Poachers beware: Robot deer are roaming our woods, hunting for you

BURLINGTON, Wash. - Through the latest hunting season, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife workers used deer, bear, elk, grouse and other animal decoys to catch poachers.

But they're not just simple decoys. They're lifelike, made with real animal pelts and controlled by a remote control. The legs bend, the heads turn and the tails wag.

Robots, essentially.

"They seem real," said WDFW Sgt. Shawnn Vincent, showing Q13 News the deer decoys used to catch hunters in Skagit County. "They have real deer hide on it."

Often times, the deer decoys are used to catch hunters who are out after regulated hours.

During the season, hunting is allowed from about 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., depending on the month. Many poachers will go out after dark and use the spotlights on their car to temporarily blind the deer, making them slow to react. This is a poaching technique known as spotlighting.

It's effective, but illegal. It's also easy to spot. Fish and wildlife officers will put the robot deer on the roadside, wag its tail, and wait for poachers.

"We put (the decoys) on forest roads, anywhere people hunt," Vincent said.

The decoys are covered in real deerskin. The eyes glow in the headlights. It's only after a poacher shoots the deer and it doesn't move that the hunters know something is wrong.

"They know something is up after they shoot," Vincent said.

Wildlife officers go out often during the hunting season, which runs from September-November. Often, they don't get any poachers. But a few times, multiple parties have shot the deer in one night.

Six people were caught with the decoy deer this season in Skagit County alone. Vincent said dozens of poachers have been caught across the state.

Vincent said decoys are a great way to keep a healthy big-game population.

"Our populations - our deer, our elk, whatever in this state - they're not at the highest right now," Vincent said. "They've definitely been higher."

He sees cracking down on illegal shooting as a way to maintain a harvest for the future.

"Poaching and people going out and taking these illegally, it's taking away from the youth, the kids, everyone else," Vincent said. "This is just one way of combating that."

Anyone who spots a poacher is encouraged to call 911 or their local WDFW office.