“Robin the Hood” was the title of this column in the 1993 summer issue of the Alberta Game Warden magazine. In that article, a remarkable story was told of Robin, an Alberta man who had been encouraged by yours truly to provide his story. Robin had grown up as a poacher, and he had killed game, fish and furbearing animals for many years to support a family and sometimes a few neighbours, all of whom subsisted in a state of near poverty. To put it bluntly, Robin had grown up hunting to eat. Starting very young (Robin killed his first deer at the age of six), Robin became a poacher supreme, one who regularly violated game laws, but in many ways, was also a woodmans, woodsman who had a few principles. He did not believe in wasting game or selling meat. Meat was taken to be eaten, and in fact, he shot most big game animals in the head so that no meat would be wasted. As we shall see, this is not a play on putting poaching in a romantic light. The violation of laws established for the common good does not justify the selfish exploitation of these resources at the expense of the conservation of the resources themselves. 

     Robin was almost caught by game wardens a few times over the years, but each time he escaped. Once, as a teenager, he eluded a warden when hunting beaver on private land without permission. He saw the warden coming and won the ensuing footrace. Not to overlook opportunity, Robin escaped the warden while carrying a freshly poached beaver and the pelt from a second. On other occasions when Robin was poaching pike during spawning runs, he became the target of a persistent Fish and Wildlife officer. Luckily, Robin had graduated to wearing a wet suit for warmth and he was able to escape arrest by swimming across a creek, or other times, by swimming to an ice flow in the lake. On an interesting note, Robin maintained a respect for these game wardens even years later because he knew they were just doing their job. 

     Robin eventually got a good job and when he got his feet under him, he no longer needed to poach to eat. His illegal activities of poaching fish, fur, deer, moose and other game tapered off and ended, and for many years thereafter, he hunted and trapped only a little. Robin no longer needed to do what he had once routinely done. As he put it, he had become “civilized”. Robin had developed his own views on conservation, and he noted changes occurring to habitat as a result of industrial activities in the backcountry, and how this put increased pressures on wildlife as previously isolated areas were being opened to public access. Robin said it was not the same ball game as before, because when he had once killed out of necessity, there were still abundant game populations in those areas.

 A hunting we will go… 

     In mid-December of 2004, Robin decided to accompany a friend who had been successful in obtaining an antlerless elk special licence to hunt near Edson, Alberta. Given the odds of obtaining this licence in that area, when one is successful in being selected through the draw system, it is usually after several years of trying. So, holding this licence is considered a golden opportunity. The season for antlerless elk ran into December, and by that date, it was well past the bull elk season that had ended in November. Ever the hunter, Robin was armed with his trusted .30-30 Marlin rifle when he and his friend set out that day. But he did not go out with the purpose to kill an elk. In fact, he had previously scouted a herd of elk in the area and the plan was to assist his friend by putting him in position for a shot at a cow elk. Robin even cautioned his friend that the small herd of elk he had seen consisted of a number of cows and calves and a spike antlered bull, so he told him it was important to identify the animal when shooting so as not to confuse the spike bull with a cow elk. As luck would have it, the hunt proceeded, but the elk were not all that cooperative. During the hunt, Robin ended up trying to haze the herd toward his friend, but the elk ended up on the other side of him moving through heavy bush. Robin, ever the opportunist, seized the moment and decided to take a cow for his friend. This amounted to illegal party hunting because Robin had no licence. He saw what appeared to be a good cow, from the pieces of elk he could see, but the animal’s head remained hidden in the brush. Robin became convinced it was a cow elk, and, violating his usual practice of taking a head shot, he put a .30-30 bullet through the animal’s lungs, killing it. Somewhat ironically, the animal turned out to have spikes on its head. Robin had killed the spike bull! 

     It was clear to Robin, after the elk was killed, that trying to explain an illegal elk when you have no licence would get the best him that day. At the same time, there was no question that the meat would be salvaged. The two hunters dressed the animal and then covered the carcass with branches. They planned to return and retrieve the elk well after dark when they felt the odds would be better of not encountering anyone else. Later that same day, Fish and Wildlife officers would be tipped off that an illegal spike elk had been taken at that location. Staking out the route to the elk carcass that they could see the hunters had taken earlier (from the tracks), two Fish and Wildlife officers waited for the poachers to return. Not long after dark, they saw the poachers go by their vantage point. However, Robin and his friend saw other tracks on the trail and were suspicious. In fact, Robin had a gut feeling they might run into an officer. The hunters turned around without retrieving the elk and went back out without lights. The officers, meanwhile, were oblivious to this move and were still waiting for them to return. The hunters travelled a roundabout route and arrived at the elk carcass from another direction, retrieving it undetected right from under the noses of the officers. As the officer in charge of the investigation put it, “They were home in bed while we were still waiting for them to come out.” 

     Acting on other leads, Fish and Wildlife officers later approached Robin and his friend over the next few days, asking questions about the “cow” elk that was said to have been harvested that day. 

Opportunistic poaching 

     It is increasingly evident that many violations of laws concerning fish and wildlife harvesting are not connected to dire subsistence needs, such as those described near the beginning of this story. At the same time, there are differences between wanton and intentional acts of poaching, where persons start a day with the express intent to commit illegal acts, and what I will call opportunistic poaching. Those are where decisions are made at the spur of the moment and violations are committed that may not have happened if events had occurred differently, sometimes in subtle ways. These are no less illegal, but that is why the laws have evolved to take the circumstances of an offence into account. In Alberta, we have a wide variety of sentencing options and the courts can choose penalties that are suitable to the circumstances that preceded the offence, in particular, whether the suspect was cooperative and shows remorse. Luckily, public opinion today universally condemns all of these illegal activities, and those who think they are justified in doing some of the things they do can be in for a rude surprise. They may not find sympathy from others, and if they think they can, they may find that they are kidding themselves. 

Epilogue: coming clean 

     Robin was approached by a Fish and Wildlife officer some three days after the elk had been taken and a day after his friend had been interviewed on the matter. Some initial stories were given where the taking of the elk was made out to be legal, including some logical fabrications of how the events had taken place. 

     However, two days later, the day before Christmas Eve, Robin attended the Fish and Wildlife District office in Edson, Alberta. The following is a description provided by the investigating officer: “He came in to confess with sincere remorse and regret for his actions and for the trouble he caused. The statement he provided was likely the best one I will ever receive. He patiently told his story, giving very descriptive details of the entire incident and leaving very little for me to ask. I could tell he never tried to bend the truth in his favour, something most people will do when confessing. Robin had some of the (elk) meat already made into jerky, which he offered up and that was subsequently seized, while the rest, the majority of the meat, was seized from his friend.” 

     Later, Robin apologized in court and insisted in taking full responsibility for killing the elk. He pleaded guilty to hunting wildlife during a closed season and unlawfully possessing elk meat. He was fined a total of $1,200 and given a one-year suspension of all recreational hunting licences. The investigating officer later discovered the 1993 article in this magazine about Robin. In the officers words, given Robins, full confession, his admission of guilt in court and the remorse he displayed, he said he ended up with a high respect for him.

    Author’s note: Robin gave me permission to print this story because of the message it gives to others, including our youth. It is apparent that in the end, The Hood came clean, as we would expect him to, given that he is a man with some principles.

Pat Dunford is a member of 
the Alberta Game Warden 
Association in Edmonton.