Business was brisk for game wardens monitoring a white-tailed deer decoy Nov. 3 in the Black Hills National Forest north of Sundance.
Scott Talbott, the Game and Fish Department's Wildlife Division supervisor in Casper, says the one-day decoy operation was conducted in the Black Hills because of complaints from both landowners and sportsmen of poor hunting behavior. "Reports of violations involving hunters shooting from the road had increased in recent years," he said.
The replica of the buck deer was set up along a public road in deer area 2, which opened on Nov. 1. Over 76 vehicles drove by the decoy during the daylight hours with occupants of 40 of the vehicles observing the decoy. Eighteen vehicles stopped and attempted to take what they thought was a real white-tailed deer buck. Twenty-four people shot at the decoy resulting in 31 citations and 10 warnings.
Seventeen citations were written for shooting from a public road, six for failure to wear hunter orange and four each for shooting from a vehicle and accessory to shooting from a public road. Of the 20 individuals receiving tickets, 17 were residents and three were nonresidents.
"One of the most disturbing results was that four shooters were sixteen years of age or younger that were instructed by a parent to commit a violation," said Casper game warden Rick King.
As urban detectives dress as prostitutes or pretend to be a stumbling, vulnerable drunk to apprehend criminals, many states will put a fake deer, pheasant or other animal under surveillance. Big game decoys have been used in Wyoming since 1992. In 1995, Wyoming statute 23-3-406 was passed making attempting to take a wildlife decoy the same as attempting to take a live animal. If the attempt is illegal, it is a violation.
Some individuals complain using wildlife decoys is entrapment. However, court rulings have upheld the fact that no one is being encouraged to shoot at the decoys, and the mere presence of an opportunity to take a wild animal does not constitute entrapment.
"Decoys are an efficient way to put the violator, officer and sought after game in the same spot at the same time," said Jay Lawson, G&F chief game warden.
Aside from the inherent danger in shooting from a public road, shooting at simulated wildlife brings to question the ethical behavior of some hunters. The anti-hunting public has criticized the hunting community for unethical behavior and for the apparent lack of policing amongst themselves. Even though most law enforcement officials would agree that the vast majority of hunters conduct themselves ethically and abide by the laws, those that do not continue to perpetuate a negative image for hunters and hunting.
"Hunters should be outraged by the frequency with which wildlife laws are violated," Lawson said. He believes that the public perception of hunting and hunters alike must be one of respect for the law, private property and wildlife.
"Hunting is part of our heritage, but it is not a right," Lawson said. "Hunting is a privilege and a very important wildlife management tool. However, if we are to continue to use hunters in the management of our wildlife populations, all hunters must demonstrate to the people of Wyoming that they are responsible."
Anyone with information about a wildlife violation is encouraged to call the toll-free, 24-hour, STOP Poaching hotline at (800) 442-4331. Callers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward if the information leads to a conviction.