posted on November 14, 2004 00:00
Expect a bright opener, uplanders
Friday, November 5, 2004
While waterfowlers continue to argue about their season dates, Illinois upland game hunters should be happy someone didn't get the bright idea to send them into the field last weekend.
High winds last Saturday would have made for a most unpleasant upland opener - as pheasant hunters who visited Iowa last weekend can attest. Harvest reports for the Hawkeye State were down for opening weekend, owing largely to the wind and to an abundance of standing corn.
Good news for Illinois uplanders is that standing corn will not be a major problem Saturday, when pheasants, quail and rabbits become legal game. Despite the recent spate of rains, corn harvest in Illinois is 86 percent completed - 94 percent in central Illinois.
More good news is that populations of those grass-loving species appear to be up from last year. Surveys by the Department of Natural Resources show a modest 11 percent gain for pheasants, numbers similar to last season for quail and impressive gains for rabbits.
"The rabbit index was up 17 percent statewide. That's up to where it was in about 1996," said upland game biologist John Cole.
A less formal survey by my hunting buddy The Farmer shows more impressive gains. A ditch adjacent to fields he farms now holds two pheasants and two coveys of quail. Last year's count showed no ringnecks and one covey - which mysteriously disappeared the one day we attempted to hunt them.
Similar anecdotal evidence fueling upland optimism comes from various sources in and around Peoria. Fairly typical is a report from a Mason County pheasant habitat area, where a recent visitor found abundant pheasants and a large covey of quail.
Any population gains are more a product of consecutive mild winters, not additional habitat. But there's even good news on the habitat front for quail hunters - a group whose numbers are dwindling rapidly.
A new government program is being offered to landowners with a specific goal of helping bobwhites - a species that has seen better days in Illinois and nationally. This latest Conservation Reserve Program, Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds, is designed to idle field edges, prime habitat for quail.
While impacts of the program won't be seen for years, at least it indicates recognition of a problem.
Another indication of the problem is that the number of bobwhite hunters has dwindled from 75,000 in the 1990s to just 30,000 last year. While that can be explained in part by the declining numbers of quail, participation by rabbit hunters also reached a low point last year of just 64,000 - half the 129,000 who hunted bunnies in the early 1990s.
Interestingly, numbers of pheasant hunters have been more stable despite fewer ringnecks in the field.
Pheasant and quail season runs through Jan. 8 in the North Zone and through Jan. 15 in the South Zone. Rabbit season lasts through Jan. 8 in the North Zone, through Jan. 22 in the South Zone.
Dove season also reopens Saturday through Nov. 14.
The daily bag limit is two rooster pheasants, eight quail and four rabbits. Hunting hours are sunrise to sunset.
PUBLIC DEER: Who says there are no big bucks on public ground in Illinois? Certainly not Ed Kruzan of Canton. Kruzan, 46, shot an impressive 12-pointer on Oct. 16 at a public area better known for ducks.
"I didn't think there was anything that huge in there," Kruzan said. "This is the biggest one I've seen during a hunting season. And I just happened to be close enough to shoot."
The Fulton County buck is expected to score between 170-180 inches and to qualify for the Boone and Crockett Club's record books.
Kruzan shot the buck from 7 yards while standing along a deer trail. "He's my 18th deer I shot while still hunting," said Kruzan, who has been bowhunting for 27 years.
Kruzan said the buck was about four minutes behind a doe using the same trail. In the past few days, bucks have been running much closer to does.
"I've seen some bucks chasing does, but they're not really on them yet," Kruzan said. "They're just pushing them around a bit and pushing other bucks."
That's a sure sign that the rut is rapidly approaching. Many observers expect the next week to be the peak of archery season, owing to forecasts calling for cold temperatures and the temporary insanity that takes over breeding bucks.
DUCK SURVEYS: Tuesday's aerial survey showed 219,205 ducks along the Illinois River. That's nearly 30,000 above the 10-year average, even though the mallard count of 100,590 was 10,000 below average.
Making up for the mallards were gadwall (34,060), pintails (31,210) and green-winged teal (28,040), all of which were present in above-average numbers.
Major concentrations of ducks were at Chautauqua (52,650), Jack Lake (30,500), Hennepin-Hopper (28,420), Goose Lake near Henry (26,125), Douglas Lake (22,800), Grass Lake (18,400) and Goose Lake near Peoria (12,600).
For complete survey information visit www.theramp.net/inhswaterfowl/page4.html
Goose hunters are reminded Sunday is the last day to shoot honkers in the first segment of the Central Zone season. Goose hunting resumes Nov. 16 to Jan. 13, or until hunters in the Central Illinois Quota Zone reach their allotment.
By the way, the latest survey of southern Illinois showed a mere 450 Canada geese.
FURBEARER SEASONS: Hunting and trapping seasons for raccoons and opossums opened today in the North Zone. Trapping is also legal in the North Zone for beaver, skunk, weasel, mink and muskrat.
DEER LAWSUIT: The Illinois Farm Bureau reports that a group of Illinois outfitters filed a federal lawsuit seeking to eliminate a cap on out-of-state archery deer hunting permits.
A group called Illinois Recreational Resource Organization Inc. and two outfitters filed suit against the Department of Natural Resources. The suit alleges there is no biological basis for limiting the number of non-resident archery hunters in Illinois.
This year the 15,000 non-resident bow permits sold out on the first day they were made available.
Outfitters across the state have been complaining loudly that they lost business due to the cap.
ET CETERA: The state announced that Spoon River State Forest is now the official name of the property it was calling the Ives Unit of Snakeden Hollow. ... Applications for the new late-winter firearm, antlerless-only deer hunting season are due next Friday. ... Fox hunting season opens Wednesday statewide and runs through Jan. 31, though it is closed during firearm deer season. ... Fishing hours at Wildlife Prairie State Park are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through mid-December.
JEFF LAMPE is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org