Thursday, September 29, 2011

Well-known American hunter appears in Edmonton court on wildlife charges

This from Edmonton CTV
Sep 14, 2011 
A well-known American hunter, who is already facing fines and jail time in the U.S., is also in some legal trouble here in Alberta. Jeff Foiles appeared in an Edmonton courtroom Wednesday on charges under the Wildlife Act and the Criminal Code.
Foiles is known for a series of hunting videos under the name "Fallin' Skies." 
He pleaded guilty to eight charges under Canadian law, which included causing unnecessary pain and suffering to a bird. 
The following is from Michael Sabbeth, who has been thinking, teaching and writing about values, morals and ethics for many years. He attended our recient Think Tank II and made the following comments on reactions to the Foiles incident. I post the following with his consent:
Consistent with several themes propounded at our meetings at McGraw, I read and re-read the email correspondence regarding the Jeff Foiles incident. I share my thoughts on this disgraceful event.
I begin with references to three emails: one from Phil, one citing Martin  and one from Ed.
Phil wrote, in part:
“On the heels of our discussion of hunter ethics at McGraw, the "Jeff Foiles incident" broke in the news. I don't know if you are following this, but it is a major black eye for all hunters.”
Ed wrote, in part:
“I devote many days and long nights having moralistic discussions with fellow hunters about improving our hunter image and how to "sell" hunting to the non-hunting public as being morally right.”
And the quote citing Martin is:
“Martin Sharren, vice-president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, says Foiles gives ethical hunters a bad name." Unfortunately, people will look at this guy and say 'That is what hunters do',"
I address each of these statements. I draw different conclusions and would slightly modify those expressed by Phil and Martin and I elaborate on Ed’s statement.
Jeff Foiles’ contemptible behavior does not create a black eye for all hunters. His behavior creates a black eye for Jeff Foiles alone if not primarily. As I articulate more fully below, the only way Foiles’ behavior becomes a black eye for all hunters—indeed, for any hunter other than Foiles—is if, by our use of self-destructive rhetoric and self-deprecating preening, we allow the rest of the world to believe that we believe our collective eyes have been blackened.
If I learned my neighbor abused his child, it would not be a black eye on me or on all parents in Denver. Or in Colorado. Or in the USA. It is a black eye on my neighbor. Of course, I, as a citizen, should exercise whatever legal and moral power I have to punish that neighbor and eliminate his ability to hurt any child again. But my eyes are not blackened and, to the contrary, I weaken and diminish myself and my moral authority by making the assertion that they are blackened.
Thus, Foiles’ vile behavior gives black eyes to himself and, I readily admit, to those hunters and advertisers and promoters that buy and / or market his products and / or who revel in his work. But not to all hunters.
Certainly Foiles does not make hunters ‘look good.’ That belabors the obvious. I know what Phil is saying, but I spent a lot of time with Phil and we discussed many topics in depth. I know he rejects the implications of the ‘black eye’ theory. It’s just that the notion that ‘it makes us all look bad’ is such an easy default expression. That’s why we have to be careful with out words.
My point is that we gain nothing, morally or intellectually, by being defensive and self flagellating. Those are responses based on some perverted notion of collective guilt and the consequence of allowing emotion to trump intellect and reason. Foiles’ behavior blackens our eyes only to the extent we allow our eyes to be blackened.
We gain nothing by internalizing and owning Jeff Foiles’ unethical behavior, which we do by asserting that all our eyes are blackened. We will not be looked upon more favorably by the rest of the world if we concede a collective negative consequence to each of us as a result of the actions of one individual. To the contrary, we will look weak. We will appear to lack conviction in the strength of our morality and our ability to discern the vile from the ethical. More, we will look pathetic.
We gain no moral authority, no greater positive image, by berating ourselves and ascribing to the argument that the actions of one man tarnishes, demeans, corrupts or defames the actions of millions. Such an argument and such a mindset, are, dare I be blunt, insane and suicidal. They must be stopped.
One aspect of our response to the Foiles behavior, thus, should be a confident: “So what?”
If a person notified any of you, breathlessly panting, that an automobile driver somewhere in the United States didn’t stop for a school bus and hit a child crossing a street, I imagine your responses would be something like, “That’s terrible. So what do you expect me to do?” If the speaker then told you that your eyes, as a driver, are now blackened, you’d probably have some unkind words for the messenger.
This is not a matter of derisive flippancy. It is a matter of inquiring about the logical consequences, implications, resultant duties and impact on our ethos caused by Foiles’ behavior.
We can ask questions, of course, and, indeed we have a duty to do so. But the questions have to be prudent and aimed at productive resolutions. What policies, if any, would remedy the situation? How much control and limitation of freedom should be inflicted on millions as a consequence of one person harming a few birds? You can figure out more and better questions.
Ed wrote about his laudable efforts to “improving our hunter image and how to "sell" hunting to the non-hunting public as being morally right.”
Ed’s proposition was extensively discussed in our McGraw meetings. I summarize my answer to Ed’s proper inquiry: we ‘sell’ hunting etc through honorable behavior and by linking hunting to the larger issues of personal independence, conservation, liberty, game management and risk taking. The Foiles incident must be treated in an intellectually and morally credible manner but once that is done, all consequences and implications flowing from the disgraceful event must be founded in practical reason, not in emotion.
Let me be clear, as a current US political leader might say, Foiles’ behavior is beneath contempt. He has violated technical hunting laws which, presumably, have merit, and, infinitely worse, he has thuggishly and contemptibly, in Nazi-like fashion, inflicted pain and torment on helpless living things and derived pleasure from doing so. Foiles fulfills my definition of evil.
It impresses me, for whatever it’s worth, that the punishment imposed on Foiles is absolutely appropriate and just. More severe punishment would not bother me. However, let us keep in mind a sense of perspective and proportion. The punishment imposed on Foiles is, in a sickeningly number of instances, greater than the punishment imposed on drunk drivers that cause less than fatal injuries and greater than imposed on many persons convicted of burglary, robbery, assault, child molestation and fraud.
According to one email, “Martin Sharren, vice-president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, says Foiles gives ethical hunters a bad name." Unfortunately, people will look at this guy and say 'That is what hunters do',"
I addressed the ‘gives ethical hunters a bad name’ allegation above in my comments about the black eye charge. My remarks here address the “that is what hunters do’ comment.
People will say and think ‘that is what hunters do’ approximately only to the degree we do not make our case that hunters, in an overwhelming majority of instances, do NOT do those things. People will believe, ultimately, what they want to believe, based on biases and prejudices and history that they have assiduously cultivated or that may be wholly unknown to them. Some people are beyond the point of reason and, thus, facts and truth have no impact. That’s life, and it would be a fool’s errand to try to alter the beliefs and perceptions of those people.
If we are to take up the challenge of influencing and negating the perceptions and stereotypes sprouted by the behaviors of the several Foiles in the world, our actions and our rhetoric must be prudent, forceful, focused, harmonized and unrelenting.
I do think we should respond in our own way and in our own venues to Foiles’ offensive behavior. By ‘we,’ I mean each of us personally and with our colleagues and on behalf of our organizations and their constituencies.
So, what do we do? How do we respond? Our responses should have several shared themes and arguments. Here is just a brief list comprised of ideas that leapt immediately to my mind:
·        First, our response must be measured and thoroughly analytical and fact based. Our statements should include a concise narrative of the facts, as we know them, including details of the crimes, the punishment, the behavior of the majority of hunters and the punishment inflicted upon those that commit other unrelated crimes.  
·        Second, I think the golden rule of ‘less is more’ applies: we don’t need an pontificating exegesis on hunting ethics to permeate every news outlet and website.
·        Statements should assert our moral authority by expressing our moral outrage at Foiles’ actions.
·        We should advocate policies that create disincentives for such behavior including swiftly and unambiguously imposing punishment for such behavior.
·        Statements must emphasize that few hunters act that way and
·        We must create a context for this kind of event. We should ask, in a rhetorically persuasive manner, who else gets held to such a high standard of behavior? We should challenge audiences with questions such as what other classes of human activity are purer or devoid to a greater degree of malevolent behavior? Driving? Hardly. Parenting? I wish. Political leaders? If only. Athletes? Yeah, right. You get the point.
Based on my anecdotal evidence, I would not be surprised to learn that there are fewer unethical hunters per the hunting population than there are unethical automobile drivers per the driving public.
My overarching point, if you will, is that hunters and shooters and sportsmen/women must stop acting defensively. We must stop using the rhetoric of guilt and apology and defensiveness. We will be given no moral credit by our opponents for self-inflicted and self-effacing posturing.
We must fight the easy tendency to make concessions to collective guilt by making glib admission that all sportsmen are tarnished and that all eyes are blackened. Such language creates a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy: if WE say we are all tarnished and blackened, than we give legitimacy to hunting opponents to proclaim that all hunters are tarnished and have blackened eyes. In brief, by such a mindset, we provide the rationalization for our own destruction.
Ironically, unless our rhetoric is prudent and disciplined, the consequence of our noble effort to be introspective and to acknowledge and then extricate unethical actors from within our midst will be to thoroughly empower the people already inclined to be against us and enable them to add new members to their cause.
If we legitimize the irrational musings of non-thinkers and biased thinkers and uninformed thinkers, we will undermine ethical hunters and the sport far more effectively than the anti hunters ever can.
Michael G. Sabbeth, Esq.


  1. I wouldn't consider Jeff Foiles a real hunter. Kind of sad seeing all of his merchandise still being sold in sporting good stores.

  2. I have to admit that I have fallen into the mind set that every individual hunter's illegal or unethical actions tarnish us all. I much appreciate Micheal's thoughts on why it is important that we don't let that happen.
    I suspect all the stats on falling hunter numbers, barriers to recruitment, etc have created a feeling that we are an oppressed minority and if anyone of us fails to walk the straight and narrow we become further endangered. My take is as long as miscreants like Foiles are the small minority and we are secure in that belief, we should not fell threatened by their behavior. But if his behavior is closer to the norm, then we are in trouble - as well we should be.
    Having been a Game Warden for many years it is easy to see the dark side of hunting. Working in hunter education and now at Orion has restored my faith in hunters. I agree we should stand tall, admit we have some bad apples and focus our words on the individual's failure - not on hunter's as a group.


    Alberta fines U.S. sportsman $14,500 for videotaping animal cruelty

    By Ryan Cormier, Postmedia News October 19, 2011

    Jeffery Foiles, 54, of Illinois posed on camera with a half-dead duck, manipulating its beak and making quacking noises.

    Jeffery Foiles, 54, of Illinois posed on camera with a half-dead duck, manipulating its beak and making quacking noises.
    Photograph by: Supplied,

    EDMONTON — An American sportsman who sells videos of his bird hunts has been fined $14,500 for illegal practices and cruelty to animals during trips to Alberta.

  4. There appears to be a move about, that appears to be targeting the younger hunters ( teens early 20's)...Very notable on waterfowl videos and now on versus (outdoor TV). Everything seems to be Extreme! Extreme goose hunting...deer hunting the whole ball of wax.
    Wild music (which I've never heard in the woods)...and some heavy duty shooting( with some poor remarks from the so called pros). I think it is rather troubling when some guy in a Winnebago rides around (doing what he calls hunting) and gets it on National TV! My response is simple...I do NOT purchase or endorse the use of products that advertise on these videos or shows and I let the sponsors know that!. Unfortunately, just like professional ball, hunting is being used the same way...sell sell sell! and only WE can change the tone.

  5. Annon 11/6 - I agree, voting with your wallet can work eventually. Speaking out is another way. Orion board member Randy Newberg's "On Your Own Adventures" is showing the hunting TV folks that real hunting can be entertaining and profitable. Supporting that kind of programing can also help.

  6. This post is an interesting follow up to this story from the River Front Times: Hunting Ethics: After Killing a Thousand Ducks, Can You Still Respect Them?
    By Nicholas Phillips

    In the article Dr. Michael P. Nelson, an associate professor in both the philosophy and wildlife departments at Michigan State University says:
    "In our system, endangered populations matter, for example, but we don't know what to do about the moral standing of individuals.

    ​So we say things like, 'You don't torture animals,' and 'You don't ridicule them on film' and 'You shoot to kill, not to wound.' We say a lot of things that seem to be inclusive of non-human individual animals.

    But we still find troubling those systems of thought [such as some forms of veganism] that suggest that animals have direct moral standing.

    So my main argument is, I don't think our philosophy of these things is very mature at this point. We don't how to put these things together."

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