Poacher Kills a Trophy Buck While Driving Through Cemetery

by Vern Evans

Poaching in Pennsylvania cemeteries is common enough that “unlawful hunting in a burial ground” was added to the state’s game law violations

A buck's head on a game warden's tailgate; a 9mm round lies on the roadway in a cemetery.

Game wardens confiscated the buck after the poacher confessed to shooting it from inside his vehicle; a 9mm casing that was found at the scene of the crime. Photographs courtesy Pennsylvania Game Commission

A Pennsylvania man was cited for multiple wildlife crimes this past deer season for shooting a trophy whitetail buck in a cemetery with a handgun. Game wardens with the Pennsylvania Game Commission shared some of the details about the incident in a Facebook post last week, which details how the poacher shot the 150-inch deer without ever stepping out of his vehicle.

“The deer was 35 yards off the roadway when it was shot,” the post reads, “and the violator did not exit his vehicle while he used a semi-automatic 9mm carbine pistol.” The post did not include the poacher’s identity, but public court records obtained by Outdoor Life show that Brad Sell, 53, received two citations for poaching the buck inside a Carbon County cemetery in early November.  He pleaded guilty on Nov. 14 to both charges of unlawful taking of game and unlawful hunting in a burial ground and paid roughly $850 in fines and restitution. Even though game wardens estimated the poached buck’s green score at 151 inches, Pennsylvania does not increase fines for trophy animals as in some other states.

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PGC game warden supervisor Lt. Aaron Morrow says the agency has the public to thank for the bust. He explains that they received a tip about the incident through the state’s anti-poaching hotline, Operation Game Thief. PGC game warden Bryan Mowrer led the investigation.

“The [tipster] wanted to remain anonymous, but they shared some vague information about this deer being killed on private property. The investigation went from there,” Morrow tells Outdoor Life. “And then through the game warden’s interview technique, he was able to get a confession from the subject.”

Morrow didn’t say whether Sell provided an explanation for why he poached the deer, and the Palmerton resident does not have a history of poaching in Pennsylvania. But the antlers likely had something to do with it.

“During the interview process, [Sell] admitted to seeing this deer in a cemetery as he was driving,” Morrow says. “I can’t speak for him, and I don’t know what was going through his head, but it was a big deer. So I think it’s safe to say he saw a pretty large deer and, you know, made a poor choice.”

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Morrow explains that he and other game wardens have dealt with other poaching cases in cemeteries in the past. It’s a real issue in Pennsylvania, and the state amended its game code in 2008 to include a specific law against hunting, trapping, shooting, and dressing out game or wildlife within a cemetery or other burial ground.

Although it depends on the cemetery, these places can serve as urban refuges for deer and they sometimes harbor giant whitetail bucks. Lindsay Thomas Jr., chief communications officer for the National Deer Association, says this is especially true in older, less maintained cemeteries where there is other huntable ground nearby. The most ideal sites from a deer’s perspective typically have some un-mowed patches and good edge habitat with plenty of cover and broadleaf forage, and many of the cemeteries along the East Coast have these characteristics.

“Here in rural Pennsylvania, a lot of times there’s some heavy woods associated alongside cemeteries, and those woods will hold deer,” Morrow says. “Even in urban areas, you’ll have cemeteries that sit next to rivers with woods surrounding them, and people will sometimes take advantage of these deer that maybe aren’t as pressured.”

Just because these deer aren’t being pressured by law-abiding hunters doesn’t mean they aren’t being noticed, however. Some resident cemetery bucks become well known by local visitors over the years.

This was the case with the legendary Hollywood buck, a massive, 29-point nontypical that was a fixture at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, until it was killed illegally by Jason Walters in December. Walters was busted after he shared photos of the buck on Facebook, where social media sleuths instantly recognized it. Over the course of their investigation, game wardens with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources determined that Walters had poached at least two other bucks from the same cemetery the year prior.

“It’s a shame,” Richmond-based wildlife photographer Bill Draper told Outdoor Life. Draper was one of the locals who instantly recognized the Hollywood buck in Walters’ incriminating Facebook post. “I would like people to know that you can’t just go out and shoot a deer like this and think you can post it and no one’s going to know about it. It’s really stupid.”

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