By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Buster," a deer decoy kept in the department's Phoenix office, has a rod through his chest connected to a remote-control motor that turns his head. The head turns smoothly enough to one side so that the deer appears to be following the movement of oncoming cars, but when the direction is reversed on the remote control, the head snaps back as violently as in a Warner Bros. cartoon. Utah game wardens have a deer decoy that lies down in the woods and then stands up when hunters pass. Buster's so beat up, it's a wonder he stands at all. He still draws fire.
The Flagstaff region has a turkey decoy mounted on a little train track like a V-1 rocket so that the bird appears to be running into the bushes. The Pinetop-Lakeside regional office has a turkey with a moving--but not foolproof--head. Once while two hunters lined up illegal shots from the road, the head fell off. One of the hunters noticed, called it to his buddy's attention, and though they weren't sure exactly what was going on, they lowered their weapons.
Of course, any experienced hunter knows that turkeys don't stand still and they recognize the deception. Primitive decoys like the ones used by Day and Carrothers attract those inexperienced hunters who have been staring at stumps all day long and are ready to take a shot at anything. The bird on a lazy Susan serves those boys up on a platter.
@body:Officer Buster, the deer decoy, does annual service at the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix, propped up in the Game and Fish building beneath a sign that says he's been shot more than 140 times in the line of duty.
He looks more than a little shabby in the context of a display devoted to Arizona wildlife. After viewing the perfect specimens, full body mounts of bear and owls and porcupines and mountain lions, suddenly, here's a raggedy, moth-eaten mule deer, his head turned unnaturally, the ears frayed, the antlers askew, half of the holes in his side plugged with orange plastic filler. But he draws questions as surely as he draws fire.
Three 10-year-old boys in baseball caps and shorts descend upon the deer. "Is it real?" one of them asks.
"No, boy, it's dead. What's the matter with you?" barks Rob Young, who is standing nearby at a diorama illustrating the horrors of commercial poaching--photos of bear paws and bear galls, piles of pelts.
A woman walks by followed by a toddler. The mother points to Buster, looks at the child and shouts, "Bad men kill animals. Bad! Bad!" The child stares blankly, wondering just who is being scolded. A man in a green cap herds his prepubescent sons toward the deer. "There's that decoy," he tells the boys. "I saw it up near Williams." He claims it didn't fool him, but then he only saw it because Game and Fish rangers were writing out a ticket for someone else when he came by.
"You're gonna see it up in Williams again next week," Young says.
Behind Young on a video monitor is a surveillance film shot during a couple of decoy operations in the Kaibab National Forest. It's a "Best of Buster" kind of film, hunters shooting from the road, then doing double takes and shouting "What the hell?" when the deer doesn't drop. What the moving pictures say about hunters in general is not flattering: frame after frame of slowing pickup trucks with hunters slipping out of doors and using the vehicle as cover, then popping off a round over the truck bed; a man shooting from the front seat of an open Jeep--when the camera comes in for a close-up, his baseball cap clearly says, "You have obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a shit!"
Since there are so few game wardens roaming the woods, Game and Fish likes to publicize its decoy operations with the hope that it will discourage illegal hunting out of the hunters' fear they'll get caught in such a sting operation. Most of the fines range from $75 to $150 per offense; the humiliation is far greater.
The State Fair display and the video fall into that educational category. However, Game and Fish personnel have nicknamed the video "Moon Over Kaibab" for its most memorable scene: A heavyset man gets out of a pickup truck with a bow and arrow. With his back to the camera, it's painfully clear that there's a full eight inches of plunging rear cleavage between the top of his pants and the bottom of his shirt. He slips off arrow after arrow at the motionless deer, as if hypnotized even when the game rangers jump into the frame and grab his bow. When he bends over to take his license off the seat of his truck, he reveals a blinding full moon's expanse of skin--without ever seeming to come out of his trance.
Such tunnel vision is typical. Hunters don't seem to notice that the javelina is frozen in an incongruous attack pose away from the herd. Turkeys also travel in flocks and are very difficult to get close to; yet the hunters don't seem to notice that the lone bird isn't hustling off into the bushes. They've been stalking all day, probably not seeing anything, then nearly wet themselves with the adrenaline rush, scrambling to get their safeties off, fumbling with the cartridges. One cracks off an illegal shot and gets cited; the others claim they knew it was a decoy all along, when the only reason they didn't shoot was because they couldn't get their guns ready.