Poachers have an enemy they might not even be aware of — one that could take a huge bite out of their wallets.
You’ve spent months scouting and planning, and an entire day to pick the perfect tree to hang your stand. The area you selected shows great deer traffic and the trees are rubbed raw. How many times have you sat in the tree and envisioned in your mind how your hunt will play out? Now it’s time to give the woods a couple of days of silence before the season opens. The excitement has already begun to grow … you know the feeling.
It’s the night before Opening Day, the moon is full … and a black pickup truck crawls slowly down the road, a spotlight scanning the field. Then it pauses and a rifle barrel emerges from the driver’s window … POW! The deer you have been scouting and dreaming about now lies lifeless in the field, the antlers sawed off and the meat left to rot.
Catching poachers in the act is a challenge. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the human tendency to flap their gums, it’s a safe bet that few would be caught poaching trophy bucks. Luckily, wardens from Canada to Mexico have a secret weapon up their sleeve.
MEET ROBO BUCK
Meet Custom Robotic Wildlife, a company devoted to helping conservation officers (COs) help hunters. Variations of the above scenario happen all too often — all of your time and energy wasted because of a greedy, lazy “road hunter.”
But is this person really a hunter? Isn’t hunting about the thrill of scouting and becoming familiar with your surroundings to outsmart that monster buck? For more than 20 years, Custom Robotic Wildlife has been creating moving animal mounts that give officers a fighting chance against these pavement poachers.
The head of the buck slowly turns, the tail wags back and forth, but what appears real isn’t always the case. This lightweight polyurethane form covered with an actual deer hide is really a decoy being deployed by an officer hiding in a safe location. It’s a secret weapon in the fight against poachers. In fact, these decoys have become a favorite tool of COs across North America.
Custom Robotic Wildlife employees spend most of their days like other taxidermists, fleshing and mounting animals. It’s after the mounts are given time to cure that the similarities end. Once the mounts are complete, they’re cut into pieces. Custom-made components are embedded before the parts are pieced back together.
Based on the client’s needs, Custom Robotic Wildlife designs the mounts to make just about any part of the animal move. Then, using hand-held wireless remote controllers and motors, the clients bring these mounts back to “life.”
“We work hard to make these mounts look as real as possible,” said Brian Wolslegel, owner of Custom Robotic Wildlife. “We’ve had more than a few officers tell us that they look too good to get shot up.”
Wolslegel has had the honor of working with officers across the United States as well as other countries.
“We’ve made thousands of decoys that are in use all over the world,” Wolslegel said. “I honestly never planned to do this, but after graduating from school and find- ing jobs scarce, I found a niche in a business that sparked my passion for animals and the outdoors.” By combining the art of taxidermy and technology, his business continues to grow.
PUTTING THEM TO USE
The odds of a poacher, a conservation officer and a wild animal being at the same place at the same time are nearly zero. That’s why Custom Robotic Wildlife decoys are worth their weight in gold.
“These life-like decoys give us the chance to position the target animal where we need them. The importance of that can’t be overstated,” explained Wisconsin Conservation Warden, Ben Herzfeldt. “A common misconception is that catching poachers is a one-man job. The public believes we head out on our own to set up a sting. The truth is that it’s a very well-orchestrated affair.”
Though the specifics change from agency to agency, as well as in unique situations, a typical sting involves numerous officers. A typical scenario is as follows:
By following up on complaints from local hunters or landowners, authorities target a specific area where they set up a decoy sting. Wardens place the decoy within shooting distance of a road and seek a hiding place from where they’ll operate the remote-controlled decoy. At the same time, a pair of wardens is positioned in vehicles some distance down the road, on both sides of the sting’s location. All three groups are in communication with each other.
When a vehicle slows down to inspect the decoy, the warden running the remote relays the make, model, license plate, direction of travel and how many are inside the truck to the other officers. If anyone in the vehicle attempts to illegally take the decoy, the officers the vehicle passed come from behind them in their vehicle. At the same time, the officers in the direction the poachers were traveling block the road, to remove the possibility of a chase.
Because of differences in state and provincial law — and even differences within specific areas of each — what happens next ranges anywhere from a citation being issued on the spot to the poachers being carted directly to jail. In most cases, the weapon is confiscated and in some cases the vehicle might be taken away as well.
“After we’ve caught the first poacher, our work isn’t done for the day,” Herzfeldt explained. “Depending on the specifics of the situation, we’ll often reset the trap in the same location or move to our next complaint area. During the season, we’ll commonly catch eight to 10 poachers a day using this technique. Most of our stings are set up because of tips from the public. The more and better info they provide us with, the better we are able to do our jobs.”
Most wardens freely admit they can’t catch every poacher. However, these robotic decoys have changed the landscape.
Where the best method of catching a poacher used to be hoping they’d brag to someone willing to report them, these decoys allow wardens to take a proactive approach to preventing poaching. With them, it’s realistically possible to catch the poacher before they shoot that buck you’ve been scouting all year, instead of after it has become a headless carcass in a field.