THEY SHOOT DECOYS, DON'T THEY?

YEAH. THAT'S HOW THE GAME AND FISH DEPARTMENT CATCHES ILLEGAL HUNTERS WITH THEIR PANTS DOWN.

On occasion the tunnel vision lapses into out-of-body experience. Ron Thompson was on a turkey decoy operation near Pinetop. A pickup truck cruised past slowly, a door flew open and disgorged a hunter with a loaded rifle. He rolled two or three times, Starsky and Hutch style, then shot from the hip. He missed the turkey, of course, and when the game rangers questioned him, he turned out to be a local fire-safety instructor, someone who is supposed to teach safe handling of firearms for neophyte hunters. Worse still, he'd been on a decoy stakeout with the very same game rangers who cited him. "We asked him if he taught that in his classes, the jump-and-roll technique," Thompson says with more than a hint of sarcasm.

The rangers on stakeout can usually hear every word the hunters say, see everything they do, and it's not always amusing. They've watched passengers shoot across the driver out the driver's-side window of the car, drivers shoot across the laps of their children--the children plug their ears before the gun goes off because they've been through the routine before, or even hold the barrel of the rifle to steady it.

"We're lucky there aren't more accidents," says Rob Young. He recalls a hunter who pumped two clips from a vintage M-1 rifle into a decoy deer. The game rangers had to grab the hot barrel of the gun before he stopped. He was cited for shooting a doe during buck season, at night, through the window of his car, using his brother's deer tag. To add insult to injury, he turned out to be a law enforcement officer.

@rule:
@body:There are no such dramatics on Ron Day and Dave Carrothers' stakeout, however. They pour coffee and lament the lack of doughnut shops on the Mogollon Rim. "No self-respecting city cop would be caught dead with a Dolly Madison doughnut," Day jokes.

Four quick gunshots shatter the forest silence. And since none of the hunters they've contacted so far has seen any real turkeys, Day assumes that someone shot into the air out of boredom. Carrothers mentions that he'd like to find an owl decoy to go after hunters who shoot raptors--which are protected species--just for fun.

Three or four trucks whiz past, two hunters on four-wheeler ATVs, and they either don't notice the decoy or they know what it is and don't care to stop and have their credentials checked. Day had been working the remote control on the decoy so furiously, he says, "I had it break-dancing." The urge to snare evildoers is so great that rangers joke that they'd like to shout, "Right there, it's right there!" Day has to stop and remind himself how admirable it is that no one is breaking the law today--which is less fun than catching people in the act.

Hunters who see the decoy and those who shoot at it wonder if such tactics verge on entrapment. Game and Fish personnel allege that the hunters shoot of their own volition, and to date, the judges have agreed with them.

A yellow pickup truck slows down, then backs up. A man gets out and steps into the clearing. Day and Carrothers come out of hiding to ask him not to shoot--he's clearly going to take a legal shot at this point--and they in turn are followed by a tousle-headed 10-year-old boy who scurries out of the truck after them.

"Shhh, there's a turkey there," the boy whispers so they won't spoil his dad's shot. "Kapow," the father's shotgun goes off and a pillow fight's worth of feathers blows off the decoy's rear end. Day and Carrothers check the dad's license and weapon and everything seems to be in order.

Another truck slows down and stops, but the driver is scanning the side away from the decoy, looking for the game rangers.

"Walked in behind you and you didn't even notice," the driver gloats, then opens his copy of Turkey and Turkey Hunting magazine and tears out an article on turkey decoys. Day politely tries to turn it down, but the man forces it on him. Another pickup slows for the decoy and discharges two men and a woman, all of them in hunter's camouflage and carrying shotguns. They fan off the road; one stalks behind the decoy, walks to within ten feet and aims.

"Don't shoot, it's a fake," Carrothers shouts. Surely a point-blank volley would turn Tom into snowflakes. The hunter lowers his gun. As the agents check licenses and weapons, a 4-year-old boy hops out of the truck carrying an air rifle. He stalks the motionless bird just like his father did, raises his pop gun and fires.

Once again, everything is in order, and Day and Carrothers heartily thank the hunters for following the rules. There's a forced politeness to the exchange, on all parts, perhaps in deference to the fact that everyone is carrying guns. They shake hands all around and bid friendly farewells, and the hunters get back in their truck and drive off.

Not 20 yards down the road, they flag down an oncoming truck, roll down the windows and within view and earshot of the officers, blatantly warn the next batch of hunters that they're driving into a decoy snare. Word will spread quickly through the woods--if it hasn't already.

Old Tom probably can't take another shot without disintegrating, anyway. The jig is up, so the two game rangers load the bird back into the truck and call it a day.

...

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