Drive-By Shooter Cited for Firing Rifle into Decoy Spread

The shooter told game wardens he was just trying to "scare those cranes off the wheat"
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sandhill crane decoys
Would-be poachers mistook a spread of crane decoys for a live flock. Deception Decoys

An Oklahoma man was cited yesterday for shooting into a spread of sandhill crane decoys from the roadway. Luckily nobody was injured. Authorities with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say the incident could have ended far worse, however, as a group of hunters was only 20 to 30 yards away from the decoys at the time. They were so close they could hear the bullet ricochet off the decoy.      

According to a recent Facebook post on the Oklahoma Game Wardens page, the hunters were waiting for cranes to come into their spread on Sunday when they saw a pickup truck stop suddenly on the roadway. The hunters watched as one of the truck’s windows rolled down and out came a rifle barrel. One of the two occupants then shot one of the decoys with the rifle.

“When the driver noticed the birds did not disperse—he drove off, realizing what he had just done,” the post reads.

oklahoma man shoots crane decoys from roadway 2
The shooter fired one shot, which ricocheted off one of the decoys.

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation / Facebook

The drive-by shooting took place west of Cherokee, and the hunters immediately called the authorities. ODWC’s District 8 Captain Ben Bickerstaff and Garfield County Game Warden Blake Cottrill investigated the incident.

When questioned by the game wardens, the occupants of the truck said they were just trying to “scare those cranes off the wheat.” However, as ODWC points out in the Facebook post, “it wasn’t even their crop of wheat to worry about” as they did not own the property where they fired the shots.

Bickerstaff tells Outdoor Life that the group of crane hunters included one guide and a group of clients. The guide recognized the shooter right away, and he shared that person’s identity when he reported the incident. Bickerstaff then contacted the accused individual and asked them to meet him at the local courthouse, where the suspect admitted to shooting the decoy from the roadway. Bickerstaff was unwilling to share the shooter’s identity at this time.

Bickerstaff seized their Ruger .204 rifle as evidence, and he cited the individual for shooting from a public right-of-way. The crime carries a fine of between $500 and $1,500 for a first conviction, and Bickerstaff says it could also carry a one- to 10-year revocation of hunting privileges. He says additional charges—including reckless discharge of a firearm—could be filed against the shooter at the discretion of the state’s assistant District Attorney, as a criminal case is now pending.

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“The charging authority is ultimately going to be the assistant D.A., and if she decides more charges are warranted, we’ll do whatever is necessary to make that happen,” says Bickerstaff. He adds that he didn’t push for additional charges in the citation he filed on Sunday because the shooter expressed their remorse and seemed to grasp the gravity of their mistake.

“By the time we talked to [him], the reality of what they could have done had really set in on [him],” Bickerstaff says. “There’s a difference between getting a ticket from the game warden and spending the rest of your life in prison for killing somebody. I made sure to impress that upon them.”

Stay Safe When Field Hunting 

It’s common for waterfowlers to set large spreads of ultra-realistic decoys in fields. On occasion would-be poachers mistake these spreads for the real thing and shoot into them from roadways, usually with rifles. This is extremely dangerous since hunters typically hide within the spread, using the decoys to help conceal their layout blinds. 

When field hunting, it’s wise to park trucks where would-be poachers can see them, but birds can’t. It’s also wise to keep an eye on roads when field hunting and note any trucks that slow down to eye the spread. And always report people who illegally shoot at birds from the road. It could save someone’s life.