A Pennsylvania man has been charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment after he allegedly shot his friend in the neck during a meth-fueled adventure.
Michael M. Walnock, 47, and Joseph Linn, Sr., 50, both admitted to taking methamphetamine prior to the incident on January 14, 2022. Linn testified at a hearing on Wednesday that he had been taking meth for at least three days “as a stimulant so he could stay up to hunt coyotes at night,” according to a report in the Press Enterprise.
The men began their night on Walnock’s brother’s property near Clearfield, Pennsylvania. Having no luck there, they drove back to state game lands in Madison Township.
Walnock says he used a call to attract coyotes, and after about half an hour, the pair saw three sets of eyes glowing in the shine of their headlamps. The men took turns shooting at the animals with a rifle chambered in .223 Remington, and after the second shot, Linn said he thought he saw the white belly of an animal on the ground.
Linn got up to investigate but couldn’t locate the animal. On his way back to Walnock, he saw his friend shake his light at him, which he thought meant more “coyotes” were in the area. Linn looked behind him, but when he turned back, he saw a muzzle flash.
“I could see his silhouette,” Linn testified. “And all of a sudden, I could see his muzzle flash.”
Linn was shot in the neck, and he said his right arm is almost paralyzed. He still has bullet fragments in his neck that are too close to the spine to remove, and these fragments cause him constant pain in his neck, through his biceps, and down into his elbow. He also walks with a cane and had to be helped into the witness stand, according to the Press Enterprise.
Walnock and Linn haven’t spoken since the incident even though, according to Walnock’s lawyer, the two men have been best friends for 20 years, and Linn was Walnock’s best man at his wedding. Walnock claims he shot Linn accidentally, but Linn doesn’t buy it.
“How do you shoot someone with a red light on his head, wearing an orange coat?” he asked during the hearing. He claims that after Walnock shot him, Walnock took the meth in Linn’s wallet along with $100 before calling 911.
The first officer at the scene, Milton Officer Travis Stotelmyer, testified at the hearing that he found Linn on the ground when he arrived. Walnock was obviously upset, and he had covered Linn with his jacket. Linn was taken away in an ambulance a short time later.
Jared Turner, the Pennsylvania state game warden in charge of the case, later found a whitetail deer that had been badly wounded near the site of the incident. He told MeatEater the deer had been shot from about 250 yards away while Linn was shot from about 100 yards away. He and his team recovered a bullet from the deer that matched the type of projectile Linn was firing.
Turner said the incident should give the public a window into "the kinds of unlawful activity that occurs on their public land."
"State game wardens like myself aim to do the best we can to curb such activity, but people should remain vigilant and contact the proper authorities if they witness unsafe or illegal activities occurring," he said. "A large majority of crimes witnessed on public lands and involving wildlife go completely unreported."
Walnock has been charged with aggravated assault (first-degree felony), recklessly endangering another person (first-degree misdemeanor), shooting at a human being (first-degree misdemeanor), and helping someone illegally take big game after shooting hours.
District Judge Doug Brewer dismissed charges of tampering with evidence, failing to immediately render aid after a hunting accident, and drug possession, according to court documents.
It is legal in Pennsylvania to hunt coyotes at night with a predator call, as long as the hunter has obtained a general license. If the hunt occurs during a big game season, the hunter must be legal to take that type of game, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. It is always illegal to hunt whitetail at night, and regular firearms deer season ended December 10, 2021, over a month before the incident took place.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated with comments from Game Warden Jared Turner.