FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. — Six Franklin County residents have been charged for their role in a poaching spree that reportedly spanned six months.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, throughout the fall and winter months of 2022-23, the individuals allegedly shot well over 100 deer, most left to rot at the location of the kill.
Hunter Atherton, 20, Abigale Hoover, 20 and Caillou Patterson, 20, all from Greencastle, were charged by State Game Warden Philip Bietsch for their involvement in a poaching spree that spanned the months of August 2022 to January 2023.
Three juveniles were also charged in connection to the alleged crimes and face many of the same charges, according to the Game Commission.
Beginning in September reports from the public began reaching for Pa. Game Commission through its central dispatch center. The reports indicated people were finding dead deer, apparently shot, in their front yards and fields in the Southern Franklin County area.
In one report, a Mercersburg area resident reportedly witnessed the occupants of a car spotlighting after legal hours. The witness saw the vehicle stop on the roadway as the occupants shined lights onto a group of deer in a field.
A gunshot reportedly rang out and, according to the witness, immediately afterward the deer in the spotlight dropped to the ground and lay motionless.
Although the witness was unable to gather a license number, they provided a description of the car, which proved valuable in the coming months.
On Jan. 3, 2023, a vehicle parked at a local gas station looked remarkably similar to the described car, according to the Game Commission.
The car was stopped and inside were two juveniles and one adult who allegedly had a loaded .22 Magnum caliber rifle. The suspects reportedly admitted to shooting three separate deer that night.
Follow-up interviews implicated two other adults and another juvenile in the poaching spree.
It is believed the group has shot between 100 to 200 deer "just for fun." The killing spree allegedly spanned the entire southern tier of Franklin County, from Waynesboro to Little Cove.
The six individuals face a combined total of 113 counts of unlawful taking or killing of game or wildlife, 207 counts of 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. Atherton has also been charged with recklessly endangering the welfare of others.
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.
Additionally, the charges carry wildlife replacement costs of just under $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 here. Callers may remain confidential and may be eligible for monetary rewards.