By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Voters in one small Colorado town won't decide until next month whether to issue hunting licenses to shoot down drones, but hundreds of marksmen are lining up for permits to fell such aircraft in the unlikely event any appear in local skies.
A resident of the small ranching and farming community of Deer Trail, 55 miles east of Denver, floated the whimsical idea of issuing permits as a way to protest the proliferation of unmanned aircraft used for commercial or government purposes, said town clerk Kim Oldfield.
Town trustees decided last month to put the question to voters, Oldfield said, adding that there are vocal opponents to the idea among the 600 residents of the town, which boasts that it held the world's first rodeo in 1869.
Oldfield said the town has been inundated with applications for the $25 permits, including from all over the country - and from as far away as Britain and Canada.
"I stopped counting when it hit 985," she said.
Proponents envision a quirky festival surrounding the notion, with a skeet shooting contest using small model airplanes instead of clay targets. Oldfield said that and other events could attract tourists and infuse cash into town coffers.
"Our intention is really not to allow people to shoot things out of the sky," she said.
Oldfield said she was setting aside the uncashed checks until voters decide the issue. If the town's 380 registered voters reject the measure, the town will return the payments.
When the idea made headlines this summer, the Federal Aviation Administration took a dim view of firing at aircraft, even if it was just a publicity stunt.
In a statement, the agency warned against shooting at drones, noting that a downed aircraft could damage property or injure people on the ground, and could cause midair collisions.
"Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane," the statement said.
But Deer Trail resident Phillip Steel, who proposed the license idea, said he was serious about protesting what he calls "a surveillance society." He is selling his own mock licenses online and said about 150 people have purchased them.
If residents reject the ballot measure, Steel said he will continue selling his permits.
"They can't vote me out," he said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills)