Dawn burns pink into Canada on September 10, 2007, and a duck is about to get its head blown off.
Rock-star waterfowl hunter Jeff Foiles and three buddies lie on their backs in a stubbly hay field. They're wrapped in layout blinds, which resemble straw-covered sleeping bags. As they peek their heads out and quack with calls, beckoning to the birds above, three ducks respond and glide within range.
Foiles lets loose his signature command: "KILL 'EM!"
He blasts his shotgun at the middle bird, spraying guts and feathers into the morning light. The duck's head helicopters away while the body sails down with a thwump. One hunter giggles.
Foiles addresses his clip-on microphone. "Folks," he intones, "Fallin' Skies 5 has just begun." This was exactly the footage he wanted.
Over the past decade, 54-year-old Jeff Foiles of rural Illinois minted his own style of whack-em-and-stack-em hunting DVDs. He makes them to create buzz for his most lucrative products: Duck and goose calls, or reeded whistles that sportsmen blow to attract winged migrators. (Some Foiles calls sell for as much as $170.)
Foiles isn't the only call-maker to market himself thus. Phil "The Duck Commander" Robertson of Louisiana and Fred Zink in Ohio both produce videos, which might include a severed head or limb — after all, shotguns aren't gentle tools. All such entertainment amounts to avian-death porn, at bottom. But there are degrees. Jeff Foiles and his fans unapologetically favor hard-core.
Fallin' Skies 5, released in May 2008, was a three-hour murder fest set to crunching heavy metal. Earlier volumes of the series introduced Foiles as an earnest outdoorsman. By this fifth volume, the transformation was complete: He'd become a brash, hard-driving, all-American badass bird assassin.
"We're gonna see if we can't shoot their beaks off," Foiles boasts to the camera at one point, his chiseled, goateed face streaked with camo paint. Later, he quips that an upcoming hunt "will be a bloodbath, and you'll need blood goggles."
Seasoned hunters will admit that they, too, laugh after a kill — less in mockery than as a relief valve for the tension that builds before an ambush. To some, Foiles' laughter in Fallin' Skies 5 seems darker. He amuses himself by shooting wounded birds already on their way down. He even taunts his prey — some dead, others still alive.
And that's only the footage selected for the DVD. Certain parts were edited out. Such as the end of that hunt in Canada. On camera, Foiles tallied up the bodies. "Got eight," he said, acknowledging that he can't shoot more by Canadian law. But he wasn't ready to stop.
He asked his cameraman, Paul Sawyer: "Do you want to shoot?"
"You keep going," said Sawyer, who didn't possess a hunting license. "We'll make some good movies." And good movies they made. With the camera rolling, Foiles proceeded to kill eight more ducks that day — twice his legal bag limit.
About a week after the DVD's release, federal agents raided Foiles' shop in Pittsfield, Illinois, seizing that footage and more like it. They soon managed to convince many of his closest associates to testify against him in exchange for immunity.
By January 2011 Foiles had been indicted in the United States on 23 felony counts and in Canada on additional criminal charges, including cruelty to animals. All of the charges stemmed from his hunting activities. Much of the evidence against him had been captured on film, unwittingly, by his own crews.
"Basically, the way the government has portrayed Jeff is that he is the spawn of Satan," Foiles' attorney, Ed Fanning, said in early September. "They're setting an example. He's become the Martha Stewart of duck hunting."
Indeed, Foiles' many supporters insist he's the victim of a federal witch-hunt, which has overshadowed his good deeds: He's donated his merchandise to soldiers overseas, his time to youth waterfowl camps and his money to Ducks Unlimited — a conservation nonprofit.
But even by his own admission, Jeff Foiles screwed up. Now he's facing the consequences.
Says his former business partner, Denny Marschuetz: "Wherein this tragedy lies, 99 percent of the time he hunted legal. There were definitely violations. But in the end, what got him was his bold arrogance."
In hunting, men may change tactics, but nature never does.
Each autumn, frigid weather in Canada drives waterfowl south along four broad "flyways" through the United States. One route follows the Mississippi River. In the heart of this flyway, right before the Illinois River drops into her mighty sister, the waters carve out a narrow peninsula above St. Louis that's rippled with ridges and forest. Here, three generations of Foiles men looked skyward for sport, and for supper.
A century ago, when Jeff Foiles' grandfather Merlin tramped across these hills and riverbanks, folks referred to a plump harvest of birds as "the strait meat."
These days, Foiles uses "Strait Meat" as his own personal brand (he sells "Strait Meat" calls, hats, shirts). But for him it's more than just a description of a good day in the field. It's an attitude. "Strait meat" hunting eschews fancy tactics in favor of bread-and-butter fundamentals — skills he had to master in the geography of his youth.
As birds descend the Mississippi flyway each hunting season, they grow hungry and exhausted. So they scan below for areas to rest and feed — particularly wetlands. If they find a honey hole, especially one already flush with their noisy peers, down they come.
When Foiles' father, Burdette, was born in 1926, sportsmen lured ducks down by "baiting" — scattering grain on the soil or water surface. Some hunters would even trot out a group of live, tame ducks — tethered to the river bottom — to simulate a flock in mid-feed.
But by 1935 the federal government had banned such methods. And shotguns, under the new law, could only be loaded with three rounds at a time. To bag a bird, you had to excel at three things: spreading out fake decoys, blowing a call and hitting a target before it flaps away.
Burdette Foiles taught his young son to wield a shotgun in the early 1960s by allotting him only one shell at a time. It sharpened the boy: On his first hunt, Jeff downed two canvasback ducks with a single round. He was six years old.
Blowing a call didn't come so easy. The quacks and feeding chuckles of real ducks are hard to mimic. Foiles also labored to heave out enough air to tickle the ears of migrators hundreds of feet up. So the old-timers he hunted with forced him to the back of the blind until he had the oomph to blow his primitive device.
During this dark age of waterfowling, an army-green jacket was the best you could do for camouflage, Foiles recalls. The rubber boots of the era, he swears, "made your feet colder."
Most crucially, the terrain was ill-suited for hunting. The publicly funded wildlife refuges that stud the river today didn't exist yet. Landowners couldn't afford to waste their fields of feed corn by flooding them up to the ears to attract travel-weary ducks.
Instead, Foiles and his mentors toughed it out on the banks of bristled river islands, huddled in blinds heated by bucket fires.
"It's a wonder I didn't end up hating it," Foiles muses.
For a brief moment in 1993, Jeff Foiles was dead.
It happened on a sweltering day at the Wood River Refinery, where Foiles, then 36, was toiling as an ironworker. His second wife, Andrea, and their infant son, Cole, were back at home near Hardin, Illinois, and Foiles was down in a hole tying rebar. He felt odd.
He staggered outside to his pickup and started driving through the parking lot but passed out from heat stroke. In the emergency room his breathing stopped completely. He woke up confused several days later in an Alton hospital.
He soon regained his senses, but something had stirred inside him. He decided to "get more serious" about the sport of his youth. As he convalesced, he began an informal apprenticeship at Horseshoe Lake near Cairo, Illinois. Duck club owner Greg Masterson schooled him in the arts of call making and guiding.
"He was willing to learn, and he was very aggressive," recalls Masterson. "He was quite the go-getter."
He resumed ironworking but started tinkering with his own calls, mixing and matching the best parts of his favorite models. Then he began taking orders, which led to more orders. Demand swelled so quickly, Foiles had to sacrifice lunch breaks and sleep just to keep up.
In 1999 he took the plunge: Leaving union work behind, he devoted himself full-time to his new call company, Foiles Migrators Inc. He and his wife ran it out of their damp stone basement, which they nicknamed "the dungeon." They dubbed the first two calls the "Strait Meat Mallard" and the "Strait Meat Honker."
Foiles yearned for his own duck club — a private farm with the land and crop set up to entice migrating flocks. Luckily he knew someone who did, too: Denny Marschuetz, a chatty south St. Louis native with a construction business and a fondness for cigars.
When Marschuetz voiced his interest in buying land, Foiles mentioned a 144-acre tract available in Pike County, Illinois, just off the Mississippi River. In 2002 they signed the papers, and the D&J Strait Meat Duck Club was established.
Marschuetz marveled at his friend's work ethic. Foiles was at full-throttle, darting to trade shows across the country. A tireless self-promoter, he soon back-slapped his way into sponsorship deals with big industry names such as Winchester Ammunition and Benelli.
In 2004 Foiles himself won a prestigious goose-calling contest in Katy, Texas, blowing on one of his own models.
"At that time, his calls were winning just about every contest you could think of," says Mike Niles, who holds a respected contest in Hoisington, Kansas, every five years. "It was a sound and style that was really popular."
Foiles Migrators Inc. had grown so large by 2004 that its owner built a 9,000-square-foot complex north of Pittsfield, complete with a show room and warehouse.
His timing was perfect. By 2005, the Mississippi Flyway was far and away the most active in the U.S. With more than a half-million active hunters bringing down about 6.5 million birds per year, it had reached roughly twice the magnitude of the Central Flyway, its closest rival, which runs along the Rocky Mountains.
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.
"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.
As the feds built their case in the fall of 2007, Foiles gathered raw footage for Fallin' Skies 5 — and in so doing, compiled the very video evidence that would be used against him.
In Alberta, Canada, on October 17, he picked up a fallen duck trying to waddle away. He wrenched its neck around until the animal faced him. "Look at me when I'm talking to you," he joked, smacking its head a few times. Before killing it at last, he played ventriloquist, moving its beak while making quacking noises.
The next day he slapped around a different duck. He cupped an empty shotgun shell box down over its head, playing peekaboo. Then he plugged the duck's nostrils with his fingers and held its beak shut, asking, "Is this how you want to die?" The cameraman told him to just kill the thing, which he finally did.
Part of the hunting community's ethical code of conduct is the concept of the "clean kill," says Michael P. Nelson, an associate professor in both philosophy and wildlife studies at Michigan State University. In a "clean kill," the hunter ends the animal's life as fast and efficiently as possible.
Really egregious breaches of this code, Nelson says, "go to the core of our ethical being. Our collective 'yuck' factor kicks in."
Other hunting regulations, however, are so technical that they don't appear at first to be grounded in morality, Nelson continues.
Take bag limits. Each spring the federal government sends planes piloted by biologists along a precise grid over waterfowl breeding grounds in upper North America. By crisscrossing a combined 80,000 miles, they record enough data to estimate bird populations. They plug those figures into more calculus, and out spits a proper daily limit, which conservation officials sitting on flyway councils must ultimately approve.
A bag limit looks like a cold number, Nelson suggests. But it represents "a commitment to other humans" and an agreement "to share nature's bounty." Shooting over the limit isn't so much an affront to an animal, or to an arbitrary statute. It's an affront to other hunters, and to the pact they've made with each other. In a word, it's greedy.
On a snowy December 15, 2007, Jeff Foiles and his crew at D&J Duck Club scored some great footage out in the hunting pits. But they also filmed themselves shooting well over the bag limits — and trying to cover their tracks. Foiles was required by federal law to keep precise records of the bird harvest at his property. But the clip shows Foiles actively falsifying it.
"Boys," Foiles announces, "as bad as I hate to say it, I think we are done."
Then an idea strikes him. He turns to his son-in-law, Jason Munz: "Does your brother hunt?"
"He doesn't have his license," Munz replies. Then Munz suggests another option: "McMurtrie didn't go today."
"OK," says Foiles. "McMurtrie's killing his limit today then." As the camera rolled, he instructs Munz: "Call McMurtrie and get his license number." With the license number, they could pencil a proper entry in their official log to denote that McMurtrie had killed his limit — even though he wasn't there.
At the time of his recorded misdeeds, Foiles was entangled in a nasty divorce with his second wife, Andrea. They were dividing up more than $2 million in assets, from farm acreage to Harley-Davidsons.
And just a month before before the incriminating footage was shot at D&J Duck Club, family tragedy struck there.
On November 5, 2007, Foiles, his teenage son Cole and his 80-year-old father Burdette went for a hunt. After putting the ATV away, the elderly man said he wasn't feeling well. As he was starting up the stairs to the club trailer, the old man collapsed in cardiac arrest.
Foiles came running, and Burdette died right there in his son's arms. Foiles would later call it the worst thing he ever lived through.
"I didn't walk up them steps for the rest of the year," Foiles says.
It was already a tense time at the duck club, recalls partner Denny Marschuetz. Foiles' personality had changed as he struggled to adapt to fame: "If you go from being an ironworker to everybody wanting your autograph, that's hard."
The duck club had been transformed into Foiles' personal fiefdom.
"It got so bizarre up there that none of my associates would go," Marschuetz remembers. "He controlled every hunt, where you shot, when you shot. You couldn't bring any duck call in blind but his duck call. It was ridiculous."
Late in the season, Foiles asked if he could borrow Marschuetz's beloved black Lab, Junior. The businessman had forged an unusually tight bond with the dog (and had spent $25,000 to acquire and train him). He agreed but asked Foiles to be careful.
The next day Foiles texted the bad news: A duck had swooped low in front of the pit. Junior crashed into the icy water a bit early. Foiles accidentally shot Junior in the back of the neck, killing him.
Marschuetz was crushed — and bitter.
"There are no 'accidents' in shooting dogs," he says. "That's negligence. I'm sorry, but that's what it is. He was shooting at a duck he shouldn't have been shooting at."
Yet the matter wasn't quite over: Within a couple days the veterinarian mailed Marschuetz the bill. Foiles later apologized and paid it. But the friendship had disintegrated. Foiles ultimately bought out Marschuetz in April 2008.
"Financially it was fair," Marschuetz says of the split. "But emotionally it was devastating. This wasn't the same man I'd hunted with back in 1995."
By early 2008 Foiles had a hunch that the feds were sniffing around, which he confided to "Big Sean" Hammock, his jack-of-all-trades employee. Hammock had an inkling why. The 29-year-old now freely admits, "I did stuff with him I never should've done."
One day that May, Hammock was trimming weeds outside the shop in Pittsfield when he noticed a fifteen-vehicle fleet of black SUVs and green trucks approaching. Federal agents climbed out of the vehicles flaring badges. They immediately called him by name, telling him he was needed for questioning.
"They knew everything," Hammock says.
Foiles arrived in short order. The agents interviewed him, then left with business records and a hefty chunk of raw footage.
That evening Hammock drove down to Foiles' home in Pleasant Hill. "I was worried sick," he says. "Jeff was scared to death, he's crying, we're both looking at each other like, 'I don't know what to do.'"
Over the next two-and-a-half years, federal agents pressured Foiles' associates to roll on him. Foiles hired a private investigator to keep tabs on who was saying what to whom.
"Some of these [informants] didn't have ill intentions," says Ed Fanning, one of Foiles' three attorneys. "I think they were threatened. If you feel your freedom or your family is at risk, you're going to do what you feel is necessary."
However, he suggests: "Some people did have ulterior motives."
By 2009 Foiles had hatched a theory, later proffered by his lawyer in the divorce case. The hunter believed that his estranged wife, Andrea, had started the whole thing. She'd become romantically linked to Foiles' former employee in the field, Mark Carey. (After parting ways with Foiles, Carey launched his own bird-call company, Fowl Obsession.)
Federal prosecuters deny this version of events. Foiles' ex-wife, who has since remarried and is now Andrea Nicolay, did not respond to requests for an interview. Carey declined comment, saying only, "I wish the man the best."
On December 10, 2010, prosecutors in the Central District of Illinois slammed Foiles with a 25-page indictment. They charged him with conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and Federal False Writings statutes. In order to capture better footage for his videos, they alleged, Foiles routinely killed more birds than allowed by law and fibbed in his club records to hide it.
The total indictment against him: 23 felony counts.
On the same day he pleaded not guilty, January 27, the Canadian government accused Foiles of shooting over his limit on several occasions and committing two counts of "causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal."
The hunter posted a statement on his website: "Jeff Foiles, an American sportsman, respects the law." He added that he "appreciates the patience and understanding of friends, sponsors and supporters....Thanks again and PLEASE PRAY FOR OUR TROOPS!!"
On June 23, 2011, Foiles logged into his website — and gloated. "After years and months of trying allegations," he typed, "I can finally say I feel vindicated."
Foiles and the government had at last struck a deal. Prosecutors would dismiss the indictment, and the hunter would plead guilty to far less — only two misdemeanors.
"If you're facing 23 felony counts, usually the government is not going to let you walk away without a felony conviction," said Foiles' attorney, Ed Fanning. "I don't think it panned out as big as they had hoped."
The sportsman didn't skate by any means: He agreed to pony up a $100,000 fine and serve thirteen months in prison. Upon his release, Foiles would be banned from hunting for two years. He would also be forced to record a public-service announcement, urging others to avoid his misbehavior.
In the plea, Foiles copped to shooting over his limit on three occasions — once by sixteen birds. He also admitted that on nine different dates in 2007, hunting parties at D&J Duck Club killed too many waterfowl. He was present for most of the incidents. Some were guided hunts that earned him a profit. But every single time, it was Foiles himself who cooked his books at the duck club to make everything appear kosher.
"I totally admit I did that," Foiles wrote in his June 23 statement. But he hastened to shed some light on the over-bagging.
"Ninety percent of the time it was a pure adrenaline rush," Foiles contended. Plus, dogs often find cripples at day's end, he pointed out. That will nudge a group's total harvest into illegality. "More than not," he concluded, it was "an honest mistake."
Prosecutors begged to differ. They argued in a September pleading that Foiles "was not merely an individual who got caught up in 'fast and furious' action and accidentally shot in excess of his daily limit." The raw video taken at the duck club from December 2007 proved that his law-breaking was at least partly calculated.
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.
"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.
"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."
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.
"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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