Fallin' Skies: Jeff Foiles busted for illegal hunting

Rock 'n' roll hunter foiled by his own videos

Over the next two hours of One Over the Limit, Foiles reveals his folksy roots. He gushes about eating 15 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."

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.

Jennifer Silverberg
Foiles pieces together one of his custom bird calls at his workshop in Pittsfield.
Jennifer Silverberg
Foiles pieces together one of his custom bird calls at his workshop in Pittsfield.

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.

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 ol' 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's 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.

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