Decoys designed to catch hunters breaking the law

Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Like many hunters, Brent Johnson gets up before the crack of dawn on weekends and heads out of town to a remote location.

Dressed in camouflage garb, he sets out his grouse decoys, then finds a nearby spot with a nice vantage to sit and wait.

Despite how it seems, John-son's not pursuing game birds or fur-bearing mammals. It's quite the opposite, in fact. Johnson's hunting for hunters specifically those who violate the law.

Johnson is a trooper with the Alaska State Trooper's Bureau of Wildlife Management, and he's part of a surveillance program with a goal to crack down on hunters practicing illegal, unsafe and unethical harvest of game.

"It's an effective tool," said Johnson in regard to the grouse decoys he sets on the roadside in numerous locations that are popular with road hunters.

He's primarily after hunters who violate the hunting regulation that states not to shoot on, from or across the drivable surface of any constructed road or highway.

"It's a safety issue," Johnson said. "Shooting on, from or across the road, a hunter could directly, or by ricochet, hit another vehicle or hunter down the road.

"It also puts the hunter in danger if they shoot from the road. I've seen guys lie down in the prone position right in the middle of the road and take a shot."

Putting out decoys may sound like entrapment to some people, but Johnson said it's not even an issue.

"I don't try to get anyone to do anything they normally wouldn't," he said. "Most people either do it right or wrong pretty quickly. Dedicated bird hunters are on top of it. They'll try and stalk and stomp to get the birds to fly so they're legal."

However, he said he's also seen some people lock up their brakes at the sight of the decoys and jump out blasting.

For hunters who take a shot at the fake fowl, the violation is a Class A misdemeanor that typically comes with a $300 fine. This may sound steep, but hunter's should consider that the maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and one year in jail.

On Saturday morning, Johnson was up bright and early with his decoys set up on Mystery Creek Road. More than half a dozen hunters stopped for the decoys, but not a single one attempted a shot.

It was a diverse set of groups some were all men, there was a husband and wife, even a father and daughter but they all had one thing in common: They all tried to flush the birds off the road so as to take a legal shot.

Johnson said it's almost unheard of for so many people to stop for the decoys and all abide by the rules, but he said he wasn't disappointed.

"It's a good thing," he said. "It means the word is getting out there and people are doing things the right way. That's what my job is all about."

Johnson packed up his birds and moved over to Skilak Lake Loop Road to see if the situation would be more of the same there, but within a matter of minutes he had two violators.

Two teenagers from Anchor-age not only shot at the decoys with their .22's from across the road, but they also shot in the Skilak Loop Special Management Area. The zone is open to hunters using bow and arrow only, so the boys received an additional citation for hunting in a closed area.

Some hunters have wondered why a species as plentiful as grouse would be the target of such an operation. Johnson said the decoy selection is more about cost and convenience than the grouse's status in the wild.

"Grouse decoys only take one officer to put them out as opposed to a moose or something bigger," Johnson said. "The taxidermy is cheaper, too. The decoys I'm using now have taken a few shotgun blasts and are still holding up pretty good. They're 2 weeks old. Most don't make it that long."

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