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Hunting the Hunters with RoboDeer

Lifelike model protects the real deer from poachers

Some robodeer have been shot at more than a thousand times

Hunting season is here. And that means it’s time to bring out RoboDeer.

He looks remarkably like the real thing, but if you shoot him the only animal who’ll be in trouble is you!

It’s that time of year when, in rural areas, for example, you see trucks patrolling highways, side roads and dirt tracks, full of manly men wearing bright orange vests and racks of rifles. The deer are migrating from their summer homes at higher elevations down to warmer regions for the winter. Lots of them get shot on the way. And while there are rules about hunting, they’re frequently broken.

“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.

So, state wildlife officials across the country have using roadside robot decoys to nab unscrupulous hunters.

In Georgia, a robodeer had to be replaced in 2006 after being shot more than 1,000 times.

“If somebody gets caught shooting the deer from the road, it ruins their reputation as a hunter.”

Utah wildlife officer Sgt. Matt Briggs explained that hunting is not allowed between sunset and sunrise. So, typically, his team puts a mechanical deer near a road where it can be seen by passing cars during the evening. Then they wait nearby for someone to take the bait, occasionally using a remote control to move the head and tail.

“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 with a rifle or high-powered bow and arrow.

Violations are punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Authorities also seize their weapons.

“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.”

In this video from the Florida Department of Fish & Wildlife, Officer Greg Stastay gives a demonstration of a robodeer at work:

In some regions poachers 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.

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