Blinky the miracle buck

By John Ford Sr. | Jul 27, 2010

Across the nation, game wardens were using decoy deer to capture deer poachers. Maine was no exception.

Court rulings, along with a change in department policies, allowed the nationwide use of decoy deer by wardens. Strict guidelines were in place as to how these decoys were to be used.

It was in the early 1980s when decoys became a new tool to be used against poachers in our area. A warden was allowed to use a homemade silhouette or a similar device under certain conditions to attempt to capture a night hunter pursuing a deer underneath the beam of a bright light or the dim glow of a full moon.

The department didn't have funds to pay for these devices and left it up to each warden to create his own critter, if we so desired.

Using decoys was somewhat controversial in the eyes of a few folks, who felt it was a form of entrapment, especially those defense attorneys who found themselves representing clients who had fallen prey to one of these fake contraptions.

Placing a silhouette deer into a field or along the edge of a clearing after dark provided a night hunter with exactly what they were searching for. For the most part, the use of a decoy for a conviction was upheld in court proceedings.

The simple fact a decoy was placed in areas frequented by deer certainly didn't force a hunter into flashing a light on it or, in many cases, shooting it, unless that was his or her intent in the first place. Future court cases confirmed these beliefs. Eventually, I corralled a few of those folks caught in the act.

Ironically, my Blinky originated in a freak sort of way. The Blinky I inherited was created by a retired law enforcement officer and an old friend of mine, former Waldo County Chief Deputy Leroy "Roy" Thomas of Morrill.

Roy devised a set of electronic eyes, operated remotely by batteries and a radio-control box created from what remained of a model airplane kit I'd earlier purchased.

Not to change the story, but my goal back then was to find a new hobby. I'd made a substantial investment into building a radio-controlled airplane, hoping to learn how to fly it as skillfully as others in the area.

Roy, by far, was one of the most competent and highly skilled individuals from which to learn. He was extremely excited about having a new partner join him at his homemade airstrip on his back lawn.

Roy assisted my efforts every step of the way, especially when it came to hooking up the radio servers and attaching the engine to the plane. I'd spent the better part of the winter building this plane from scratch, stick by stick, detail by detail, as I followed the instructions from a blueprint accompanying the kit.

I was quite proud of the finished product. I acted like a kid who had built his first masterpiece. It was a real showpiece, if I do say so myself. My plane was elaborately decorated and pinstriped. It was a real classic and as realistic appearing as an authentic airplane.

Roy was quite anxious for us to begin flying together. His expertise in this type of a hobby was second to none.

He cleverly hooked his control box to mine, just in case, due to my inexperience, it appeared my plane might be heading for a terminal disaster. Roy could then quickly assume the controls and safely land my masterpiece, rather than having it terminally crash and burn somewhere far out in his back field.

In theory, this so-called umbilical cord was a good plan, especially with me being a novice and he being a skilled pro. I remember sending the plane across the little airstrip and proudly launching it into the heavens. As my confidence grew, I flew the little craft farther and farther away from Roy's house.

Roy was extremely proud of my early success. He responded like a proud dad watching his kid perform some miracle feat, knowing that he'd played a vital role in the effort. He constantly encouraged my actions as he stood beside me with an umbilical cord hooked to my control box, just in case.

We were having the time of our lives and enjoying every minute of the flight, just like the Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk, N.C., had several years earlier. I was learning the skill of flying.

Then it came time to bring the craft back to our location before it ran out of gas.

As I banked the plane, heading toward the small airstrip on Roy's back lawn, I said, “I think you'd better land it for the first time, Roy. I don't think I can bring it back down without staving it all to hell! I'll watch you the first time around.”

Roy quickly assumed the controls and we watched the plane come our way. Suddenly, it began wobbling and diving up and down. Then it went completely out of control.
“Are you doing that?” he rather anxiously inquired.

“Nope, I'm not touching anything,” I assured him, as suddenly the plane went into a steep nosedive and quickly disappeared out of sight behind his barn. There was a sickening thud and then nothing but dead silence.

We stood there staring at each other, knowing damn well that whatever was left of my masterpiece was somewhere on the other side of his barn in the middle of the field. I had a gut feeling it wasn't going to be good.

We ran around the building, where we found a few pieces of balsa wood buried deep in the tall grass. There wasn't enough left of my plane to start a small fire. So much for the dream of pursuing a new hobby or any hope of becoming a ground-based pilot!

We determined the batteries operating the control unit were not fully charged and went dead on the approach to Thomas' International airport, sending my masterpiece into a tail spin that brought about its demise.

As I picked up what was left of my hefty investment, I casually mentioned to Roy about a plan to create a decoy deer so as to apprehend night hunters.

Roy, by far, was one of the smartest people I knew when it came to inventing things. As I spoke with him about creating a device, I could see that look on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, indicating he was highly interested in assisting us in accomplishing the challenge.

A few days later, I received a call from Roy requesting we come to his house after dark. He had something special he wanted to show us. My trusty companion, Scott Sienkiewicz, and I arrived at Roy's home in the shadow of darkness, as he had requested. “Take a ride down the road and watch the field just before you get to the woods,” he deviously chuckled.

We jumped into the truck and slowly cruised the road. Suddenly, it looked like a deer was standing in the ditch not very far off the highway. The eyes were shining as they normally would when headlights light up one of these critters.

I was about ready to hit the brakes as I expected it to run in front of us. I stopped alongside the highway where the eyes had been, only to be spooked by the blast of a siren.

Roy had creatively invented a set of eyes using two small light bulbs spaced evenly apart and operated by radio controls from the remains of my now-defunct airplane. They were attached to a metal rod stuck in the ground and surrounded by tall grass.

He could turn them on and off by merely flipping a switch from his house several yards away. Not only did this contraption give the appearance of a deer in the headlights, but Roy had cleverly attached a small siren that he could turn on with another server, alerting those gawking at the woods that the cops were lurking nearby.

Thus, it came to be that Blinky the miracle buck was born. The electronic device was a sheer masterpiece and as far as I was concerned it had been created by the master of inventions.

My days of flying may have ceased, but memories recorded in my diaries were about to get a hell of a lot better.

Scott and I returned to Roy's home, where hysterically he told us about scaring the bejesus out of several people who had stopped at the same spot the previous night, thinking they were going to see a deer.

“You should have heard their tires squeal, and watch them shoot to hell away from the area when I turned that siren on,” he loudly snickered in that devious way I'd seen from my old friend so many times before.

Blinky was ready to be introduced to the poaching public and I couldn't wait.

Over time, Scott and I transformed Blinky into a life-sized, painted, plywood deer silhouette, equipped with a large rack of antlers and glass eyes. Scott and I actually hooked the deer to another server, utilizing a rat trap and a door spring to knock it down if someone shot at it.

Electronically, we could spring the rat trap, which released the pin holding the critter upright. When it toppled over, it gave the shooter the impression he'd bagged his quarry.

There are some interesting and humorous stories that have been created by my mechanical pal Blinky the miracle buck.

Stay tuned, when later in my diaries I'm sure Blinky will bring a smile to your face, just as he did mine.

Some people did the damnedest things to bag a deer underneath the stars at night. Others heroically tried to scare the critter away, knowing that it might fall prey to a shotgun slug if it didn't move on.

Damn, I loved the excitement of working at night. This job was everything I'd ever dreamed it was when I joined the team of some of Maine's finest.

Blinky was a new approach to corralling a poacher. He served his purpose well.

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