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Decoys May Migrate to Iowa
In the Open/Larry Stone

Randy Edwards, Law Enforcement District Supervisor, examines confiscated deer rack.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will study the use of decoy deer to deter road hunting.

Would-be poachers in a number of states are becoming more careful about taking pot shots at deer. The reckless gunners have found themselves shooting at dummies-- while game wardens videotaped them.

"The use of decoys to catch deer poachers has caught on across the country," said Allen Farris, Fish and Wildlife Administrator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowa does not allow its conservation officers to use the technique, but Farris has asked his staff to study the idea.

Farris said he has opposed the practice in the past and he still has several concerns. Would judges convict people who shoot at decoys? What would decoys cost? Would using decoys be efficient use of officers' time?

"I don't see this as a panacea for controlling illegal kill of deer," Farris said.


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But Craig Roberg of Van Wert, president of the Iowa Fish and Game Conservation Officers Association, said most field officers would like to be able to use decoys as an enforcement tool. He said every adjoining state uses some form of decoys.

From discussions with officers elsewhere, Roberg  has become convinced of the effectiveness of the dummy deer.

"Any state that's implemented the use of wildlife replicas is very happy with the results," he said. The decoys not only help catch violators, but they may save live deer by forcing poachers to look more closely before shooting. The delay may give real deer a chance to escape.

Roberg recently wrote all 85 state conservation officers, as well as a number of sportsmen's groups, to ask them to lobby for the use of decoys. Chester Burdett, Director of Law Enforcement for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, heartily endorsed decoys.

"It's one of the finest deterrents we've ever had for road hunting," Burdett said. "It's been an excellent tool."

Bill Lenhart, A Missouri Department of Conservation officer assigned to Harrison County, just south of the Iowa border, said decoys have helped apprehend people who shoot from roads or trespass.

About half of the hunters who pass a decoy may shoot at the fake deer, Lenhart said. In some cases, people continue shooting 20 or 30 times, even though the decoy doesn't move.

"They just don't think," Lenhart said. "You just can't believe they get that intense," he continued. The apparent sight of a deer is more than they can resist. "Missouri courts have not viewed the use of decoys as entrapment," Lenhart said, " because no one suggests that a hunter, shoot. The idea comes from the poacher."

Several Iowa officers said illegal deer killing has been especially heavy this year.

"I had the most active November I've had in 10 years," Roberg said. He knows of 10 to 12 animals that were shot and left. Several others had their heads or antlers cut off, leading him to suspect the poachers hoped to sell the antlers.

Roberg said the sale of antlers should be illegal.

Randy McPherren a Conservation Officer from Unionville agreed. If people can legally sell deer antlers for several hundred or even several thousand dollars, poachers are tempted to kill any large buck they see.

But Conservation Officer Mike Martin of Kingsley said poachers aren't just after antlers. He investigated a case near Correctionville where poachers shot 10 deer in a 40-acre field, then left six of the dead animals on the ground. At least eight of the deer were does or fawns.

"It was just a frenzy where they kept shooting until there were no more deer available," Martin said. Clark Brauninger of Correctionville was fined $280 and assessed $1,500 damages on two charges of illegal possession of deer. He also faces possible confiscation of a 1977 Ford pickup, a .270-caliber rifle and a .22/20-gauge over and under shotgun/rifle. Charges are pending against two other people.

An Ottumwa man also was fined recently for killing a deer with a .30/30 rifle. Rusty Kitterman paid a $140 fine and was assessed $750 in damages.

"The deer, a 24-point buck, had one of the largest non-typical racks ever taken in the state," said Randy Edwards, Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Supervisor for south-central Iowa.

"What a waste," said Edwards.

Conservation officers have reported dozens--probably hundreds--of illegal deer kills in Iowa this fall, Edwards said.

"Decoys or laws regulating the sale of antlers might help," Edwards said, "but one of the best enforcement tools is still a tip from an honest person."

"A lot of people are just getting sick and tired of it," Edwards said.


Originally published in Outdoor Iowa.





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