An Oklahoma man pleaded no contest to killing a rare deer more than a year after game wardens said it was shot illegally.
Wardens said it wasn't killing the deer, but how James Delaney did it, that crossed the line.
The spotted buck was well-known in the Park Hill area as "Patches." The deer was killed along Horseshoe Bend Road, but game wardens said the man who shot Patches let him suffer for hours first.
“It was kind of like a pet,” said Delaney.
Delaney, who runs a deer processing business, is a collector of wildlife; he has mounts of big bucks, a snow weasel and even an albino raccoon. He also has a picture of Patches hanging on his wall.
“I seen it when it was first a little fawn,” Delaney said.
While most everyone around Park Hill has heard of Patches, only a lucky few ever saw him in person.
“You seen a lot of white when you saw that one,” said resident Ray Kirk. “It looks a lot of white at night, ya know, when ya got the light shining on it and it shoo-shoo across the road.”
Patches was a whitetail piebald. Only one in 20,000 deer carry the special gene that gives them white spots, according to game wardens.
The rare deer are legal to hunt in Oklahoma, but there was an unspoken rule by sportsmen in the community that Patches was off-limits.
“They wouldn't shoot it,” said Park Hill resident LuAnn Hunter. “I can't imagine, it would be so difficult, I think for me, to shoot something that pretty, that different.”
Even Delaney claims he didn't want to shoot Patches.
“Didn't want the deer to die, so that's why I left it for a couple hours and then called the game wardens,” Delaney said.
A friend of Delaney's discovered Patches injured on the side of the road around 9 a.m. during the November 2013 deer season.
The friend then called Delaney.
“It didn't have no marks on it like it'd been hit by a car, so I said let's give him awhile,” Delaney said.
Game Warden Brady May said Delaney called about the deer once late in the day, but didn't get an answer.
When the warden called back, he said Delaney said “he had taken care of it,” not mentioning the injured deer.
The warden said after Delaney found the buck he had his friend try to get him a hunting license.
“I feel in no way that I was in the wrong,” Delaney said.
But the warden said Delaney never actually purchased the permit, he only had a deer tag when he shot Patches, which is illegal.
“He half-heartedly tried, he did solicit help from the land owner to purchase an archery tag online,” May said.
The warden said about seven hours passed between the time Patches was found to the time he was killed.
“The deer did lay there throughout the day before he harvested it at point-blank range,” said May.
“Me and my neighbor thought if we ever found it in the road where it'd get hit by a car or something, that we'd fully mount it,” Delaney said.
The warden said Delaney was hoping to make a profit off Patches by trying to sell the rare buck to a major sporting goods store for up to $15,000.
“We did determine through other interviews that they'd already made some contacts to check with a major sporting goods store here in Oklahoma,” May said.
“That's a fib, I never called them at all,” Delaney said. “Somebody else may have called. I wasn't the one that called.”
The deer now belongs to the state. The fully body will be mounted and used as an educational tool for the Wildlife Department.
“A lot of kids and people come in to the education center can see the rarity of things that can happen in nature,” May said.
With any luck, the last traces of Patches have not disappeared from the woods.
“Although Patches is gone, I'm still certain he's left his genetic traits somewhere out there in the wild and we're likely to see it again sometime,” May said.
To keep from going to a trial, Delaney agreed to a plea deal. His fines were reduced to about $1,100 and if he pays them off on time, charges will be dismissed.
The game warden said residents in the community contacted him concerned the deer had been killed illegally.
He said game wardens are often called out to investigate injured or dead deer to determine if the animal was poached.