The feds now openly concede their own calculations: They hoped the Foiles case would send a message.

"Obviously we're going to try to target the bigger players that are illegally commercializing wildlife," says Tim Santel of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "But we're not trying to go after the big names just because of who they are. We go after them for what they're doing. We're targeting illegal commercial wildfowl hunting. Not commercial wildfowl hunting."

Prosecutors clearly weren't pleased with Foiles' post about the case. Still, Fanning averred to Riverfront Times in early September that his client had every right to weigh in publicly on the plea. His sponsors and vendors, such as Realtree and the mammoth outdoor retailer Cabela's, were severing ties with him.

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.

"I think his statement just made the government look bad," he said. "And they didn't like it."

The import of Foiles' guilty plea was not lost on Chuck Delaney. He is the organizer of Game Fair, the nation's biggest outdoors expo held annually in Anoka, Minnesota. He had scheduled Foiles to give seminars there in mid-August.

In the past Foiles always drew a crowd. However, Delaney canceled him for 2011.

"We try to keep our image as clean as we can," Delaney says, "and I just decided it wouldn't be proper to promote him."

Foiles was furious.

"I have praised Game Fair across the USA for years," he fumed in an e-mail to Delaney, "and I get canceled without a call??" He asked supporters to communicate their displeasure to the organizer. Dozens did. But Delaney held firm.

Those who know Foiles agree that he's fiercely loyal and demands loyalty in return. Says Denny Marschuetz: "Foiles is the kinda guy that, if he knew you, and saw you fall in river, he's going to try to get you out. But there's another side to him that's not that way. He holds grudges and stays angry and carries resentments."

In August 2011 Foiles ordered employees to cut off all contact with "Big Sean" Hammock.

Hammock, who worked for Foiles from 2005 to 2009, says the feds leaned on him for months to rat out his former boss, but he resisted. He even relocated to Minnesota.

Early one morning two agents showed up at his doorstep. They gave Hammock one final chance to avoid indictment. So Hammock relented and answered their questions, securing immunity.

That might have been bad enough, but to Foiles, Hammock had gone to the dark side: He launched his own company, Big Sean's Championship Calls.

In a September court filing, Foiles accuses Hammock of throwing him under the bus to steal his customer and sponsor lists. (Hammock denies doing this). Foiles wasn't about to turn the other cheek.

In 2010 Hammock discovered something odd: Someone had already purchased the domain name "Bigseancalls.com" — and that site rerouted customers to Foiles' website. When Hammock mailed his former boss a cease-and-desist letter, Foiles responded with a text: "Game on!"

Foiles put on notice any staffers who were still "buddy-buddy" with Hammock.

"He is not anything but an enemy...," he e-mailed. "So I'm not dealing with that crap lightly any more. It shows complete disrespect for the company that you are staffing for!!!"

But while the fallout from the criminal case against Foiles destroyed many friendships, no one in his inner circle suffered more than 40-year-old Travis Wood.

Wood had been a "pro staffer," or Foiles Migrators representative, in Utah. And after Foiles' indictment, yet another YouTube video surfaced. This one apparently featured Wood floating a fourth shell. (It too is nowhere to be found online.) Linking Wood to his employer, online commenters chastised him without mercy.

On January 23, 2011, Travis Wood committed suicide. Foiles quickly set up a way to donate to Wood's widow and young daughter, but not before venting some fury on his website:

"To all the axemurdering pieces of sh*t on the other forums who bashed and brought nothing but stress/slander daily to Travis in the recent weeks...hope you all burn."

Foiles wrote more the next day. "[Travis] was having a really hard time with the fact people would take the time of their lives to destroy him!! Believe me I know what that pressure is!! I'm getting it 10 fold!! So yeah I understand his pain!!

"Did any of you think of how it feels when your family reads all this crap on the internet over a bird???"


At Foiles' sentencing in Springfield on September 21, U.S. Magistrate Judge Byron Cudmore asks the hunter whether he wishes to make a statement. Traditionally, this is when defendants offer an apology.

Foiles declines.

"Your Honor," he says to a nearly empty courtroom, "I don't wanna say anything, to be honest. I don't want to say something wrong, or be criticized for anything I say."

The judge announces he will approve the plea deal. He further decides to place a muzzle on Foiles: The offender cannot make "disparaging comments to or about" anyone involved in this case.

"I'm a hunter too," Cudmore says. "Been a hunter all my life. Hunting is a privilege, not a right. And you have abused that privilege to a great degree."

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