6 charged, accused of killing over 100 deer in Pennsylvania poaching spree

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. — Six people from Frankin County, including three juveniles, are facing criminal charges in connection with a poaching spree, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Hunter Atherton, 20, Abigale Hoover, 20, and Caillou Patterson, 20, were all charged for their alleged involvement in the poaching spree that spanned from Aug. 2022 to Jan. 2023. Three juveniles are also charged in connection with the crimes.

They are accused of shooting well over 100 deer this past fall and winter, with most of them left to rot.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission said they began receiving reports in September that South Franklin residents were finding dead deer that were apparently shot in their yards and fields. In one report, a witness said occupants in a stopped vehicle were using a spotlight on a group of deer in a field after legal hours, which was followed by a gunshot. Immediately afterward, the witness said a deer in the spotlight dropped to the ground. The game commission said that the witness was able to provide a good description of the vehicle.

On Jan. 3, Warden Philp Bietsch spotted a vehicle that matched the witness’s description at a gas station. The warden then went to a spot along the roadway where numerous deer were killed. According to a release, multiple gunshots were heard and the vehicle seen at the gas station was on the roadway shortly after operating a spotlight.

Bietsch stopped the vehicle. An adult and two juveniles were inside and in possession of a loaded .22 Magnum caliber rifle, according to the game commission.

After follow-up interviews, the warden determined that two other adults and another juvenile were also involved in the poaching spree on previous nights. According to a release, the group estimated they shot between 100-200 deer “just for fun.”

The six people face a combined total of 113 counts of the unlawful taking or killing of game or wildlife, 207 counts of the unlawful use of lights while hunting, 42 counts of the possession of loaded firearms in a vehicle, 62 counts of restrictions on recreational spotlighting, and 62 counts of the unlawful use of a vehicle to locate game or wildlife.

Atherton, Hoover, and Patterson also face corruption of minors charges. Additionally, Atherton was charged with recklessly endangering the welfare of others.

Those charges range from felonies to misdemeanors to summary violations, with the most serious potentially carrying fines and penalties of up to $15,000 and 36 months in prison. Additionally, the charges carry wildlife replacement costs of just shy of $21,000.

Anyone with information about wildlife crimes can report them to the Game Commission via its toll-free Operation Game Thief hotline- 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year- at 1-888-PGC-8001 or fill out an online form at https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/operationgamethief. Callers may remain confidential and may be eligible for monetary rewards.

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