CLEARFIELD – The three men accused of teaming to poach one of the largest bull elk ever recorded in Pennsylvania, along with two other bulls in September appeared for preliminary hearings during Centralized Court on Wednesday at the Clearfield County Jail.
The largest of the three bulls had a 10- by 9-point non-typical rack that initially was measured at 432 and 7/8 inches, based on standards set forth by the Boone & Crockett big-game scoring program. At that score, and if the bull had been legally harvested, it would rank as Pennsylvania’s third-largest bull elk ever.
The other two illegally killed bulls included a 5- by 7-point bull measuring 243 and 1/8 inches and a 4- by 5-point bull measuring 178 and 3/8 inches. The bulls were killed in the same area of Karthaus Township, Clearfield County, over two nights of poaching, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Charged in the incident are Frank Gordo Buchanan Jr., 25, and Jeffrey Scott Bickle, 46, both of Bellefonte, and Cody Allen Lyons, 20, of Milesburg.
Buchanan is accused of shooting all three bulls at night from a vehicle. He pleaded guilty to unlawful killing/taking of big game (three counts); unlawful taking or possession of game or wildlife; unlawful devices and methods; loaded firearms in vehicles; and unlawful use of lights while hunting.
Bickle waived his right to a preliminary hearing. He’s been charged with unlawful killing/taking of big game (two counts); vehicle operation to avoid identification or inspection; unlawful devices and methods (two counts); loaded firearms in vehicles (two counts); and unlawful use of lights while hunting (two counts).
Lyons also waived his right to a preliminary hearing. He’s been charged with unlawful killing/taking of big game (three counts); unlawful taking or possession of game or wildlife; unlawful devices and methods (three counts); loaded firearms in vehicles (three counts); and unlawful use of lights while hunting (three counts).
According to court documents, the first illegally killed bull – the 4-by-5 – was discovered Sept. 9 by a resident nearby. The antlers had been removed, but most of the carcass was left to lay there. Wildlife Conservation Officer Mark Gritzer initiated an investigation and extracted a 7 mm bullet from the elk’s shoulder.
On Sept. 15, Gritzer, working night patrol, returned to the area where the bull was killed. At about 9 p.m., he parked in an area overlooking a reclaimed strip mine where multiple elk could be heard bugling.
Within 15 minutes, he saw a pick–up approach. Its occupants appeared to be spotlighting recreationally, but, suspiciously, the driver would turn off the headlights each time the pick-up stopped, the documents indicate. At about 9:45 p.m., a single gunshot erupted from the area of the pick-up.
Gritzer activated the emergency lights on his patrol vehicle, and drove to the location where the pick-up was sitting parked with its headlights off.
When Gritzer’s back-up, WCO Dave Stewart, arrived at the scene, he found a 7 mm rifle lying on the ground nearby. Not only was the rifle consistent with the caliber used to kill the 4-by-5 bull on Sept. 9, a handsaw caked with elk hair and tissue also was found in the pick-up, according to court documents.
Buchanan admitted to shooting at a large bull elk, and all three men were placed under arrest, the documents state. Because a fog had moved in, the officers decided to wait to try to find the elk. They then accompanied Buchanan, Lyons and Bickle to the state police barracks in Woodland for fingerprinting, at which time Buchanan admitted to killing the 4-by-5 bull on Sept. 9, court documents state.
At 2 a.m., he led Gritzer and Stewart to a trailer home in Milesburg, where he retrieved a sawed-off set of antlers that perfectly matched the skull plate on the poached bull, according to the documents.
At 7:30 a.m., Gritzer and Stewart returned to the arrest scene to search for the larger bull at which Buchanan admitting shooting, the documents state. They quickly found the 10-by-9, which had been shot in the neck with a 7 mm. And within sight, about 350 yards away, the 5-by-7 lay dead.
Further investigation indicated the men had killed the 5-by-7 at about 8:15 p.m. that night and left the area to go to the town of Snow Shoe and get a chainsaw to remove the antlers, according to the documents. Gritzer arrived after they had left, and when they returned, they encountered the 10-by-9, the documents state.
Buchanan admitted to killing the third bull, as well, and told the officers he had intended to sell the antlers on eBay, court documents state.
Buchanan and Lyons are charged in the Sept. 8 and Sept. 15 incidents. Bickle is charged only in relation to the two bulls killed on Sept. 15.