Illegal killing of wildlife is a major conservation issue that, to be addressed effectively, requires insight into the drivers of human behaviour. Here we adapt an established socio-psychological model, the theory of planned behaviour, to explore reasons for hunting the Endangered Bewick's swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii in the European Russian Arctic, using responses from hunters to a questionnaire survey. Wider ecological, legal, recreational and economic motivations were also explored. Of 236 hunters who participated overall, 14% harboured intentions to hunt Bewick's swan. Behavioural intention was predicted by all components of the theory of planned behaviour, specifically: hunters' attitude towards the behaviour, perceived behavioural control (i.e. perceived capability of being able to perform the behaviour) and their subjective norms (perception of social expectations). The inclusion of attitude towards protective laws and descriptive norm (perception of whether other people perform the behaviour) increased the model's predictive power. Understanding attitudes towards protective laws can help guide the design of conservation measures that reduce non-compliance. We conclude that conservation interventions should target the socio-psychological conditions that influence hunters' attitudes, social norms and perceived behavioural control. These may include activities that build trust, encourage support for conservation, generate social pressure against poaching, use motivations to prompt change and strengthen peoples' confidence to act. This approach could be applied to inform the effective design, prioritization and targeting of interventions that improve compliance and reduce the illegal killing of wildlife.