Hunters clamored to pay for guided outings at the D&J Duck Club. Foiles asked Marschuetz for permission to host a few out there.

"It was supposed to be a family place," explains Marschuetz. "But I said, 'Well, a few's OK. And then a few became a lot. Then it became more than a lot. Then it became a film studio."

Jeff Foiles chose a ballsy title for one of his earliest videos: One Over the Limit.

Jennifer Silverberg
Jeff Foiles revisiting his former duck club near Pleasant Hill, Illinois.
Jennifer Silverberg
Jeff Foiles revisiting his former duck club near Pleasant Hill, Illinois.

"It's hard to say any of us haven't killed one over the limit," he confesses in his opening monologue, sitting with his yellow Labrador retriever, Hawk. "But we try to oblige the law the best we can."

Besides, he adds, the title actually refers to 9/11.

"When the terrorists bombed that second tower," Foiles explains, "that was 'one over the limit.' Because you can see what happened here. Our country didn't put up with that."

Foiles then dedicates the DVD to the troops fighting in Iraq, because "if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be living in this free country, watching videos and huntin' and fishin' and doing all the things we like to do." (In years to come, soldiers would return the love, shipping him American flags they'd carried on missions to the Middle East; three such flags proudly hang in Foiles' show room.)

Over the next two hours of One Over the Limit, Foiles reveals his folksy roots. He gushes about eating fifteen fried squirrel heads in one sitting. "You pull the teeth apart and eat the tongue out — the tongue's great," he says. During hunts, Foiles finishes off crippled birds by biting their heads to crush their skulls.

None of this was a radical departure from the gold standard of duck-hunting videos: the Duckmen series, first released in 1984, featuring Louisiana native Phil Robertson, "The Duck Commander."

With his ZZ Top beard, face paint and backwater diction, Robertson resembled an ancient swamp prophet who had waded out of the past to spread the Gospel — and kill piles upon piles of ducks.

He, too, displayed a fondness for dispatching birds with a chomp to the cranium (the most "merciful" method, he once said). And he got even dirtier: In one scene, Robertson notices that a dead duck had swallowed a peanut. He cinches the peanut back up its neck, out of its beak and then eats it.

Rarely does Foiles do anything that bizarre. His videos glorify the kill, not the killed. It's surprising when, in a video shot in Argentina, Foiles halts to admire the beauty of his prey.

"Beautiful bird," he says, holding up a white-cheeked pintail, then pauses. "He'd be a lot prettier if we wouldn't have headshot him."

In 2004 Foiles joined forces with Realtree camouflage company to produce the first volume of Fallin' Skies.

More so than the Duck Commander, Foiles narrated the action, covered tricks of the trade and cut a mainstream figure while goofing off with his buddies — and even his dog.

"Look at you!" he exclaims to his Lab, Hawk, after a retrieve. "You got blood everywhere! I do too!" He grabs the canine's paw. "Ha! We're blood brothers!"

But Foiles found himself playing defense upon the 2007 release of Fallin' Skies 4.

Someone posted on YouTube an excerpt from the DVD in which he fires his shotgun four times in rapid succession. (The clip has since been yanked from both the website and from later copies of the video.) To many in online hunting forums, it appeared Foiles had been caught "floating a fourth" — unplugging his weapon's magazine so he could load and shoot more than the three rounds allowed by law.

With Internet chatter heating to a boil, Foiles finally responded on August 16.

"What I did was this," he wrote on his website, "something I have done for years: carry a fourth shell in my right hand. A lot of the ole timers I hunted with over the years did it, and they were awesome at it. I have won a couple of steak dinners over it. When the third shell rolls out, you roll [the fourth] in at the last second." And that's perfectly legal, he wrote.

Some sportsmen called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complain, says Tim Santel, resident agent-in-charge of the Midwest region.

Soon after, an Illinois state conservation officer paid a covert visit to D&J Duck Club. According to court records, the officer came upon Foiles' hunting pits, or blinds built into the ground. There were "significantly greater amounts of ear corn" lying on the soil than on the rest of the property, the officer noted — enough to suggest Foiles may have been illegally baiting.

The agents typed up a briefing and sent it to Washington, D.C. They sought permission to investigate Foiles — an "industry leader" — by going undercover.

Taking down his "large-scale illicit enterprise," the agents argued, would fire a shot across the bows of "other unknown violators" and thereby "reduce exploitation."

The authorities had drawn a big target on his back. Without Foiles knowing it, the hunter had become the hunted.

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