Pittsburgh — A tight-knit Fayette County community is mourning the loss of a rare trophy buck, as the man accused of harvesting him out of season faces summary charges.
Laramie Noel Sisco, 39, of Perryopolis, is alleged to have shot the 13-point buck – believed to be a piebald – in Perryopolis, Jefferson Township, during the week between archery and rifle deer seasons in mid-November, according to records in magisterial district court. A summary trial before Judge Richard Kasunic II has been slated for Jan. 24.
The killing sparked outrage and sadness among locals who regarded the buck as a mascot they fondly referred to as Whitey, The Albino, or Midnight because of his midnight visits to salt blocks and feeders.
Many, including Jeff Keffer and his sons Jonathan and Josh – avid hunters who live in Perryopolis – had watched the snow-white cervid develop from a small five-point into a majestic adult over seven years.
“He was a sight to behold,” said Josh, 33, referring to his rack and “striking color.”
“You could see him from half a mile away.”
The Keffers got word of the buck’s demise on Thanksgiving eve as they were preparing for the holiday in Jeff’s home.
Jonathan, 28, said a friend sent him a picture of the buck lying dead at a venison-processing facility. Seeing it made him “nauseous,” he said. “It didn’t feel real.”
Jeff, 58, felt shock and, along with his sons, suspicion, and contacted the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “I was sick,” Jeff said, “literally sick.”
As township supervisor in neighboring Rostraver, and with family and friends throughout Perryopolis, Jeff said he received “what must have been 100 calls” from fans of the buck expressing anger and grief.
The animal was known to hang out on Jeff’s 220-acre property, and became such a talking point for the area encompassing Washington, Westmoreland, and Fayette counties, “people would come up our driveway just wanting to get a glimpse of him,” Jeff said.
“Trucks would line up wanting a glimpse.”
Hardly a day passed that Jeff didn’t spy the buck through a picture window in his home. He recalled the first time he was alerted to its presence by his two pet Labs.
“They were looking out the window and barking as I was getting ready for work one morning at 6 a.m.,” he said. “I looked out across the driveway to a detached garage and saw the back of something white and thought, ‘I’ve got a goat in my yard!’ But then he lifted his head and I saw he was a scruffy five-point.”
Jeff ran to the garage and snapped a picture through a screened window. It was the first of countless images he and his sons would collect over the years, most them on trail cameras. The latest were taken just two days before he was shot.
Although an understanding existed among local hunters that the buck was not to be killed, there also was concern that someday someone would harvest him, said Jonathan, who had tried to make peace with that prospect.
“If he’d been legally taken, I would have been bummed out, I would have been sad, and I might have been angry – not at the hunter but at the fact that The Albino wasn’t there anymore. But I would have accepted it,” he said.
“But that he was poached is despicable. It cuts so much deeper.”
For Jeff, much of the sorrow is that the deer felt comfortable on his property, often appearing twice a day. “He strutted around and did his thing, as if nobody would mess with him,” he said. “Unfortunately, that might have led to his demise.”
Game Commission law enforcement wouldn’t comment on whether the buck was shot with a rifle or a bow, or any other details of the case.
Although the deer might at first glance appear to be albino, agency deer biologist Jeannine Fleegle, when asked by Outdoor News to look at photos, said he appeared to be piebald, or leucistic, given a brown patch on his forehead that looked like deer fur and not dirt.
Albino is characterized by the complete absence of color, so albinos are pure white, while leucocism presents as reduced pigment, meaning a piebald deer could have patches of brown, she said. “An albino would have pink eyes and a pink nose.”
The Keffers said the buck had blue eyes, which is possible among leucistic deer, Fleegle said.
Both leucocism and albinism comprise less than 1% of the wild deer population, although albinos are slightly rarer. Both are inherited conditions and result from recessive genes.
Sisco, if found guilty, could be fined up to $1,500 and face up to five years’ hunting license revocation, said Game Warden Seth Mesoras, noting that because the deer was a trophy class buck, Sisco could be charged $5,000 in restitution.
The venison would be distributed to families in need, probably through Hunters for the Harvest, he said, and the hide and head would be retained as evidence until the case is adjudicated, and then perhaps mounted.
The Keffers hope Sisco will feel the full weight of the law.
“I hope they fine him to the max,” said Jeff. “And he shouldn’t be allowed to hunt again.”
Cases like this put a black mark on hunting among people who are “anti-” or non-hunters, Jonathan said. “A true hunter is a conservationist and respects nature and the law. This case is about an opportunistic kill and greed.”
Mesoras called the killing “a total waste” of the resource but hopes that the traction it gained on social media will bring attention to poaching, which, he said, “occurs in every county of the state on a weekly basis.”
“It is hard for people to understand just how much it occurs. But the shame of it is that 10 to 20 other cases go unnoticed and unpublicized because they are not as spectacular looking as the Perryopolis buck.”
Just a few weeks earlier, on Nov. 6, a hunter shot an antlered deer as it browsed with a doe in a parking lot in Marshall Township, Allegheny County.
The man, who was later apprehended, shot the buck out of the driver’s side window of his truck and loaded the carcass onto his vehicle, according to a post at www.Facebook/OperationGameThiefPGC.
Poachers also can be reported to the Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-888-PGC-8001 or online at http://bit.ly/PGCOGT.