SPANISH FORK CANYON — Hunters have already shot it three different times this year. But it's a deer they can't kill because it's a robot.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources places the mechanical buck in popular hunting spots to nab poachers and violators of the state's dawn-to-dusk hunting hours.
"What we're looking for is to see what kind of night hunting is taking place, see if we can catch some of the guys out there who are trying to steal the opportunity or cheat to fill their deer tag this year," said DWR Sgt. Matt Briggs.
Although no one shot the lifelike trophy buck Saturday during the first weekend of Utah's rifle hunt, it presents a tempting target. Two archers pierced it with arrows and one hunter with a muzzleloader blasted it earlier this year.
"Most of our hunters out there are honest and stop and look. We have people take pictures of our decoy and then drive on," Briggs said. "Periodically, we have the hunter who cheats and actually shoots our decoy."
DWR officers cite robo-deer hunters with a class B misdemeanor for unlawful attempted taking of protected wildlife and seize their firearms or bows. Briggs said it's up to the courts whether hunters get their weapons back.
Real deer were apparently hard to come by this past weekend.
Like the muzzleloader hunt that ended Oct. 6, warm weather made for a slow start to the rifle hunt. Colder weather, which is expected later this week, forces deer to feed more, putting them in places where hunters can see them. State wildlife officials expected about 65,000 hunters to take the woods.
While Briggs wishes hunters success, he said he's frustrated by the number of big bucks that fall to poachers, often at night. Utah law permits big-game hunting from 30 minutes before dawn to 30 minutes after dusk.
"We've lost quite a few bucks over the last several years to in the central region to hunters who have cheated and some of those were shot at night," he said.
Briggs said 17 bucks were recently poached, many at night, in the Vernon area of the West Desert and a night archer killed a deer in the Woodland Hills area of Utah County. Wildlife officials frequently find deer bodies with heads removed or the antlers notched off, he said.
"They're stealing the opportunity from the hunter who follows the rules," he said.
Wildlife officers hope the decoy keeps hunters honest.
"We hear these gunshots. We work at night," Briggs said. "We spend a lot of hours trying to protect the wildlife we have."