By Ad Crable
A 25-year-old Bellefonte man will spend up to 18 months in jail for illegally shooting three bull elk in Clearfield County, including one of the largest elk ever recorded in the state.
The poaching incident outraged Pennsylvania hunters and nonhunters alike. Many Lancaster County residents journey to northwestern Pennsylvania in the fall to hear elk bugling and later to try to find the massive antlers bull elk shed annually.
Frank Gordo Buchanan Jr. pleaded guilty last week to six counts of poaching. In addition to the jail sentence, he was ordered to pay $9,550 in fines and $11,500 in replacements costs for the shot elk, two of which had antlers in the trophy class.
Two other men, Jeffrey Scott Bickle, 46 of Bellefonte, and Cody Allen Lyons, 20, of Milesburg, did not plead guilty and are awaiting arraignment in Clearfield County Court.
The shootings occurred over two nights in Karthous Township in September. Buchanan admitted to shooting all three bulls.
One bull had 10 antler points on one side and nine on the other. If it had been shot legally, it would have been the third-largest bull elk ever recorded in Pennsylvania.
“Elk are an extremely important resource in Pennsylvania,” said R. Matthew Hough, Game Commission executive director. “People travel hundreds of miles just to visit the elk range and be able to witness their majesty and the marvel of the bugling season, and those people support a lot of local businesses there.
“It’s no different with elk hunters. Some apply each year for a chance at an elk license, and those who are lucky enough to get one also create an economic boon for many northcentral Pennsylvania towns. In fact, the hunter who paid $41,000 for the license auctioned off by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation — a sum that will be used in its entirety to fund conservation efforts in Pennsylvania — was hunting the very record-book elk that was poached.
“That, right there, shows you the value of Pennsylvania elk, and reinforces the logic that the penalties for killing one illegally need to be appropriately stiff,” he said.
Residents found the carcass of the first elk with its antlers removed. A week later, a wildlife conservation officer returning to the same reclaimed strip mine at night heard a shot ring out and apprehended the vehicle with three suspects.