Update 10-1-2014: The Pennsylvania Game Commission has temporarily closed all hunting and trapping in the seven townships where the search is currently taking place. You can read more here.
Many Pennsylvania bowhunters are eagerly awaiting the start of the state’s archery season this Saturday, but law enforcement and wildlife officials are urging hunters in the Poconos to be extra careful. The famed Pocono Mountains area is a hunting hotspot, but it is now also the site of a frantic manhunt for a suspect that police believe to have killed one state trooper and seriously injured another earlier this month. Officials say that a gunman ambushed two officers on September 12, resulting in the death of State Police Corporal Byron Dickson and the wounding of Trooper Alex Douglass. Police are currently combing the woods for 31-year-old Eric Frein, which officials have described as an experienced marksman and “survivalist.” Frein is believed to be armed with a .308 rifle.
“Hunters should use common sense and good judgment until this situation is resolved,” said Daniel Figured, northeast regional director for the state Game Commission, told Reuters. “Our advice is to avoid wooded areas with obvious police activity and use extreme caution when afield, especially in Monroe and Pike counties.”
Officials said that hunters should not be startled if they run into an armed police patrol while in the woods. Since the manhunt started earlier this month, hundreds of officers from several agencies swarmed the area in an attempt to find Frein. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that state troopers are prepared to use lethal force if Frein is found but unwilling to surrender. The sudden influx of activity has some residents worried about the possibility of a shootout, while others hope for a quick end to the manhunt.
“Nothing ever happens here,” said Esther Bender, a resident of Monroe County. “It’s too super-quiet. It’s rural here—we don’t even have paved roads where we live.”
In addition to nearly 1,000 officers on the ground, police are also searching for Frein from the air with helicopters. Personnel from the FBI, ATF, and US Marshals Service are also involved in the search, which so far has produced no confirmed sightings. The FBI, which recently placed Frein on its list of top 10 most wanted fugitives, believes that Frein may have built a bunker of some sort in the area.
Game officials stress that hunters should avoid interfering with the search operation and be aware of their surroundings. Bowhunters are also advised to wear blaze orange vests and hats to avoid confusion between them and police. Frein is believed to be dressed in camouflage, possibly in a pattern resembling the uniforms worn by Eastern European soldiers. It is also legal for Pennsylvania hunters to carry a firearm during archery season for the purposes of self-defense.