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CEDAR CITY — As the hunting season gets underway, state wildlife officials are once again turning to robotic deer to catch poachers in southern Utah.
Wildlife officials have been using a decoy deer around the region in places off roads and in private property areas in the region to see if they can catch individuals poaching for deer, Division of Wildlife Resources Lt. Paul Washburn said.
Those caught shooting the fake deer are cited by the state.
The robotic deer is expected to remain in use through the end of the week and may be used in other regions of the state throughout the hunting year. Hunting for deer or elk using any legal weapon began Sept. 1 and runs through Jan. 15.
The hope is to crack down in poaching, which has been a reoccurring problem for the DWR, Washburn said.
“It is a pretty significant issue. Every year we have lots and lots of cases with both deer and elk, where people will shoot an animal and not have a permit for it or shoot an animal with someone else’s permit that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to harvest an animal,” he said. “We even do have instances where someone sees a big buck, shoots it, cuts the head off of it and leaves the rest of the animal to waste.”
Wildlife officials point out poachers are tarnishing those who follow the state’s hunting laws. Turning to the decoy is a technique that has been used before and with success.
Washburn said the robotic decoy typically draws attention.
“We’ll get people pretty much stop and look at it and, on occasion, the gun barrel or the bow-and-arrow come out and somebody’s willing to shoot at it,” he said. “Last year, on one particularly busy night, we had three different people shoot at it in a three-hour time period.
“There definitely are poachers that are willing to push the law and try and get an easy deer that way and we just try to hold those people accountable.”
Those caught poaching may face fines, restitution, jail time, the confiscation of hunting equipment or even the loss of hunting and fishing privileges in many of the states across the U.S., according to the DWR. The fines are based on size and species of the animal.
“We’ll get people pretty much stop and look at (the robotic deer) and, on occasion, the gun barrel or the bow-and-arrow come out and somebody’s willing to shoot at it." — DWR Lt. Paul Washburn
For example, a deer with a 24-inch antler spread or larger is an $8,000 restitution penalty. The range goes from $2,000 for pronghorn to $30,000 for bighorn sheep.
Poachers can be charged with a felony if the animal killed is considered a trophy by statute, Washburn said.
With the robotic deer out on patrol this week, Washburn wanted to let poachers know the state is doing what it can to find them.
“Poaching is stealing from the legal hunters in the state of Utah and we aren’t going to tolerate it,” he said. “If we catch somebody that’s willing to be shooting animals at night or breaking the law, we’ll enforce those laws on them and try to protect Utah’s wildlife for the legal hunters.”