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When 16-year-old Jade Harlow of Idaho pulled the trigger last Fall, taking a whitetail doe with his stepfather, Caleb Linck, he didn’t know he was committing a wildlife violation.
Harlow is legally blind from a 2018 firearms-related incident. And while this is certainly not an issue with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), the technology Harlow and his stepfather used to shoot the deer is. The pair used a scope camera mounted on Harlow’s firearm. The camera was connected to a small hand-held screen, which allows a sighted hunter/helper to direct the crosshairs onto the target and instruct a visually-impaired shooter on when it’s safe and ethical to fire.
The problem with this has roots in Idaho’s big game regulations, which prohibit the use of any electronic device attached to or incorporated (into) a firearm or scope. By regulation, visually impaired Idahoans aren’t prohibited from hunting, nor is there currently any type of proficiency test for visual acuity required. However, technology such as Harlow’s scope camera and screen is specifically written out.
Laws limiting the use of technology in hunting are usually passed to maintain a level of fair chase. But Harlow’s situation brings to question what truly constitutes hunter advantage in terms of technology being used by the visually impaired. “[The technology] doesn’t give me an advantage,” Harlow told The Idaho Statesman. “It gives me a chance.”
When Harlow holds his rifle and makes the necessary adjustments it’s a cooperative effort between him and his stepfather. They are presented with many of the same challenges non-impaired hunters face—like waiting for an ethical shot opportunity, maintaining trigger control, and the need for pre-season range time.
Plans for Harlow’s deer hunt began early in 2021, when his Mother, Rebecca Linck, provided the IDFG with a physician’s statement detailing her son’s visual disability, along with purchasing a disabled hunting license. At the same time, Linck submitted a request for the use of the scope camera, i.e. a special weapon reasonable modification permit. While the disabled hunting license was granted, Linck never received specifics on the modification permit. She assumed it, like the disabled license, was permitted.
Ultimately, Harlow wasn’t cited for his use of the scope camera technology. However, the family found out post-hunt that the IDFG would have declined their modification permit request—despite the same technology being used by another visually-impaired hunter to kill a bull elk during a disabled veteran hunt in 2016 near Mountain Home, Idaho.
“I think that [making sure we’re consistent] is a challenge with any of these types of rules and interpretations,” Jim Fredericks, IDFG deputy director of programs and policies told The Statesman. “It’s pretty clear that while scope cameras for visually-impaired hunters might be an accommodation that we’d like to make, the rule really doesn’t allow it as written.”
Harlow’s family, along with others in similar situations, have reached out to Idaho lawmakers to get the regulation amended, with a hearing by the Fish and Game Commission possibly as early as next month. With the support of the commission, the rule-change would still require public comment and placement before the Idaho Legislature.
As for Harlow, he simply wants the opportunity to live life as closely as possible to a time before his accident. “When I found out I could still hunt with a scope camera, it was like (realizing) I can live a somewhat normal life,” Harlow said. “Even with all the adaptive technology, it’s still not going to be exactly the same, but I can live a life that’s somewhat like what I used to have.”