Illegal hunting before, during and after the season; joy killing; and headhunting to provide trophies for the black market are law-enforcement nightmares for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
With the statewide use of simulators, the DWR now has a better chance to catch and prosecute the poachers who commit these crimes by using artificial light to stun their prey."It is extremely difficult to get the game warden, the deer and the poacher together simultaneously," according to Jason Teeguarden of the Wildlife Resource Enforcement Office. "Using a simulator allows everyone to be in the same place at the same time without endangering the life of a real deer."
Artificial deer in the simulators are made from a variety of materials ranging from cardboard to an actual stuffed deer. Green reflective tape placed over the eyes provides the glow that hunters look for when using illegal artificial light. To ensure safety, the simulator is placed in low-traffic areas.
A simulator was first used in the Uintah Basin during the 1989 archery deer hunt.
Teeguarden said entrapment is not an issue.
"What it boils down to is the conservation laws, fair-chase laws and safety laws are in the hunter's best interest. This protects the resources and ensures the future of hunting for all hunters."
Poachers tend to develop "tunnel vision" when faced with a deer. They are so intent upon shooting the animal that they are unaware of their surroundings, and this increases the danger to other animals and hunters, he said.
During this year's archery deer hunt, four individuals were caught shooting at a simulator in the Uintah Basin, and officers found that 50 to 75 percent of people who pass a simulator stop and shoot at it. Surprisingly, most poachers are aware the DWR is using a simulator program.
When a poacher is caught, a citation is issued, listing "taking wildlife by aid of artificial light" as the violation, and the judge decides the penalty. The weapons are usually confiscated, a fine and/or jail time can be imposed, and those convicted can face the loss of their big-game hunting privileges for one to five years.
"The vast majority of hunters are law-abiding, ethical sportsmen who care deeply for their wildlife resources," Teeguarden said. "The willingness of the hunter and non-hunter to testify against and report poaching has increased, which will improve the resources for both."
The DWR plans to expand the simulator program to the hunting of other small and big game species.