Top Game Warden: Massive Wyoming Poaching Case Was About Ego, Not Money

Three out-of-state men recently sentenced in one of Wyomings largest poaching cases ever were likely killing wildlife illegally for personal fulfillment rather than profit, according to Wyoming's chief game warden.

Mark Heinz

December 14, 20223 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

While the three men charged in one of Wyoming’s largest-ever poaching cases were “organized” in their years-long killing spree, there’s no reason to think they were trying to traffic animal parts for profit, the state’s top game warden said. 

The men “were illegally harvesting wildlife for their own personal fulfillment and not necessarily for profit,” Rick King, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s chief game warden, told Cowboy State Daily. 

He was referring to Russell Vick of Alabama, Robert Underwood of Oklahoma and his son, David Underwood of South Dakota. The trio was recently slapped with a combined total of more than 100 violations in one of Wyoming’s largest poaching cases.

The Underwoods are former Gillette residents.

‘Organized In What They Did’

While the men probably weren’t a for-profit poaching ring, they were methodical in their approach, King said. And there are likely other wildlife criminals like them stalking Wyoming’s critters.

“They were organized in what they did,” King said. “Crimes like this, committed by organized and methodical individuals who are careful to cover their tracks, are probably more common than we would like to admit. 

“They are difficult cases to make. We have a vast wildlife resource that attracts those who are willing to commit crimes for personal gain.”

An Exceptional Case

There have been a few other cases involving the mass killing of wildlife, but this one was especially heinous, King said. 

For example, a few years ago in Sheridan, game wardens busted a single suspect for allegedly killing numerous deer, King said. And the “Sagebrush Outfitters” case from the 1990s also involved many suspects from multiple states.

“However, I don’t know of a case where three individuals were responsible for the taking of so much wildlife over this many years,” King said. “Vick and the Underwoods understood what they were doing and that it was illegal.”

The trio’s killing spree went as far back as the mid-2000s in at least four Wyoming counties, according to Game and Fish reports.

Hard Time For Primary Offender

Vick appears to have been the primary offender. 

In Campbell County alone, he’s suspected of illegally killing, possessing and/or transporting four antelope, 11 buck mule deer, a bull elk and pheasants, according to Game and Fish. 

He also was the only one of the three sentenced to prison time. In August, he began serving a 20- to 24-month sentence at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins. That came right after he finished a year in the Sheridan County jail for poaching four bull moose there. 

The Bighorn Mountains in Sheridan County are home to one of the West’s premier moose populations. 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter