FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) – Six Franklin County individuals have been criminally charged this week for allegedly going on what the Pennsylvania Game Commission called “a poaching spree,” killing over 100 deer in six months.
The individuals allegedly shot the deer and left most of them to rot this past fall and winter. Officials are classifying this as a “complete disregard for our wildlife resources.”
State Game Warden Philip Bietsch charged Hunter Atherton, Abigale Hoover, and Caillou Patterson, all 20 years old from Greencastle, for their alleged involvement in shootings that spanned from August 2002 to January 2023.
According to the Game Commission, there were three juveniles also charged.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission started to receive reports beginning in September in the Southern Franklin County area after people found dead deer in their front yards and fields.
A resident in Mercersburg reported that they witnessed the occupants of a vehicle spotlighting after legal hours. According to the witness, they saw the vehicle stop on the road while the occupants shined a spotlight onto deer in a field.
Shortly after witnessing the occupants shine the spotlight on the deer a gunshot was heard and the deer dropped in the field. The witness was unable to get the license plate number but provided a description of the vehicle, which later helped investigators.
On Jan. 3, 2023, while Warden Bietsch was patrolling an area of Washington Township just after midnight, he witnessed a vehicle parked at a local gas station that matched the witnessed vehicle description.
Warden Bietsch moved to a spot on the road where multiple deer were killed over the past few months. Bietsch remained out of sight and heard multiple gunshots. before reporting seeing the vehicle from the gas station appear on the road using a spotlight.
When Warden Bietshc stopped the vehicle he found three people, one adult and two juveniles, in possession of a loaded .22 Magnum caliber rifle. The three occupants admitted to shooting three deer, according to the Game Commission.
Interviews later revealed three other suspects, two adults and one juvenile, were in on the poaching spree on previous nights.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission the group of suspects estimated they shot 100-200 deer “just for fun.” Warden Bietsch gathered evidence of 26 unlawfully killed deer and could confirm seven “attempts” where a suspected shooter missed the deer or that the deer was unable to be located.
The poaching spree went from Waynesboro into Little Cave and covered the entire southern tier of Franklin County.
The six individuals face a combined of the following:
- 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
- 62 counts of the unlawful use of a vehicle to locate game or wildlife
Atherton, Hoover, and Patterson also face corruption of a minor charges. Atherton was additionally charged with recklessly endangering the welfare of others.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the 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.
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 here.
Callers may remain confidential and may be eligible for monetary rewards.