Utah wildlife officials use robo-deer to catch poachers

Salt Lake City (AP) – Nighttime deer poachers beware – that
shadowy creature on the side of the road may just be
remote-controlled.

State wildlife officials across the country have for several
decades been rolling out roadside robot decoys to nab unscrupulous
hunters, and the effort has paid off with hundreds of
citations.

A robotic deer decoy used in Georgia had to be replaced in 2006
after being shot more than 1,000 times.

“It’s a time of year when some Utahns can’t resist the sight of
a big buck on the side of the road – even if shooting hours are
over for the day,” said Amy Canning, a spokeswoman for the Utah
Division of Wildlife Resources.

Utah’s five DWR regions now each have their own robot decoys,
which are deployed in various spots along roadways where deer often
gather or where poachers have been a problem in the past.

Hunting is not allowed at night in Utah, starting a half hour
after sunset until a half hour before sunrise, but authorities say
the sight of a big deer on the side of a road can just be too
tempting for some.

Once a plan is in place, authorities put the mechanical deer
near a road where it can be seen by passing cars. Then they hide
nearby and keep watch, waiting for someone to take the bait,
occasionally using the remote control to move the decoy’s head and
tail “to make it look as realistic as possible,” said Utah DWR
Sgt. Matt Briggs.

“We try to mimic some of the movement that takes place in the
field,” he said.

Hunters will generally use headlights to illuminate the deer,
then take their shot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bow and arrow or
a rifle – if it’s at night, it’s illegal without special
permission, Briggs said.

The shooters in Utah are issued a class B misdemeanor citation,
punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
Authorities also seize their weapons.

Briggs said he’s seen it all, from bow hunters shooting multiple
arrows at the inanimate robot deer, amazed that it’s not going
down, to shooters with rifles repeatedly firing shots at the
mechanical beast.

“I’ve seen an individual shoot it with a 30-06 (rifle) and
couldn’t figure out why it didn’t go down after he hit it five or
six times,” Briggs said. “It can be really entertaining.”

Elsewhere, poachers are catching on, and have become wary of
shooting from the road not only for fear of arrest, but of the
embarrassment that comes along with it, said Lt. Bill Bruce of the
Indiana Department of Natural Resources. His state’s decoy was
effective for about 10 years, but wasn’t deployed last year after
it became less useful.

“If somebody gets caught shooting the deer from the road, it
ruins their reputation as a hunter,” Bruce said. “Their name goes
up on the wall of shame among local hunters.”

Florida officers have also used a robotic deer in all six
wildlife regions, said state Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission spokeswoman Katie Purcell.

“It’s been successful at catching poachers,” Purcell said.
“It’s a tool that officers can take to where the violation is
actually happening.”

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