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Drone hunters line up for Colorado town's 'license' ahead of vote

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Aug. 22, 2013: This photo shows the local water tower in Deer Trail, Colo., population 500.AP

The tiny Colorado plains town of Deer Trail has yet to vote on a proposal that would create drone-hunting licenses and bounties, but that hasn't stopped the man behind the initiative from selling 100 of his own licenses online.

The Denver Post reports that Phillip Steel, a traveling structural inspector who spearheaded the drone-hunting initiative, is selling the $25 novelty licenses to anyone who applies on his website, droneshooters.com. 

Deer Trail, population 500, on Oct. 8 will vote on whether to issue permits to hunt drones. The proposal  calls for a $100 bounty reward for shooters who bring in debris from an unmanned aircraft "known to be owned or operated by the United States federal government."

Town clerk Kim Oldfield told the Denver Post nearly 1,000 people have applied for licenses. She said she returned as many personal checks as she could before the task became overwhelming.

"There is a lot of money to be made on it, and it was going to go to the community center, and now I have to return a lot of checks," Oldfield told the newspaper.

Steel, who insists the initiative is a symbolic stand against government surveillance, said he's given part of the income he's received from selling the fake licenses to the town.

"These are not big drones you see on TV that look like airplanes. These are little 55-pound things that can come right down into your land," Steel told The Associated Press.

Steel got the idea after seeing news reports about the National Security Agency's domestic spying efforts. "Do we really want to become a surveillance society? That's what I find really repugnant," Steel said.

The measure drew a stern warning from Washington, which is considering several regions — most of them in Colorado and other Western states — where civilians can use drones on an experimental basis.

"Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane," the Federal Aviation Administration warned.

The proposal has sharply divided this tiny burg that lays claim to the world's oldest rodeo and not much else. (Some historians credit Deer Trail's 1869 rodeo as the first, though Deer Trail is just one of many claimants to the title.)

Taking a break from dishing up beef plates at the rodeo recently, Libby Mickaliger said it could be a great low-cost fundraiser for this dusty outpost. "If it raises money for the town, why not? It's not like people are going to go and shoot one down," she said.

Harry Venter, editor of the weekly Tri-County Tribune, worries the proposal sends the message that Deer Trail disapproves of the military, not domestic surveillance. "It's embarrassing to most of us, to be honest with you," Venter said.

Drone hunting has become the dominant topic at the Brown Derby, Deer Trail's only bar.

"I try to play pretty impartial with it. 'Cause if you own the bar, and you go out and speak for it or against it, you're going to make people mad," said owner Carl Miron. "But I don't like the fact that the government can sit and spy on you, I'll tell you that."

Miron pointed to dilapidated buildings surrounding the Brown Derby, their window frames pockmarked with broken glass. Deer Trail could use some extra cash, he said.

And if the initiative passes, he'd like to organize mock-drone-hunting weekends to draw visitors to the sleepy town. "I don't know what the government would think about it," he said, "but it would be fun."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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