Editor’s Note: The following story is the latest in a series of articles detailing a massive poaching operation uncovered in Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon. It comes after a records request by The Chronicle that yielded hundreds of pages of evidence collected by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. See previous coverage at www.chronline.com.
Members of a sprawling poaching ring based out of Southwest Washington had been getting away with it for so long that they didn’t see the end coming.
The group’s increasingly brazen behavior and relentless pursuit of their next kill made it clear they were largely unconcerned with winding up collared by the long arm of the law.
Not everyone in their circle was free of worry, though.
In particular, text messages discovered during the course of an eight-month investigation show that the girlfriend of one suspect was urging the group to exercise more caution in the midst of what would wind up being one of their final illegal hunts.
William Haynes, of Longview, is currently facing 25 counts of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game, 24 counts of unlawful use of dogs to hunt bear or bobcat, two counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game and 13 counts of first-degree waste of fish and wildlife in Skamania County Superior Court.
A rash of those charges date back to the final weeks of November 2015, a time period during which Haynes told wildlife enforcement officials that he and his cohorts likely poached upwards of 20 deer in the National Forest out of The Dalles, Oregon, according to documents compiled during the investigation.
“We never took any of the meat. We just took the heads,” Haynes told a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife investigator.
At one point during that killing spree, fellow defendant Erik Martin sent a text to his girlfriend and reported, “We are headed home now. We killed a pile of bucks.”
On Nov. 23, Haynes, known as Billy to his poaching partners, received a text message from his girlfriend pleading with him to end the brazen poaching trips.
“Stop going down there (Oregon) and killing all the big deer,” she wrote.
When Haynes simply replied “Why?,” his girlfriend, who is not named in the case reports, responded by writing, “Why? Cause one of these time(s) your (sic) gonna get caught and I’m not gonna feel sorry for you and then (I’m going) to go nuts. So for my little bit of sanity quit doing it so much.”
There is no reply from Haynes included in the report. On Dec. 3, the Oregon State Patrol mustered a response of its own.
While responding to reports of rampant poaching in a popular area of a national forest south of The Dalles, law enforcement set up trail cameras in areas near where decapitated buck deer had previously been found.
On Nov. 30, a camera captured images of a truck later identified as belonging to Erik Martin and two individuals who exited the vehicle with spotlights and rifles in hand. A short time later, the individuals returned to the truck, sleeves rolled up, and a job apparently done. A subsequent visit to the location by investigators turned up a fresh deer carcass in the direction the men had been observed walking into the woods and deer hair where the truck had been parked.
On Dec. 3, Oregon State Patrol troopers observed a vehicle matching the description and licence plate number of the vehicle in the apparent poaching photos and executed a vehicle stop. Inside the truck, the OSP troopers contacted Erik Martin and William Haynes.
During questioning, Haynes and Martin admitted to poaching two buck deer and a silver gray squirrel during that suspicious trip into the forest. A search of the men’s homes back in Washington later that day turned up more than 20 illegally harvested deer racks. Both men voluntarily consented to submit their phones to law enforcement for review.
That decision by Haynes and Martin to turn over their cellphones wound up being the undoing of the rest of the poaching partnership as phone records, text messages, photos, videos and GPS metadata allowed investigators to track the vast illegal activities of an entire network of unscrupulous hunters.
In addition to Haynes, who was scheduled to make his preliminary appearance in Skamania County Superior Court at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Martin, of Kelso, is currently facing 12 counts of the unlawful use of dogs to hunt bear or bobcat, nine counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, four counts of first-degree waste of fish and wildlife and three first-degree counts of unlawful hunting of big game. Martin’s preliminary appearance in Skamania County Superior Court is scheduled for Sept. 28 at 9 a.m.
Eddy Dills, of Longview, is facing 10 counts of the illegal use of dogs to hunt bear or bobcat, eight counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, six counts of first-degree waste of fish and wildlife and two counts of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game. His preliminary appearance in Skamania County Superior Court is scheduled for Sept. 28 at 9 a.m.
Joseph Dills, of Longview, is facing 26 counts of illegal use of dogs to hunt bear or bobcat, 23 counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, 11 counts of first-degree waste of fish and wildlife and four counts of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game. His preliminary appearance in Skamania County Superior Court is set for Sept. 28 at 9 a.m.
Bryan Tretiak, of Morton, is facing four counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, four counts of illegal use of dogs to hunt bear or bobcat, one count of first-degree waste of fish and wildlife and one count of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game. His preliminary appearance in Skamania County Superior Court took place on Thursday at 9 a.m.
Sierra Dills and Aubri McKenna, both of Longview, were referred by the WDFW to Skamania County District Court for a barrage of charges. Sierra Dills is facing two counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, two counts of illegal use of dogs to hunt bear or bobcat and one count of first-degree waste of fish or wildlife. Both Sierra Dills and McKenna are scheduled to appear in Skamania County District Court at 9 a.m. on Oct. 2.
The following incriminating details were garnered from the contents of hundreds of pages of official WDFW case reports:
The first documented poaching case in the WDFW files occurred in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest south of Randle on Aug. 29, 2015. In a video recovered from Haynes’ cellphone, a bear can be seen high in a tree while hound dogs circle the tree and offscreen voices shout instructions to a man named Bryan, believed to Bryan Tretiak.
“Shoot him Bryan, Bryan right here, Bryan, head shot right there,” says one voice a few moments before a gunshot rings out and the bear can be seen falling from the tree.
With the bear on the ground, a man identified as Eddy Dills is observed on the video approaching the animal and then touching its eyeball repeatedly in order to make sure it was dead. A second individual, believed to be Joe Dills, can be seen holding a shotgun in the foreground of the shot and saying, “I’m gonna hit him again in the neck.”
Once the bear is confirmed to be dead, Eddy Dills can be heard calling for his dogs to be released, commanding, “Turn them loose. Yes, he’s dead. (His) eyes, he’s doing nothing.”
One person in the group estimates the black bear weighs about 100 pounds and another comment calls the animal a “typical national forest bear.”
Eddy Dills then goes into a detailed explanation of the difference between “meat bears” and “rug bears.” He can be heard telling one member of the group who was after a bear skin rug, “I’m glad you waited. You want a rug, you got a very, very good decision, because this is a nothing bear compared to what you want. But what he wanted, this couldn’t beat it, because he wants meat and this is a perfect bear for that, so you guys all did good. I would a bet.”
In an interview with WDFW police, Tretiak admitted to killing the bear and keeping its remains at his parents’ house in Morton. He also related to WDFW police that Eddy and Joe Dills had once told him they shot a bear off a Forest Service 23 spur road in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and then stuffed the carcass in a culvert before abandoning it to waste. He said they regaled him with tales of how they had evaded harsh punishment the first time they were tripped up in a poaching investigation with the “Kill ‘Em All Boyz” back in 2007-08.
From Sept. 5-7, 2015, Joe Dills and Haynes were allegedly in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Forest Service Road 56 using Dills’ dogs to round up wildlife. According to text messages from Haynes to his mother, the pair were able to get the dogs to chase at least three bears, two cougars and four bobcats over the three-day span, including one large bear that likely died when Dills’ dogs chased it off a cliff.
On Sept. 7, Haynes’ mother sent him a text asking if he had made it home with a cougar harvest yet. In a text message Haynes replied, “Almost home. Didn’t kill anything. Got on one bear Saturday but was really small so (we) let him go then got on 4 different bobcat tracks and 1 cougar track but the dogs couldn’t figure out which way they were going. Then yesterday got on another bear but had to call the dogs off cause they were headed into a spot where there no roads for about 60 miles. Then the dogs struck a good cougar track and we let them run it for almost 7 hours and never even got close to it. Then today we struck a huge bear right after daylight ran it for about 4 hours and the GPS said the dogs were bayed up about 800 yards from the road so we walked in and the dogs were all sitting on the edge of about a 300 foot cliff. The bear ran right off it into the river dead as hell. From the size of tracks it was around 350 to 400 pounds it was a huge bear.”
On Sept. 13, 2015, Haynes sent a photo by text message of a bear he claimed to have killed the previous day to a recipient whose name was redacted from the official report provided to The Chronicle. When the person responded back that they’d like to go out for a bear hunt with the group sometime, Haynes replied, “I’ll talk to Joe (Dills) about it. If we do take ya out can’t say how we got it. Just have to make up a story saying you seen it in a clear cut of something.” Haynes added that he did not harvest any of the meat from his bear from the previous day, which he estimated weighed 200 pounds, due to the distance he would have had to pack it out of the woods, in addition to the heat that he argued would have spoiled the meat.
Sept. 16-17, 2015, Haynes, Sierra Dills, Joe Dills, Eddy Dills and Martin are suspected of conducting bear hunts with the use of dogs in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Forest Service roads 8871, 3241 and 100. A series of photographs taken that day show Haynes holding a shotgun and his face completely splattered in blood. Haynes told investigators that he was not present when a bear was shot that day and that his face became covered in blood after the hunting dogs shook off near him. However, WDFW police believe the spatter pattern is more consistent with the aftermath of a close-range gunshot. A text message from Haynes to his mother that contained an image of his blood covered face seems to support the theory of WDFW police. That text message read, “That’s after the bear we got yesterday. We were a little close when they shot it haha.”
That sort of communication between Haynes and his mother was common during the course of the group’s various poaching activities. On Oct. 11, 2015, Haynes, Joe Dills, Martin and a person whose name was redacted from the WDFW report conducted a bear hunt with the use of Dills’ dogs near the Lewis/Skamania county line within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. When Haynes sent his mother a photo of a bear sow and her cub up a tree with barking dogs underneath she replied, “They’re cute. I like to see them in the trees. She’s teaching her cub to be safe. She’s a big sow.”
Haynes then wrote back, “Yeah she was about 200 pounds or so. We pulled the dogs back away and she came right down the tree and ran off. Then the cub started coming down and Joe ran up and got on the other side of the tree from it and as soon as it was chest level with him he went around and spanked it on the ass. It let out a scream and right back up it went.”
Haynes told his mother and investigators that neither bear was harmed during the hunt, but WDFW officers discovered a mass of bear cub bones at the site during an investigation on June 21 of this year.
On Nov. 26, Haynes, Joe Dills, Eddy Dills, Martin, a person whose identity was redacted in the file and perhaps Sierra Dills went out on a bobcat hunt using dogs within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Forest Service roads 78 and 80. Text message records indicate that Haynes and Joe Dills spent the days prior to that excursion exchanging giddy text messages about their prospects on the trip due to the presence of snow, which makes odors linger longer in the air and makes following tracks easier.
On Nov. 24, Joe Dills texted Haynes that the trip would be “Like hunting the zoo.”
On Nov. 25, Haynes texted Joe Dills asking, “You ready to kill everything?!” to which Joe Dills replied, “Well duh!”
Haynes then responded, “I’m a little trigger happy lol.”
Photographic evidence from that day shows at least two bobcats were treed with the use of hounds. Haynes says the animals were allowed to leave unharmed but text messages between Haynes and Sierra Dills indicate that at least one bobcat was killed. When Haynes sent Dills a photo of a bobcat in a tree she replied, “Lol, still a nice one,” to which Haynes responded, “Not anymore hahah.”
After a lengthy gap in documented hunting activity between Jan. 24, 2016, and May 12 of that same year, Haynes and Joe Dills broke the dry and hypothetically law-abiding streak by heading out from Randle on Forest Service Road 23 in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in order to hunt bears with Dills’ dogs. A photo taken that day on Haynes’ cell phone shows eight dogs chewing up a recently deceased bear that is believed to have been left behind to waste. Then on May 15, Joe Dills again used hunting dogs to pursue bears off Forest Service Road 3241 near Chickoon Creek and Crab Creek. A text message from Joe Dills to Haynes states that he “caught two,” that day. “One about 325 (pounds). One about 200 (pounds).”
A few weeks later, the bear killing continued within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. A text message from Haynes to an unknown recipient details extensive poaching activity believed to have occurred on June 1 near Forest Service Road 32.
“We had four monster bears in a row that were over 300 and mean as f***. I killed one of them at about two feet cause it charged me and another at about ten feet. The last 11 out of 12 bears have been bayed. Those f****** don’t wanna climb this year,” wrote Haynes, expressing his displeasure with the apparent lack of game in the resident bears.
As the end of the line drew near for the poaching ring, their run-ins and near-misses with law enforcement increased in frequency, although the contacts appear to have done little to quell their indiscriminate killing. On Nov. 5, 2016, Martin and Haynes were parked along the side of Spirit Lake Highway (state Route 504) near the boundary line of open Margaret Unit and the closed Loo-Wit unit. As the sun came up, a WDFW police officer pulled up behind their vehicle and conducted a routine check of their registration, weapons and tags. Martin was given a warning for having an open container of alcohol in the vehicle, and the encounter ended quitely.
After the WDFW police left, though, Martin began placing a frantic series of warning phone calls and text messages to members of the poaching ring who were farther up the road.
One message read, “Don’t shoot. Warden headed that way.” Another message read, “Me and Erik got stopped by a warden right after daylight and they checked are (sic) guns tags everything. Me and Erik both had beers. I sat mine on the floor when they pulled up and Erik had his in his lap and the warden asked if it was a beer and Erik was honest so he didn't’ give him an open container charge and they left. Joe and all them are still up there hunting. Me (and) Erik turned around and went over toward five corners instead. I wasn’t gonna deal with the wardens again today.”
While paranoia kept Martin and Haynes in line for a day, the close call did not result in any lingering cautious behavior. To wit, photo evidence found on Haynes’ phone shows Haynes posing with a poached elk just eight days later off of Spirit Lake Highway and well within the closed Loo-Wit GMU.
Eleven days later, the poachers would set out again, this time with their sights set on the big bucks roaming the forests of northwest Oregon. With the audacity and frequency of their illicit hunts increasing and their luck simultaneously running short, the impending visits to the national forest south of The Dalles would wind up being one of the group’s final destinations.
On Nov. 18, Haynes received a text message from Martin asking, “You ready to kill s*** tonight?” A series of text messages between the members of the group straighten out the logistics of the trip with Joe Dills, Haynes, McKenna, Martin, Haynes and Sierra Dills all joining the fray. The following morning Martin texted his girlfriend with a message that read, “Game over… Headed home now we killed a (pile) of bucks.”
In a written statement to the WDFW, Haynes admitted that four bucks were taken that night with the use of spotlights and headlights and at least seven deer were poached during that first weekend in Oregon. At least three of those deer can be seen in the back of Hayne’s truck in a selfie-style photo taken on Martin’s phone on Nov. 19. On Nov. 20, Joe Dills posted photos of two deer on his public Facebook page and commented, “Got my bucks today.” Nine minutes later he commented on his own post to correct himself, clarifying, “Buck. Not bucks. My old lady got the other.”
Aubri McKenna, who goes by her maiden name of Larsen on Facebook, replied to Dills’ post about two hours later, noting, “...excuse me you didn’t get both of those. You can stake claim to the one your (sic) holding.”
With more than 50 documented cases of poaching occurring in at least five counties in two states and a final tally of illegally taken animals believed to exceed 100, there is no doubt plenty of credit, or blame, to be spread around. Thanks to the extensive electronic records pertaining to the case that were discovered by investigators, each one of the members of the prolific poaching ring are likely to have each of their kills held up to the bright light of the law for scrutiny.