conclusively state that Whales are unimpressed and unaffected by drones. While fishing and boating about Alaska we spotted whales tailing. There are laws about how close a boat can come to whales and with a drone I was able to get right above them. It made an incredible encounter even better! After the whales dove out of view, I discovered a nearby, sleeping whale. Here’s the video. We never would have enjoyed the encounter without the drone.
Seals and sea lions only take notice if the drone is within 10-15 feet, so they are not effective for moving or chasing these animals away. On the beach, boat docks, floating on open water, or even eating a 3-foot-long sturgeon, they never seemed to take notice. I believe these water mammals have no natural predators in the air and therefore don’t care.
Some video clips of my wildlife encounters may be found on YouTube, along with videos from others.
Whenever the topic of drones come up, inevitably someone will offer their threat of shooting down any drone that comes near them. Ha! Easier said than done! My sons and I wagered a bet, so I tied 20 feet of survey twine to the bottom of my Phantom, and then 10 feet of wire with a 1-ounce lead weight and normal, inflated “party” balloon. The balloon was about the size of my drone, and the wager was the boys couldn’t shoot the balloon (NOT THE DRONE!) before, during, or after I would fly the drone close enough to read the truck’s license plate. The Phantom’s top speed is about 24 MPH and I had to be extra careful (and slow) flying it with all that string and balloon but was still able to see what I needed from ~100 yards out. Well out-of-range of a shotgun and way too small of a moving target for any semi-auto rifle. It was a lot of fun, and well worth the exercise! They tried a 12 gauge, a 22 rimfire, and an AR “sport” rifle to no effect. I think we all gained a greater appreciation (and apprehension) for dealing with airborne drones. Here’s video of what the balloon target looked like (just a test video).
Retreat Security Uses
As mentioned, for scouting or patrolling you can’t beat a drone. They are noisy when within 2-300 yards, but higher up you will have difficulty hearing or spotting them, whereas they can spot a man-sized object fairly easily. Lots of camera features help highlight different colors, lighting, etc. And with a thermal camera the locating capability is scary. We tried different materials like cheap mylar space blankets, heavy quilts, canvas, and Tyvek. A combination “bedroll” of canvas with a laminated space blanket and Tyvek layer we use for winter camping did the best to hide our thermal profile. Even then, within 50 yards you can see residue heat signatures, even handprints. So useful! I’m hoping to use the thermal to help track down cows in the future because even in the trees at 300 yards it is “clear as the sun, fair as the moon”.
One unexpected use for my drones have been on the shooting range – especially long-distance ranges, to give an accurate distance and visual on the target. To fly out and hover over the target gives detailed distance and helps us see the strikes on distances beyond 700 yards. Here’s an example image:
Cost and real-time use of the thermal camera are the biggest hurdles to personal usage. $3K is prohibitive for most people and makes me very hesitant to fly the drone as I normally would. I have explored using less expensive thermal options – a cellphone with Seek Thermal camera attached to the drone. There are some experimental videos of how I attached the phone to the Phantom and how well it spotted the neighbor’s horses from 200 and 300 yards up. Total cost is less than $300 which is impressive for what it can do, but it isn’t a very good option. I had made a bracket to hold the phone where the drone’s camera could look into the screen and see the phone’s thermal image in real-time, but vibration of the drone and glare on the screen were difficult. The horses, even in the pole-barn were visible and recognizable though, so even with its limitations spotting people or livestock in the woods of your property are compelling.
Custom 3D-Printed Drone Parts
I mentioned using FreeCAD and 3D Printing to make custom drone parts, and this is a great option for anyone interested. Thingiverse.com has free downloadable features for most drones you can download and print for yourself. FreeCAD lets me import someone else’s design and customize it further for my Phantom or Mavic. Both drones take attachments well, but the Phantom can carry about 3x more than the Mavic and has a larger and easier attachment area.
Every time I fly around the lake to see what and where others are fishing results in people doing obscene gestures and throwing things at the drone! I understand and try to be courteous and I don’t take offense at this. I did create an attachment for my Drones that snaps onto the drone’s camera itself with one or two laser diodes I can remotely turn on and off. This makes our encounters much more fun! I’ve only used the lasers with friends, and you can imagine the reaction when the drone you’ve been chucking lead at flashes lasers at your boat. Here’s an example.
Let’s Go Fishin’
Another attachment available to purchase that I’ve also experimented with is a “dropper” for helping cast fishing weights farther out into the lake. The attachment lets me hook the lead weight to the drone, fly the drone out over the lake with the bail on my fishing reel open to let out line, and then the dropper releases the weight into the lake much farther out than I could cast. Lots of great examples of this on YouTube. My Mavics can only carry about 10 ounces effectively but the Phantom has carried up to 2 pounds! Not far or fast, but that is still impressive weight for a camera drone. More industrial drones are built for much more weight and performance. Something to consider and many other uses you might think of for delivering payloads. There is a reason UPS, FedEx, Amazon, and other carriers are eagerly pursuing drone deliveries.
With all the various experiences you might have with drones, frequent usage is the best teacher on how to utilize and guard against drones. Electromagnetic deterrents are not very useful, reliable, or deployable. A Shotgun with buckshot is the best mechanical deterrent, but only at close, impractical ranges. The best deterrent is your environment. Tall trees, windy ridges, foggy valleys, and a powerful (1 Watt or greater) laser pointer are the best tools I’ve found. The Laser pointer is difficult to use precisely, but when I mounted it to a cheap rifle scope it became more effective. Low-light conditions for practice are helpful. The only other useful observation I can offer is that some house phones that use 2.4Ghz have sometimes caused significant interference with the DJI drones I’ve used. Also, when flying around industrial areas and Coast Guard ports it can get very tricky to fly a drone because of all the radio interference. These aren’t a very helpful set of defenses, but that is why drones are so useful.
I don’t mean to alarm or worry anyone or add to the stress and anxiousness we all feel with conditions in our world today. The fun and capability of these available, inexpensive drones is impressive and adds much to what you might do and enjoy in all that you are doing. Worth considering and checking out.