A small group of men pulled up to a clearing in the woods – each of them immediately exited a pickup truck and hurried to the side of the road – rifles in hand – and quickly took aim on what appeared to be a small herd of Roosevelt elk less than 200 feet away.
In a matter of moments, the three men fired at the group of elk multiple times, but the elk didn’t fall down.
To the men’s surprise, the elk were fake - full sized replicas - and included a branch antlered bull and several cows (female) elk.
Oregon State Police vehicles, with their lights flashing, appeared on the scene soon after the men opened fire.
OSP game officers identified themselves and asked the men to step to their vehicle.
As it turned out, two of the three men had just been caught for big game violations.
It’s another elk hunting season in Western Oregon but this season has meant especially long days and nights for the officers charged with making sure all of the hunters play by the rules.
One of the men was a legal hunter. He had a legal license and tag. A second man wasn’t allowed to shoot at any of the decoys. His elk tag allowed him to harvest only a spike bull, not a branch bull or a cow elk. The third man didn’t have either a hunting license or an elk hunting tag which meant he was illegal.
Trooper John King said that the situation wasn’t unusual this season, “It’s going to take awhile to process all of the violations we have here.”
State game officers agreed that if it wasn’t for the fake elk, it would likely be real elk that were shot by folks who don’t play by the rules. The fake elk are effective tools that catch people who would steal Oregon’s wildlife resources from legal hunters and from the public.
Sgt Todd Hoodenpyl said that OSP has been using the fake elk for nearly 25 years and the W-E-D’s (Wildlife Enforcement Decoy) continue to serve their purpose of catching people “in the act” as they violate Oregon’s game laws.
“We seem to respond to more and more antler-less elk complaints from the legal hunters each year. Either the elk are down or people find illegal elk that are killed and left to rot. So, these fake elk are tools that provide one way we can catch the violators. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
The full sized replicas are placed within easy sight along a well-traveled road during fall hunting season. The officers will use them in a different location each day of the two hunting seasons that occur in Western Oregon.
Some of the elk decoys show the signs of use – not on the traffic facing side, but on the backside where multiple holes marked bullet exits. The marks showed how well the decoys have been used this season.
Officers said they know that the elk decoys will be shot at – they just wish more of the shooters were legal hunters.
“Many hunters stop and look at the fake elk and then move on,” noted Hoodenpyl. “We’d like to see that happen every time, every day.”
But it doesn’t. Despite the fact that the fake elk don’t move, some people pull up to the set, take aim and fire several times.
Officer John King said that during this season’s decoy operations, as many as 80 percent of the people who stop and take a shot at the fake elk don’t have the proper licenses or tags.
At another elk decoy set, a truck slowly pulled into a scene where two fake cow elk were set in a clearing, less than a hundred yards away.
The driver stepped out of his truck – took aim and fired three times.
Then his passenger got out, moved to the front of the vehicle and took aim on the still standing cow elk and shot too. The officers quickly arrived on the scene, asked each man for their licenses and tags and then explained to the passenger that he violated Oregon game law by not having the proper tag.
As it turned out, unlike his partner, the passenger didn’t have an elk tag that allowed him to shoot at a cow elk. But to the officer’s surprise, the man denied that he even shot at the cow elk.
When the officer explained that KGW had video-taped the entire scene, the man continued to deny that he shot and then asked to see the video.
And so we showed him.
Suddenly, he admitted he took the shot. He also received a citation.
“You have to be sure of your target,” said Herman Biederbeck, ODFW Wildlife Biologist. “Hunters must be sure of not just the target, but the background too and make sure they are shooting in a safe direction… It takes thought and consideration when you’re hunting.”
Meanwhile – back at the first location - the man who shot three times at the fake elk without a hunting license will never have one. Officers learned he has a felony record and he’s not allowed to ever carry a firearm. The officers place him under arrest and transport him to jail.
The other man is cited for “unlawful taking of elk’ and he must appear in court where a judge will decide his penalty.
“The violators are greedy,” said Sgt Hoodenpyl. “The fake elk are a target and the shooters may or may not have a tag, but too many have the attitude that they are going to put elk down on the ground and figure out the tags later. It just reduces the amount of elk that legal hunters are able to harvest.”