Operating a Motor Vehicle While Using a Mobile Electronic Device: Driving Infraction or Misdemeanor Offense?
Every hunter goes out on a hunting trip with the hope that they can fill their tag. Hunters spend thousands of dollars on ammo, rifles, binoculars, and camo gear so that when they do come across their hunt, the shot counts. However, a surprising number of hunters return home with a hunting violation ticket, no rifle, and an unfilled tag. These hunters fall prey to the only thing “hunting” the hunters: ODFW Wildlife Enforcement Officers. These officers are specially trained to find and cite hunters for even the smallest wildlife violation, and they regularly place Wildlife Enforcement Decoys (WEDs) to catch an unsuspecting victim. While some hunters believe they could never fall for a decoy, a few small mistakes in a row can result with misdemeanor hunting charges. Here are some tips on how to avoid returning from a hunting trip with a wildlife violation citation.
Background on the Wildlife Decoy Program
The Oregon wildlife decoy program is intended to catch hunters who are fast and loose with the hunting regulations. These decoys infamously nicknamed “Scruffy” or “Fluffy,” include mechanical deer and elk that can lead an untrained hunter into believing they got lucky. Typically, these decoys are placed on the side of a main road into a known hunting area. They are often within a few yards from the roadway so that a passing car’s headlights will light up the decoy during darker hours. These decoys are active throughout the morning and evening hours of the day to catch would-be violators who take a shot outside of lawful shooting hours (30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset).
Manning these decoys are at least two wildlife enforcement officers: one spotter and one runner. The spotter is usually up a hill above and behind the decoy so he can see an oncoming vehicle and the decoy. If a vehicle slows as it approaches the decoy, the spotter will start their body worn camera and wait for a hunter to take a shot at the decoy. Meanwhile, the runner stays in the patrol car hidden nearby and waits for a signal from the spotter if the would-be violator takes a shot at the decoy. This way, the approaching vehicle, the headlights on the decoy, and the shot outside of lawful hunting hours are all caught on camera.
How Not to Become the Hunted
To avoid becoming a would-be violator, hunters should do the following:
- If you are hunting close to lawful shooting hours, double check your watch before you take a shot. Wildlife enforcement will run decoys alongside the road for hours up to the exact minute lawful shooting hours begin. We have represented individuals who took a shot at a decoy only 8 minutes prior to lawful shooting hours, so even a matter of a few minutes is enough to get a citation for a wildlife violation. If you see a deer or elk outside of lawful shooting hours, it could be a decoy.
- Never shoot from a vehicle or roadway. While there is a small exception so disabled hunters may shoot from a motorized vehicle on a private roadway, you should never assume that you are on a private roadway. The adage, “If it’s too good to be true, it is” applies to hunting. If you are arriving at your hunting area or are just leaving your hunting area and think you see a deer, be extremely cautious. If you see a deer near a road as you are arriving or leaving your hunting area, it could be a decoy.
- If you see the deer/elk because of your headlights, don’t shoot. Decoys are placed precisely so a vehicle’s headlights will shine on the decoy and catch a would-be violator’s eye. Prosecutors love charging the offense of Hunting with an Artificial Light in decoy cases, and the light of the vehicle headlights meets the standard for an artificial light. If you see the deer using your vehicle’s headlights, it could be a decoy.
Bonus tip: Always open your ODFW app before you leave cell coverage. Since most hunting tags are recorded on the ODFW app, you need to make sure you have opened the app while in cell coverage, so the app is available when you tag your deer or elk. It’s very easy to forget this step, but wildlife enforcement officers love citing hunters (and fishermen) because they can’t open their tag on their phones when asked.
Even with these tips, anyone can make a mistake. Our attorneys at Gunn & Gunn have been representing Oregon hunters for over 35 years. Not every attorney takes the time to learn the hunting regulations the way we do, and we know that being precise can make all the difference. If you received a wildlife violation citation, call our office TODAY.