Robot Decoys Putting An End to Poaching in Vermont

Robots get a lot of flack. Everyone has heard the story of the factory worker who lost their job to a robotic assembly line, and there are few people that prefer automated call systems to the sound of a live human being on the other line. However, there is a new robotic substitute being used by game wardens, and the subject it was made to replace certainly isn’t complaining.

Wardens with Vermont Fish and Wildlife have successfully used robotic decoys this season to catch deer poachers. The department was plagued with poachers targeting deer from the road or their cars. Poachers would be able to take a quick shot, load the deer into their vehicle, and disappear before anyone was the wiser.

The deer decoys are changing that. The department has used regular decoys for years. A decoy placed near the road is an easy target for poachers. A game warden is usually stationed nearby, and a warden can quickly be called in to make a traffic stop if someone shoots the target.

Standard decoys are not always difficult to distinguish from actual deer, and Vermont warden’s experienced mixed success with their decoys. The robot decoys add another layer to the deception. Motors mounted in the decoy’s neck allow a warden to control the deer’s head. The added motion is enough to fool some poachers.

There are some hunters who have fought back, claiming that using robotic deer is a form of entrapment. However, the act of shooting from a car or from a highway is illegal regardless of whether a deer is killed or not.

Importantly, the deer’s also act as a general deterrent to highway shooting alongside being a means of identifying poachers. A poacher who is unsure if the deer at the other end of his sights is real or fake is less likely to pull the trigger. Of course, for those who still insist on poaching, conviction will mean heavy fines and the loss of a hunting license for a full year. As decoys continue to see use in Vermont, it will be interesting to track what kind of impact they have on deer poaching over the course of the season.


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