Until January of last year, when a federal judge fined him $4,500, confiscated $15,000 worth of his equipment, and banned him from hunting anywhere in the world for five years, Thomas Venezia specialized in bagging waterfowl. Venezia was a hunter and guide in his mid-forties who operated out of Williston, Vermont. A virtuoso with duck calls, decoys, and shotguns, he was able to draw down entire flocks of geese flying a thousand feet overhead. Once the birds were within range, he could kill them with shots that other hunters wouldn't even attempt, sometimes using spectacular, almost instantaneous pivots of his shotgun to dispatch birds flying toward him, head on. "He's brilliant," says Bradley Carleton, an expert hunter who assisted Venezia on several hunting trips. "No question. His focus is extraordinary. I've never met anyone who was that obsessed."
Because of his obsession, for much of the 1990s Venezia was the subject of a wide-ranging investigation involving local police forces and federal agents from the United States and Canada. Events came to a head in September of 2000, at the start of duck-hunting season, when Venezia went to Saskatchewan for a six-day hunting trip with Richard Perry, a client he had previously worked with and whom he considered a friend. In fact Perry was an undercover agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and what he chronicled during those six days in the field reads like a parody of hunting excess. While watching Venezia kill approximately 350 birds, ranging in size from pigeons to a sandhill crane, Perry documented 230 potential hunting violations. The charges against Venezia included using illegal ammunition, shooting from a moving vehicle, killing protected species, and failing to recover downed birds. According to Perry, during the trip Venezia announced that he had the "K chromosome." "I love to kill," he said. "I have to kill."