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Agents Nab Shooter With Help of Plastic Deer

November 3, 1990

SOUTH THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. (AP) _ The half moon had washed the hills a pale white the night the predator became the prey.

The predator inched his beat-up Jeep down the lonely dirt road just after dark. He stopped when his blazing headlights caught what he was looking for.

He squinted through a scope and fired his 300 Savage deer rifle at a pair of reflecting eyes about 40 yards up the hill.

His bullet smacked the plastic, life-size model of a blacktail deer in the head, and suddenly, the predator was the prey.

″Put your hands up 3/8 Up 3/8 Up where we can see them 3/8″ state Wildlife Agent Richard Mann shouted. He and agent Steve Furrer rushed from their hiding place and grabbed the stunned shooter, a big man wearing a red-checked shirt and blue jeans.

″What the hell...?″ the man mumbled as the agents spun him around, handcuffed and searched him and his vehicle.

He was charged with ″hunting with the aid of an artificial light,″ a gross misdemeanor and, if convicted, faces a maximum jail sentence of one year, fines of up to $2,000 and loss of hunting privileges for two years. The court also could seize his vehicle.

Wildlife Sgt. Ray Kahler and a reporter watched last week’s stake-out and bust from a low bluff directly above the scene.

″Shiners,″ as night poachers are called, ″are the lowest,″ Kahler said, watching his men search the Jeep and write a citation against its lone occupant. ″The reason they’re doing it is pretty simple. Greed. And it’s easy. You shine a light on a deer at night, and it’ll freeze. The light confuses them.″

As far as Kahler knows, Washington judges so far have rejected defense claims that the decoys amount to entrapment.

Judges in several other states, including Idaho and Minnesota, have also upheld poaching charges against those who shoot deer, elk and other wildlife decoys, state officials said.

Jeff Theilen, a wildlife agent in St. Cloud, Minn., said shiners caught shooting decoy deer usually are convicted of poaching.

But a Pennyslvania judge recently threw out a case on grounds that shooting a fake deer does not amount to shooting a deer, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Kahler said the decoys, which range from plastic figures with reflective tape for eyes to models with real hair and wagging tails, are an important tool for fighting what Kahler and others feel is a losing battle against poachers.

″About 40,000 deer are taken legally in this state every year, and just about 40,000 are taken illegally,″ Wildlife spokesman Doug Zimmer said. The illegal-kill estimate is based on formulas developed by New Mexico and the Canadian province of British Columbia, he said.

Kahler said Washington has only 123 enforcement agents, and about 20 percent of them are largely confined to desk work. The field agents are hard- pressed to catch even a fraction of poachers, he said. State wildlife statistician Kathie Sprout estimated there are about 900 arrests a year for big game poaching, with the majority involving deer and elk. About 95 percent of those charged plead guilty or are convicted, Sprout said.

″Everybody knows where the game warden’s at, so they usually go in a different direction. With their CB radios, they have a tendency to keep track of us all the time,″ Kahler said.

Furrer talked about the problem as he sat in his truck preparing papers needed to seize the shooter’s rifle and scope.

″I don’t feel sorry for him. The deer don’t deserve this. They’re a neat animal,″ Furrer said.

″It’s amazing how many of these guys will shoot if given the opportunity. I’m just amazed. I’m a hunter, and you know, it’s one thing to look, but to get out and pop a deer is really - I don’t know. I think they’ve lost touch a little bit with what the whole deal is, with why they’re out here. Hey if you don’t get your deer, so what?″

When he became an agent, Furrer said, other agents told him poachers take as many deer as the legal harvest.

″I used to say, ‘Jeez, that’s an awful lot.’ But I believe it now,″ he said. ″I truly believe they’re taking as many as legally from what I’ve seen. With all these untagged deer and stuff we’re writing up people for, these people are double and triple dipping, taking their legal deer and then some.″

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