From Amish Country boy to drone entrepreneur, our client is fighting for his First Amendment rights

August 16, 2023 | By BRITTANY HUNTER

When we think of the origins of the country’s most brilliant tech entrepreneurs, the mind naturally gravitates toward places like Silicon Valley—not the Amish Country of Holmes County, Ohio.

Mike Yoder, the CEO of Drone Deer Recovery, isn’t like other entrepreneurs. For starters, he didn’t grow up with the internet in his home. In fact, he didn’t grow up with any technology in his home. He was raised in an Amish community. But while his family’s home was free of video games and the internet, he still managed to catch a glimpse of opportunities that burgeoning tech had to offer.

“In our area in Holmes County, it is big tourism. So, we get a lot of people from the outside coming in. And my mom and dad always had friends on the outside that weren’t Amish,” Mike says.

He continued:

So, we got to see them, how they lived. And then there’s times when we went to their house for a stay-over and it was just so crazy to me that you had this TV and you had all these amenities that I was like, whoa, this is crazy. So I got introduced to it when I was really young, but really didn’t understand why we lived the way we do until I was probably 15 years old.

As a young Amish boy, Mike would always find ways to play with remote-controlled airplanes when he was with friends, which started his fascination with flying. Today he is even a licensed pilot who flies around the country.

The tech aspect may have been foreign to Mike’s family, but the spirit of entrepreneurship runs at the core of Amish society.

Business building is just a norm in our area. You can go down the road and about every mile down the road there’s some type of business, be it building harnesses for horses or a farmer that’s into organic or building furniture. Everybody has some type of business, but it probably all stems back to we are taught to work hard.

As for his own parents, they have run several different businesses.

At one time [my dad] was a select timber harvester to where he owned a skidder and a loader and that type of thing and go out and harvest timber. He did that for a long time and then he transitioned out of that business and started another business where he was a broker. What he would do is he would buy timber and then sell it to the mills.

Mike admired the focus on entrepreneurship in his community, but ultimately he decided that the Amish lifestyle was not for him.

“I just could not see myself driving a horse and buggy,” he says, “and living so plainly that I can’t create YouTube videos or I can’t have an online business.”

Mike’s choice to abandon the lifestyle was not easy for his parents in the beginning.

“It’s like any family,” he says. “You want your children to do the things that you do. But [now] they are totally behind everything that I do.”

He added: “And I went over and beyond what they thought I could do.”

Drone Deer Recovery

In 2022, Mike started his company, Drone Deer Recovery, which uses drone technology to help hunters track down animals after they have been shot.

When a hunter shoots a deer, the animal doesn’t often die right away. Deer have been known to run off immediately after they are wounded, only to die in some unknown location much later.

This presents an obvious problem for the hunters, who need to locate the carcass of the animal to serve their ends. Mike understands this obstacle well. A hunter himself, he started doing solo deer hunts at just 10 years old.

As drone technology began progressing, he realized he could harness this innovation and use it to aid hunters by helping to track down the deer after they have been shot. Not to mention, Deer Drone Recovery would give him the opportunity to combine both his love of hunting and his love for all things that fly.

Like any smart entrepreneur, he wanted to make sure there was market demand before he dove in headfirst.

I started with a cheaper drone just to do some research, and I made a video of me going out and finding deer and then took it to an expo and was showing these hunters that were walking through the expo. And they were just blown away with what the technology was doing.

It quickly became clear that his idea was a hit.

“After I did that expo, I went out and bought the big drone, and since then it’s just been skyrocketing.”

Originally, Drone Deer Recovery was a service that hunters could hire to locate a mortally wounded deer the hunter had difficulty finding. But the company soon grew into much more. “I love creating content,” Mike says.

So we started making YouTube videos on it, and basically that exploded. In January [2023] we had over 2 million views on YouTube. And so we had all these people all across the country, thousands. Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, reaching out to us to teach them how to do this same business in their state.

That gave Mike another idea. “I quickly started figuring out, okay so if people want to learn how to do this, let’s charge. We’ll create an online course; we’ll teach them how to do it.”

After some trial and error, it turned out that this model didn’t work. But the experiment helped Mike create the business Drone Deer Recovery is today.

“Now we are selling licensing deals,” he says. “Basically, you become a Drone Deer Recovery certified operator, you will come train with us, you will operate the same equipment that I do. I will teach you everything.”

Mike wants his customers to be just as successful as he is with Drone Deer Recovery.

We are also going to do marketing in your area to get you leads. Basically, you become like an Uber driver almost in a way, but we’re not taking percentages that you earn as of yet. But that is something we see in the future where we just need more operators in the field to keep up with the demand, is where we see it going.

In just seven months, Drone Deer Recovery has made over $700,000 in revenue with their drone and licensing sales and monetizing.

“I didn’t think it’s going to be this big this quick, but it’s still going.”

But now, thanks to certain state gaming regulations, Drone Deer Recovery’s growth is threatened.

Michigan cracks down

In most states, departments of natural resources have rules about the role drone technology can play in hunting. One of the more common regulations includes laws against using drones to aid in the actual hunt.

In theory, these laws should never impact Drone Deer Recovery, a service that doesn’t come into play until after the hunt is over and a hunter needs help tracking down the deer carcass.

When Mike caught wind of this law in his own state of Ohio, he was able to proactively talk things over with the state’s department of natural resources, which ultimately gave him the green light.

With business booming, there are now people from a range of states wanting to work with Drone Deer Recovery. Growth is an excellent problem for a business to have, but this also means Mike has to navigate through seas of red tape in several different states.

And Mike is more than ready to challenge any state that sweeps his business into the prohibitions of the statute in a way that violates the First Amendment—starting with Michigan.

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently warned Mike that the state’s “Drone Statute” bans all drone use in hunting, even tracking down wounded game after the fact. Violators can face up to 90 days in prison or a fine of up to $1,000.

Like other states, Michigan’s “Drone Statute” bans drone-assisted “hunting,” which, again, should not apply to Mike’s company.

Mike had no intention of sitting back and letting the state threaten his livelihood by applying the law to his business in a way that raises First Amendment problems. He was prepared to fight.

After Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Andrew Quinio came across one of Drone Deer Recovery’s posts on Instagram, we jumped in the ring and joined forces with Mike.

Michigan’s law is unconstitutional, pure and simple. But the reasons might surprise you.

The state’s drone statute violates an individual’s First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment’s free speech clause doesn’t just protect your right to freely speak, express yourself, or associate with whomever and whatever you please; it also protects a business and its customers’ right to collect and disseminate, and a listener’s right to receive, information. In Drone Deer Recovery’s case, this includes the information as to the whereabouts of a deer carcass.

By stifling Drone Deer Recovery’s right to free speech, the state is also stifling the economic opportunities of Mike and all his customers.

Mike is hopeful that he will win his case, which isn’t just important for him but for entrepreneurs everywhere.

As he says:

There are going to be tons of people that can have their own business doing Drone Deer Recovery in their state and provide for their family. That would mean way more to me than me having a bunch in my bank. It would be helping those guys do the same.

Mike is thrilled to have Pacific Legal Foundation in his corner to help.

I think it is great that you guys are wanting to help us with this because it’s not only helping us, Drone Deer Recovery, but it’s going to be helping everybody else all across the states to have their own businesses and be able to support themselves.