DEC uses mechanical decoy to catch sportsmen who shoot from roadside
By BOB GARDINIER, Staff writer
First published: Tuesday, December 21, 2004
RENSSELAERVILLE -- Walt Maloney ducked behind an old fieldstone farm fence on a knoll overlooking a country road. He eyed an eight-point buck standing in a clearing on the other side of the road.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation officer, dressed in full camouflage, could easily have taken a 75-yard shot, but he waited for different prey -- indolent hunters otherwise dubbed "road poachers."
A quiet hour passed as Maloney waited in temperatures in the mid-20s last week, the end of deer hunting season.
As a red Chevy pickup slowed, Maloney quietly used a radio to contact a DEC police vehicle parked near the farm field and out of sight of the road.
"This is it, get ready. He's getting out. He's going for it," Maloney radioed in an excited whisper to officers Michael Arp and Mike Terrell, sitting in separate sport utility vehicles.
Then, there was a shotgun blast.
"Go, go, go" the radio blared as Arp's SUV fishtailed and bounced through puddles on the rutted lane, making a hard right onto asphalt and flying at white-knuckle speed to the scene.
A 44-year-old Rensselaerville man stood dumbfounded by the side of his pickup truck looking at the still-standing deer, Maloney and two DEC police units with lights flashing.
He had just been charged with firing a weapon from a public road, a misdemeanor, and got a summons to appear in town court. If convicted, he could face a fine of $200 to $1,000.
"He seemed a little perplexed ... when Larry didn't even flinch," Maloney said.
Larry the Robodeer takes another one for the team.
Larry is one of many mechanical deer decoys used by DEC statewide to catch hunters who are shooting illegally.
It's against the law in New York state to hunt with a gun from the road, within 500 feet of houses, out of season, with illegal weapons or on posted property said Rick Georgeson, DEC Region 4 spokesman. People also cannot have a loaded firearm in the vehicle, he said.
The Region 4 Robodeer crew issued 30 tickets this season, which began Nov. 22 and ended Dec. 14, Georgeson said.
"Some of them just sit in the vehicle and point the gun out the window and shoot, which is illegal," Arp said.
"They have tunnel vision and don't care about anything else but shooting that deer," Arp said. But shotgun slugs and rifle bullets have hit houses, passed through windows and endangered people and property.
Early last week, officers concentrated on the Rensselaerville site after receiving several calls about gunshots being fired too close to a home, Arp said.
"We scope out the site in advance, find a safe place to put Larry, a place for the operator, who is also the only witness to the illegal act, and places for two chase vehicles in case they run," Arp said.
Larry and other Robodeer are made by stretching a full-grown stag's pelt over a plastic foam foundation. The fake deer have glass eyes, real antlers and motors in the neck and tail.
The antlers can be changed, but officers do not use a large rack. "We couldn't use something as big as a 12-point rack, for instance, because precedents of law say that could be entrapment," Arp said.
Robodeer is made by Custom Robotic Wildlife Inc. of Wisconsin. Each unit costs slightly more than $1,000. Most are donated to the state by hunting associations to promote hunter safety, Georgeson said.
To move the head and tail, an officer holds a wireless remote control with two joy sticks, similar to a child's remote toy truck.
"I use one controller to give the tail a couple of flips as a potential customer drives by, and when they stop I use the other one to turn the deer's head to look at him," Maloney said.
The damage to the deer is easily repaired with a little glue and some hide hair on the side where the slug enters. The exit wounds are much larger, so Robodeer get a little banged up on the other side.
"We always set the deer up so that side is away from the viewer," Maloney said.
Hunters are not the only ones fooled. "Other deer will come around and try to socialize," Maloney said, "and it is not uncommon to have people, usually women, stop and beep their horns to scare him off. ... They don't want him to get shot by a hunter.
"You should see the look on their faces when I pop up and tell them to cut it out."
Another hour passed before a passenger in a pickup fired twice out the window at Larry. After a short chase, the two men in the vehicle were stopped.
The driver had a tall can of beer between his legs and the passenger had a bag of marijuana.
"It's very common to catch people hunting like this, drunk or drinking while they're doing it. Often it's a father-son bonding thing," Terrell said.
There were three guns in the truck.
"He said he was just trying to put some meat in the freezer before the end of the season," Terrell said.
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