Conservation Wildlife Management

CJ Alexander Pleads Not Guilty to 23 Criminal Charges as Poaching Trial Begins in Ohio

Among other charges, the state alleges that Alexander killed a 200-plus-inch buck illegally without permission, and then staged a cover-up at his sister's property to make it seem like a legal hunt
CJ Alexander buck 2
CJ Alexander says he killed the buck with a crossbow on his sister's property in Clinton County. Photo by Sierra Smith

Today marks the beginning of what could be a lengthy criminal trial for Christopher “CJ” Alexander, who has been charged with allegedly poaching the state’s would-be No. 1 whitetail deer. With a gross score over 200 inches, the buck was also in the running for the third-largest all-time typical whitetail in the Boone and Crockett book before it was confiscated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in December.

At an arraignment hearing in Clinton County today, Alexander entered a “not guilty” plea to the 23 criminal charges leveled against him, including jacklighting, tampering with evidence, grand theft, and hunting without permission. Alexander was accompanied by his defense attorney J.R. Bernans, who did not respond to a request for comment.

A Big Buck Story Investigated

The saga began on Nov. 9 when Alexander shot a massive buck in Clinton County, and he shared his story with Outdoor Life in early December. Alexander said he shot the buck on his sister’s 9-acre property (though he originally claimed the property was 30 acres) with a crossbow borrowed from his friend Cory Haunert. He explained that he and Haunert went back to his sister’s property the following day to recover the buck.

Within weeks of when that OL story ran, however, rumors began to swirl online that Alexander had killed the buck on a different piece of private property in Clinton County where he did not have permission to hunt. And on Dec. 26, officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources launched a formal poaching investigation. They began by seizing the buck’s antlers from CJ’s apartment, along with other items that they believed were used in taking the deer.

The state’s investigation continued over the next four to five months, as many wondered what would become of the “Alexander Buck” and debated whether the DNR’s allegations were valid. Alexander maintained his innocence during this time, often publicly by commenting on social media posts. He’s continued to do so in recent months on OL’s Instagram page, even responding back to commenters.

Alexander also participated in interviews, where he continued to claim that he killed the buck legally on his sister’s property, and that he was being wrongly accused by the state. Appearing on the Hunter’s Advantage podcast in January, he offered a detailed account of the hunt and the DNR’s subsequent investigation, which he claimed was inadequate. He contended that the state’s case was tenuously reliant on DNA that was found on two knives discovered at the site of the alleged poaching. 

On the podcast, Alexander also discussed allegations over the deer being poached from Clinton County prosecuting attorney Andrew McCoy’s land and where that property is located in relation to Alexander’s sister’s property.

“Everyone one is saying it’s the D.A., which the [county prosecuting attorney] is Andrew McCoy. The guy’s property that they claim I shot this deer on is William McCoy’s, that’s his brother,” Alexander said. “But everyone is saying it’s 20, 25 miles and it’s not. It’s literally half that. It’s 10.33 [miles] if you drop a pin on it and take it to my sister’s [property].” 

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This 9-acre property in Clinton County was listed in court documents as the location where Alexander claimed the buck was killed.

Outdoor Life

Indictment by Grand Jury

Up until early May, many hunters had come to Alexander’s defense, claiming overreach by the DNR. Public opinion shifted, however, when a Clinton County grand jury handed down a hefty, 22-page criminal indictment against Alexander on May 10. Ohio attorney general Dave Yost announced the indictment, which included 23 criminal charges against Alexander, along with additional charges for Haunert and Alexander’s sister for their roles in the cover-up scheme that investigators allege took place after the buck was killed.

“Wildlife officers discovered through warranted searches of cell phone data that Christopher Alexander had illegally hunted the trophy buck on private property about 10 miles from his sister’s land, and later learned that the written permission from his sister he had presented to wildlife officers had been falsified — after the deer was killed — to mislead authorities,” the attorney general’s office wrote in a press release. “Evidence revealed Christopher Alexander staged the deer taking at his sister’s property with the help of Corey P. Haunert and his brother, Zachary R. Haunert, to conceal the poaching.”

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A closer look at the indictment also reveals that Alexander has been accused by the state of poaching not one, but two bucks on a roughly 50-acre piece of private property in Clinton County where he did not have permission to hunt. The first buck had a gross score of 150 inches, and investigators allege that Alexander killed that buck on the property without a license on Jan. 7 2023. The state alleges that Alexander then returned to the same piece of private property to hunt without a license or permission between Oct. 21 and early November, and that he killed the 200-plus-inch “Alexander Buck” there on Nov. 9.

The state alleges that Alexander then recovered the trophy buck and brought it to his sister’s property on Nov. 10, where he and Haunert tampered with evidence (a third-degree felony) by staging the taking of the deer and photographing the buck. Alexander also faces four felony charges of theft by deception for allegedly selling the rack to an antler buyer for $10,000; selling his version of the story to a deer-hunting magazine (not Outdoor Life) for $2,0000; and signing a promotional deal worth $8,000 to use pictures of him and the buck to promote the company’s products.

What’s Next?  

An arraignment is considered the official start of a criminal trial, where the accused is informed of the charges against them and is often asked to enter a plea. Alexander and his attorney entered a “not guilty” plea to all 23 of the charges, according to the clerk of courts in Clinton County. The clerk says Alexander is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on July 19, but that it’s unknown at this point if he will be tried before a jury.

Alexander could face incarceration if convicted. A third-degree felony typically carries a jail sentence of nine months to three years in prison, according to an Ohio attorney’s website, along with fines of up to $10,000. 

Alexander is also involved in a separate civil case that was filed by the state of Ohio to seek restitution for the two bucks he allegedly poached. That case is being heard in Clinton County Municipal Court, with the next court date scheduled for August 5. In a letter sent to Alexander by the DNR on the same day he was indicted, the agency puts the value of the 150-inch buck at $4,625, and the value of the “Alexander Buck” at $35,071.73.    

“The case is in the hands of the court,” ODNR spokesperson Karina Cheung tells Outdoor Life in an emailed statement.