Taking game laws too lightly can have truly blasted results

Scott Statts

Two bucks stood very still in a small clearing of the ponderosa pine forest – actually too still.

The hunter raised his rifle, taking aim at the larger of the two deer and squeezed the trigger. At only 50 yards, it should have been an easy shot but neither deer so much as flinched. After two more shots, his partner also fired twice with the same result. Something wasn’t right with this situation.

Actually several things were wrong.

First off, the hunter was shooting from inside his truck and his partner shot while leaning against the windshield.

Second, as the Oregon State Police vehicle drove up behind them, a wildlife officer introduced both hunters to the state’s decoy operation.

In Oregon, it’s illegal to shoot from a vehicle or a road.

The Wildlife Enforcement Decoy program was established in 1991. The program has expanded to involve more wildlife species and genders.

The “animal” decoys include mule deer, blacktail deer, whitetail deer, Rocky Mountain elk, Roosevelt elk and even turkey.

The primary goal of the WED program is for wildlife troopers and violators to be in the same place at the same time, thus giving the ability to catch a violator, without the loss of wildlife.

Throughout the big game seasons, and oftentimes after the season closes, OSP officers will set up deer or elk decoys to check compliance with hunters and to catch poachers.

Some hunters argue that decoys are a form of entrapment. Similar programs have been challenged in the courts all over the nation, even in the supreme courts, and has been ruled not to be entrapment. A statute actually classifies the decoys as wildlife.

Although there’s often a lot of humor involved with many decoy operations, wildlife officers take the work very seriously. Their goal is to apprehend violators before they illegally take game animals. The decoys have fooled many would-be poachers.

Following are some humorous decoy stories from Oregon State Police fish and wildlife officers who enforce the state game laws.

n A pickup truck came down a Forest Service road at a fairly good clip when the driver spotted a deer decoy, thinking it was the real thing. He slammed on the brakes, slid into the ditch and the truck ended up on its side. The man then popped out of the passenger side door, opening it like a hatch, and began shooting at the decoy.

n While a man stood alongside his truck and shot twice at an elk decoy, his wife slid behind the wheel and drove off, leaving him standing in the middle of the road in his shirtsleeves.

It was late afternoon on a cold November day. After officers stopped the woman, she said, “I told that SOB it was a decoy and not to shoot it.”

She said she was going back to camp without him, about a 15-mile drive. She finally agreed to wait there while her husband walked to her, about half a mile away. To be a fly on the tent wall that night…

n About 10 p.m. one evening, a pickup with a camper drove by a deer decoy placed only about six feet off the road in the borrow ditch.

The driver stopped and walked behind the camper with an AK-47 in hand. The taillights of the camper weren’t bright enough for him to see the decoy about 20 yards off.

As another vehicle approached, its headlights illuminated the decoy and he shot two single rounds. In between rounds, he squinted to see if the deer was still there. Then he finally lowered the semi-automatic rifle to the hip position and opened up with five rounds.

At that point he knew it was a decoy and ran for the truck.

This was more of a high-risk situation and troopers took the man into custody at gunpoint.

The troopers said the man was a former Russian national and kept repeating, “I just stupid Russian.”

He was cited for hunting from a roadway, hunting at night and using an illegal weapon.

n A few years ago I tagged along with troopers during the first bull elk season. We headed up into the forest to set out the decoy when we spotted a truck that appeared to have an entire elk in the back. The hunters in the truck sped off when they saw the troopers.

The trooper in the lead vehicle finally caught up with them a mile or two down the road and found two whole elk in the truck, one had a salmon/steelhead tag attached to it.

It turned out that the hunter drew a tag for the unit but forgot to buy it before the season started. He unwisely decided to hunt anyway, and since the salmon/steelhead tag looks similar to the elk tag, he thought he could get away with using that tag.

That was the biggest, hairiest salmon that any of us had ever seen. We also wondered if the man had his elk tag in the freezer affixed to a steelhead.

n Troopers put out a buck decoy the day before archery season. A driver came by, got out and began launching arrows. One was short, another long and the third just right – in the center of the chest.

The sound of the arrow hitting the decoy was like that of a hollow wooden box. When he realized it was a decoy, he threw the bow down and started running back to the truck, then came back for it. As the officers arrived the man said he wasn’t shooting at the deer, but at a squirrel instead.

After careful consideration the man decided the judge wouldn’t buy that story and paid the fine. He told the troopers he was going to college to become a police officer.

n During the archery season, officers spotted a truck driving by the deer decoy, a man at the wheel. When it turned around and came back, the wife was driving and the husband was standing in back of the pickup. He shot a couple of times, once with an illegal arrow. He got two citations.

The couple got ready to leave and found out they locked the keys in the truck. The now-angry man took a good-sized rock and tried to throw it through the window, but missed and put a huge dent in the door. The pickup was rented and the couple was on their honeymoon. A broken window, a dent in the door and two tickets to boot. Happy honeymoon!

Last year OSP conducted 130 WED operations statewide, 95 of those being day operations and 35 at night. A total of 680 vehicles drove by the decoys, 369 vehicles observed the decoys, 79 vehicles fired at the decoys and 59 citations were issued.

The Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are hoping that hunters will now think twice before shooting from a vehicle or roadway or out of season.

You never know who may be watching.

Scott Staats is a full-time outdoor writer who lives in Prineville. Contact him by e-mail at [email protected].