Conservation Wildlife Management

Tennessee Man Loses Hunting Privileges and Firearms After Admitting He Left Elk to Rot

Another hunter tipped off wildlife officials after crossing paths with the man, who claimed to have killed two deer that morning
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Two poached elk found in Tennessee.

Both decomposing elk carcasses were found by wildlife officers, who said the carcasses had bullet wounds in their bodies and heads. Photograph courtesy TWRA

A Tennessee man who pleaded guilty last week to poaching two elk and abandoning the carcasses had his hunting privileges revoked for the next five years, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. As part of his plea agreement, the poacher also forfeited two of his firearms and was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution plus fines and court costs.

In a press release shared to Facebook, TWRA officials said Preston William Douglas, 34, lied to investigators at first but eventually confessed to the poaching incident, which took place in November inside a state-run wildlife management area. TWRA spokesperson Matthew Cameron tells Outdoor Life it’s possible that Douglas misidentified the elk as deer at first, and then changed his story when questioned by another hunter and wildlife officers.

“We believe that Mr. Douglas legitimately thought he was shooting at deer,” Cameron says, “that he didn’t know the difference between the two [species.]”

The agency said its investigation began on Nov. 19, when a concerned hunter reached out to TWRA wildlife manger Darrell England, who oversees the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area in Campbell County. The hunter told England they had heard multiple shots that morning while they were deer hunting on the WMA. The concerned hunter then saw the shooter walking empty-handed back to his car, and he confronted the shooter to ask what he’d been shooting at.

“The guy tells him, ‘I just shot the biggest six-point I’ve ever seen, and a doe,'” Cameron says. He adds that the shooter started to change his story as soon as the hunter pointed out that the bag limit on the WMA is only one deer. “He said, ‘Well, I shot through the buck and hit the doe,’ almost like he was already concocting a story. I think he realized then that he was in trouble, and he told the hunter that because he didn’t have a sharp knife to gut the deer, he was gonna leave and come back. He never came back.”

Photos from Tennesee poaching investigation.
A photograph showing the firearms that were seized from Douglas, along with the bull elk’s skull cap and the shell casings found at the scene. Photograph courtesy TWRA

Investigators identified Douglas as the hunter the informant spoke to that day using information from his vehicle tag. They questioned Douglas at home, where he admitted to firing shots but claimed he didn’t kill anything. Investigators then revisited the NCWMA, where they found the decomposing carcasses of a bull and a cow elk, “both with bullet wounds to the bodies and heads.”

After taking the two elk carcasses to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine for a necropsy, investigators continued searching for clues over the following days. They found shell casings from a .40 caliber handgun and a 6.5 Creedmoor rifle, along with a bullet inside one of the gut piles. Cameron confirms that both elk had been shot in the head with the .40 caliber handgun at close range.

This evidence led wildlife officers to meet with Douglas a second time, at which time he confessed to hunting, killing, and not retrieving both animals, Cameron says. The agency charged Douglas with two violations each of hunting in a closed season, illegally tagging big game, failure to retrieve big game, and tagging violations. They also seized a rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmor and a .40 caliber handgun from Douglas’ home.

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Although Cameron couldn’t say what led Douglas to finally confess, a photograph that the agency used during its investigation and shared to Facebook matches with a self-taken photograph that Douglas shared to his own Facebook page on Nov. 19.

“Hunting season is officially back open!!!!” Douglas wrote in the post, which was made just one day after the statewide deer season gun opener on Nov. 18.

Tennessee’s highly regulated elk hunting season would have ended on Oct. 11, more than one month prior to when that photo was posted. (The state also holds an additional youth season from Oct. 11 to Oct 18.) Tennessee’s elk season only runs for a couple weeks in late September and early October, and TWRA issued less than 20 lottery tags for antlered elk in 2024.

While it’s possible that Douglas was unaware of the hunting regulations surrounding deer and elk in Tennessee, that’s no excuse for killing two elk out of season and then leaving the carcasses to rot. Neither is being unable to distinguish between the two species, Cameron explains.

“You need to know your target,” he says.

This article was updated on April 10 to include comments from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.