He reminds Foiles that he cannot shoot birds for three years. That in itself, the judge says, is "a true punishment for a true hunter."

After the sentencing, Jeff Foiles retires to a corner pub and orders an iced tea — per his probation, he's required to seek treatment for alcohol abuse and refrain from drinking.

He's asked how it feels to skip a season after hunting the last 48 in a row.

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 like they took your dog away," he says.

A month later, on October 19, Foiles greets a reporter at his Pittsfield shop looking tan and fit, having just returned from a vacation in Florida. He doesn't mention it, but today, he's being sentenced in absentia in Canada.

(Within hours, a judge in Edmonton, Alberta, will accept his guilty plea to five hunting violations and one count of cruelty to animals, fining him $14,500 and banning him from hunting in Canada for three years.)

He gestures to the stuffed geese mounted high on the walls of his show room. "These were all legal," he jokes.

Foiles points out the north wall of his store, where letters from kids are taped onto the wall. "Dear Jeff," wrote one eleven-year-old. "Thanks for teaching me everything about goose hunting." Slipping on wraparound sunglasses, Foiles exits the shop and hops in his Chevy Silverado. He zooms down to the former D&J Duck Club in the Mississippi River bottoms. He recently sold the property for $1.14 million. He didn't have much equity in it yet but was able to use what he had to pay off his $100,000 federal fine.

He rumbles out to one of the pits surrounded by flooded corn. Decoys are already set up for this year's waterfowlers. He points to the corner of the pit nearest the river. "This is where I spent most of my time, right here," he says.

He retreats back to his truck and climbs in.

"It's tough," he admits with a pained smile. The duck club required tremendous effort to maintain, so in a sense, he's relieved: "I'm glad to have a break from it, but when you build something like that..." He shakes his head. "It's tough."

Denny Marschuetz normally smokes cigars outside. But on the day federal agents met with him, he felt too jittery to resist. "When they laid this out on my conference room table, I lit a cigar and said, 'Holy shit. You guys have done your homework.' They knew things about hunting trips that even I didn't remember."

By that time, the feds had grown too insistent to ignore. The businessman demanded immunity. But the agents didn't need to depose him, Marschuetz says. They only needed him to confirm certain facts.

Afterward, he wanted to write Foiles a letter, but his lawyers discouraged him.

At the end of the day, he says, he wishes his old friend peace. And he'll always remember the good hunts.

Like the sunny day that Jeff Foiles, Burdette Foiles and Marschuetz set up near a small lake off Highway 96 in Calhoun County.

"We were just drinking coffee, telling stories," Marschuetz recalls.

Then they looked upward and gaped: Some 1,500 ducks were migrating almost a half-mile over their heads.

"So Foiles starts blowing his call," Marschuetz says. "And his dad starts calling with his mouth. And it took about 30 minutes, but those two guys called all those ducks down in a tornado. It was the most overwhelming sight of nature I've ever seen in my whole life. We were so overwhelmed that it had happened, we were never able to hit one. You talk about something that should've been on film!"

Yet no camera crews covered the action that day, Marschuetz says.

"But you know, that's fine. It was just fathers and sons, hanging out. Like it's supposed to be."

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