My Uncle Joe was one such outlaw. While he didn’t take to shooting anyone with a gun, he certainly lived outside the law, and while he may have broken a few (well maybe a lot) of laws, he didn’t hurt anyone and he was always a great provider to his seven kids and loving wife.
Joe’s name usually causes wildlife officers to break into a heavy sweat, and may just send a few of them into therapy, but he always had a good laugh doing what he loved most, and that was living the life he chose.
Joe liked to poach anything, rabbits, moose, and especially salmon, and he would share his catch with anyone who wanted a feed. He knew the best places to find salmon, both in season and not, and he always had a deep freeze filled with fresh moose and caribou.
Joe lived his life on the edge, partially due to a defective heart that caused him weekly, sometimes daily heart attacks, but he never let this stop him. He was born with particularly small veins, and they clogged from time to time, probably due to his smoking habit. His drinking probably didn’t help either.
I remember on one occasion, Joe had just returned from a hunt. Moose hunting season was about to take place in just two weeks, so I guess he decided to get his early. Someone from the community called the wildlife department to report a poaching incident, and they pointed out Joe as the culprit.
Living in a small community, and owning one of those police radio scanners, he found out early that they were coming for him. While he had a freezer, it was filled with meat from previous hunts in previous years, so he had no room for the moose he had just brought home. Knowing the police and wildlife officers were on the way to seize the moose he poached, and possibly lock him up, he stuffed the young moose in the attic, through a small door he had cut in the ceiling.
Just when all of the moose was hidden in the attic, a knock came on the door. It was two mounties and the game warden, armed with the usual handguns strapped to their side and a search warrant. As cocky as my uncle was, he not only invited them in, he also offered them a cup of tea and some hot molasses buns his wife had just baked.
You could say a lot about my Uncle Joe, but he was a friendly character for sure. The law enforcers refused the kindness of my poacher uncle and went straight through the house, searching in every nook and crack, looking for the moose.
When they finished their search, the officials ended up in the kitchen, standing in front of my uncle, and directly under the moose that was hidden in the attic. This was September, and it was hot, and in just a few moments, fresh blood from the moose began dripping from the attic, a few inches behind the officers. When my uncle noticed the dripping blood, he got so scared, he took a heart attack. Both the officers and the warden immediately reacted, carried Joe to the car, and rushed him to the Emergency ward at the hospital.
My other uncles then went to Joe’s house, and removed the moose from the attic, cleaned the house, and proceeded to pack the moose in freezer wrap and into their freezers for safe keeping. The officers returned the next day to resume their search, found nothing, apologized to both my Uncle and my Aunt, and sat and enjoyed the molasses buns they were offered the previous day. “We know you had moose here, we know you, you bugger” One of the officers said. My Uncle just laughed.
There was another time where Uncle Joe was out fishing in a popular salmon river in the area. The law states that you must have a salmon license, you must only use salmon flies, and you must release any salmon over a certain weight. Uncle Joe didn’t particularly care for those rules, so he made up his own rules.
Joe was on the river, wearing his hip waders and casting his salmon line out as far as he could. He had 20 lb test line on his reel, and a hook loaded with worms. He had a salmon license taped to his fishing hat, which was covered with various types of ‘legal’ salmon flies. Just as he hooked a beauty, an Atlantic salmon weighing over twenty pounds, he heard the game warden walking through the thick alders. My Uncle chose this particular fishing hole not only due to the amount of salmon he knew were here, but also due to the underbrush, tuckamores, and alders that act like an alarm for the keen ears of my uncle.
When he seen that the salmon was firmly hooked to his rod, he flicked the line towards the woods, letting go of the handle, and he watched the salmon, his worm filled hook, his two hundred dollar rod and even more expensive reel fly behind him and more importantly, behind the two oncoming game wardens. When they finally reached him, he had been sitting peacefully on the river bank, eating a sandwich and drinking a cup of water from the river. “We know you are here poaching, we know you well.” the wildlife officers said. “prove it” said my uncle, as he offered them a bite to eat.
He got off again. Uncle Joe always took pride in fooling the game wardens, and he did it many times. In fact, he was never caught by any of them. He was like a Newfoundland version of the Dukes of Hazzard, and he was well known by everyone, including the game wardens in the area. Despite not being able to catch the man doing anything wrong, Uncle Joe considered the wardens good men, and even invited a few of them to parties he threw each year. A few of them went to the parties, and feasted on the moose they couldn’t catch him poaching.
He continued his outlaw ways throughout his life, and thousands of adventures and almost run-ins with the law later, he finally quit. He was snaring rabbits out of season in 2009 when he suffered a serious heart attack four miles from his home. He rode all the way home on his atv, while having a heart attack, crawled up the stairs to his home, and died at the feet of his wife. The community took this very hard as despite his outlaw ways, he was a great dad to his kids, a loving husband to his wife, a great uncle to me, and a very good provider of fresh meat, fish and anything else he could find that someone may have needed.
I spoke to a wildlife officer the other day, and I asked him if he remembered my Uncle Joe. The man began shaking uncontrollably. “That rascal, I chased him four miles down a woods road, on foot, while he carried a quarter of caribou on his shoulders. When I finally caught up to him, he was sitting on a rock, having a sandwich.” He said. “The bugger even offered me a piece, and it was caribou!” Sounds like my uncle.