Authorities say they found four deer – two dead in the bed of a pickup truck, one dead in a nearby field and one wounded but still alive – during an investigation of an alleged poaching operation.
The deer in the bed of the Ford F-150 Super Cab pickup had “just recently been shot,” said Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark E. Reene, who last week charged 43-year-old Dirk L. DeLong of Elmwood Township with six crimes in connection with the Dec. 1 incident.
Three other suspects from the Cass City area – a 16-year-old juvenile male, a 23-year-old woman and a 25-year-old man – rode in DeLong’s pickup that night, according to Reene.
The wounded deer and the dead deer in the field were found in Tuscola County’s Ellington Township. DeLong was accused of drunken driving on Cass City Road, in nearby Elmwood Township, after officers stopped the pickup that night and found a loaded rifle in the truck.
“If you look at why this was a bad idea, that checklist goes on for pages,” Reene said. “It’s a bad look from every perspective. You’re shooting a rifle, at night, and there are homes in the area. …
“So you miss the deer, then it’s a rifle, for crying out loud. The round carries farther.”
The deer that were shot were antlerless, Reene said.
The deer that remained alive, in the area of Green and Akron roads in Ellington Township, “had been shot in the spine, but was not dead, and was unable to use its rear legs but was crawling on its front legs,” Reene said.
The dead deer found in a field was near the southwest corner of Green and Elmwood roads, in Ellington Township.
Prosecutors allege the deer were poached the night of Dec. 1, the day after Michigan’s regular firearm deer-hunting season ended Nov. 30.
While DeLong awaits a Jan. 2 hearing on the evidence, Reene said he’s still determining what charges to level against the other three suspects.
“Everybody’s in the vehicle, everybody’s in close proximity to the weapon,” Reene said. “That’s about all I can say about that.”
The prosecutor noted, “Exactly who’s doing what is part of the analysis.”
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Joshua Wright and Tuscola County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Justin Nitz investigated the case, which developed after a complainant heard gunshots that night and saw a light shining into a field.
Deer-poaching isn’t rare in Tuscola County, according to Reene.
“I think it goes on quite a bit, but it’s just a question of being able to apprehend someone,” Reene said. “What happened here was the conservation officer was in the immediate area of the complaint, and was able to make the contact with the truck.
“You’ve got two deer that have been shot and loaded in the truck, and done recently, and they were able to make that determination based on the condition of the deer. They obviously hadn’t been dead for a long time.”
Reene added that “It was great work by the conservation officer and the citizen that made the phone call.”
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer at The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.