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Through the Lens

Southern Illinois Aerial Waterfowl Surveys Delayed

Sat, November 16, 2019

Hunters have been voicing frustration with the Hunting Digest for several months. Thankfully digests shipped this week and should currently be in the hands of DNR site offices, staff, and vendors. But another frustration has surfaced for waterfowl hunters. There have been no southern Illinois aerial waterfowl surveys performed yet. South central season opener has come and gone and south zone opener is looming on the horizon.

Hunters who routinely check the weekly survey results, and use them as tool have been frustrated since late October. Usually the flights for the southern region begin around the the last 10 days of October.



Not this year.

Hunters aren’t the only ones frustrated. DNR site staff have been bombarded with the question, ” Where are the survey numbers? Are they doing the surveys? ”  along with the months long refrain “Are the hunting digests here yet?”.  Unfortunately, the staff had no answer to give users.

I reached out to Randy Smith Wetland Wildlife Project manager for IDNR in hopes of getting some clarification to when the survey data might be available for southern Illinois hunters.

According to Smith:

“The state initiated a new procurement system in 2019. We anticipated delays to contracts such as aerial surveys (southern, west-central and northeastern Illinois), and began our internal process a month sooner than previous years, but delays have still held things up. Additionally, Federal Aviation Administration approval procedures for low-level flights changed and DNR nor our survey pilot was aware of the change, further adding to the delay.

We anticipate those approvals clearing any day now, and will begin conducting surveys and posting results as soon as we are able.

As a reminder, the purpose of conducting these surveys is to monitor populations, long term trends in waterfowl abundance and habitat use and to assist in making management decisions. The surveys also serve as a great resource to hunters for scouting and migration tracking, but that is not their primary function. Thus, DNR has a great interest in completing as many surveys as possible as well; each survey missed leaves a hole in our dataset, and we are equally frustrated with the situation.”





I for one appreciate that Smith was willing to answer my question, explain the situation. Rather than feel angry and frustrated with IDNR, I can understand that sometimes despite everyone’s best efforts things just go awry. This seems to be one of those situations.

My frustration however remains with the failure of IDNR to effectively communicate the delays and snafus in a timely manner. We understand that mistakes can happen, that things can go awry. Just be up front and tell us.

The delay of the printed copies of the hunting digest is perfect example. Once it was determined that a reprint of the digests would be neccesary, simply issue a statement telling constituents that there would be a delay and give them an expected date. At the very least, keep site staff informed so that they are not placed in the awkward situation of having to say “I don’t know”.  Same with the aerial surveys.



As I have always said to IDNR -  Just Talk to Us. It’s frustrating that we have to keep uttering those four simple words. Communication is key. Public perception of IDNR continues to decline into the negative region. Constituents continue to feel disenfranchised and left out. Frustration in getting even the simplest of questions answered runs high. So my plea to IDNR once again is JUST TALK TO US. Get out in front of issues, problems, let us know what’s happening.

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An Open Letter to Non-Resident Hunters

Fri, November 08, 2019

It’s that time of year – as I drive through the local public land hunting areas it seems that I see more out of state plates than I do those from Illinois.  I seem to be encountering more strangers and non residents in my wanderings of public land. Sometimes the encounters are pleasant and friendly, sometimes they aren’t.

I’m probably more open minded about non resident hunters than many, I do travel to other states for fishing, hunting, etc. So, in those places, I’m that darned non resident out of stater that’s invaded the neighborhood.

I also recognize the economic benefits and tourism dollars that non resident hunters bring to many small rural communities. Those are appreciated as well. 

Yet – there are still issues involved with the visiting hunters so in an effort to help those visiting to hunt; I’ve put together this open letter. Who knows, I may even get brave and start dropping a printed copy on few windshields in the coming days and weeks.

Dear Non-Resident Hunter;
First and foremost, welcome to our neighborhood. We love our natural resources here, and feel very blessed to be able to live in such close proximity to such wonderful outdoor assets.  We can understand why you find our area such an attractive place and a place that you would want to visit.

We are happy to talk with you and help you find the best places to find groceries, to eat out, to buy gas, snacks and supplies.  We are happy to help you understand those confusing areas where private and public land are patchworked together to help you stay on public land and avoid any unpleasant confrontations with unhappy landowners and lease owners. We are happy to lend a hand if you hit a snag, have an equipment failure or problem. Get to know the folks who live in the communities where you come to hunt. Be friendly!

Just talk to us – we don’t bite!

Because this our home, because we spend so much time traversing the land, volunteering, doing conservation work, lobbying for various regulations and laws we do feel very protective and sense of ownership of sorts about our public lands. 

We ask that you respect and value our lands as much as we do.  Take the time to learn the regulations for the site where you are hunting and follow them.  Leave no trace. Just because you’ll be gone in a week doesn’t give you free reign to leave your trash and leftovers behind, ignore our rules and regulations. Leave our lands as nice or nicer than you found them.

Don’t hog up and clog up roadways, boat ramps, campsites, parking areas – it is public land and we all have to share. Take your turn at the ramp, get to know others in the parking lot.. Speak up and say good morning – it will help to avoid any conflict over who is headed where later on down the trail.
Be aware that while you may be here chasing a big whitetail, that same piece of public land may be open to upland hunters, squirrel hunters, coon hunters – hikers, bikers and kayakers as well. No one is intentionally setting out to ruin your hunt, they are just trying to enjoy that same piece of public land that you have traveled here to enjoy.

With those things in mind – there are some things that we don’t find all that enjoyable about some visiting hunters, and we would hope you would avoid being “one of those out of state jerks” that unfortunately we seem to encounter each year.

Remember, you are a guest here. A visitor here. Yes, indeed we are well aware of how much your non resident tag cost you. We get that you drove for hours, paid a high price for your tag, only have x many days to get that giant IL monster.  None of those things though entitle you to any preference or special treatment.  Those of us that are local have put in our share of time and money for our hunt experience as well. Please don’t assume that because we are local we can hunt anywhere anytime. That just isn’t the reality for many resident hunters.

Please don’t shout at us about how much money you have spent, how you are “saving” our little one horse town and how valuable you are to us. We spend our dollars here everyday and work hard to keep our little “one horse hicktown” viable throughout the year. We do appreciate the added economic benefit from visiting hunters, but again – it does not entitle you to be arrogant, rude, controlling, or lord it over us. This is our home. We are not quaint, we are not here for your entertainment, our lifestyles and homes are not fodder/subjects for your Instagram account. We live our lives here. Our culture might be different, but that doesn’t make us easy targets and subject to your derision.

Try to refrain from looking down your nose at those “redneck hillbilly locals”. News flash, it’s those same “redneck hillbilly locals” that will be the ones saving your fanny if you have problems while afield.

Please don’t assume because your stay here will be short that your behavior doesn’t matter. Be courteous. Stop and think – would you like us to waltz in to YOUR home hunting area and hang a stand right next to yours? Have a plan A, plan B, Plan C heck even a plan D – you are hunting public land and the time you spent online scouting and deciding which would be your best place, well it may be taken when you get there.

Hands off our stuff. That means don’t fiddle with, don’t swipe, don’t remove, don’t use any equipment that you find located in your hunting area.  If you find a unoccupied stand or blind that you think you would want to use look for the owners information that should be attached. Contact the owner.  Don’t just hop in it under the guise of well it was here and it’s empty so I can use it.

Please don’t threaten to shoot my hunting dog.  I am hunting too. The area is open to me and my dogs, and we will do our best to not interfere with your hunt, your area, but the dogs will follow their noses. Screaming at us and threatening to shoot our dogs will never have a good outcome for anyone.  Remember, we are local and likely have our local Conservation Police officer’s phone number on speed dial.

Please don’t crowd property lines. Private land owners do not have to give you permission to recover your deer if it goes down on their property. Private landowners are under no obligation to move their stands, blinds, or accommodate you in any way.

Please be mindful of where and how you dispose of your carcasses. We do not enjoy finding them rotting in the roadside ditches, tossed over the fence into our pastures, and at boat ramps.  Ask the site staff for the best place to dispose of your carcass. Please consider if you only want the head and cape for a trophy – donating the rest of the deer for the hungry. Again, the site staff can help you find information about how to negotiate the donation process.

Most importantly, keep safety foremost in your mind – be aware of what’s on the other side of that thicket, at the top of the ridge line, or below you as you sit on the ridgeline. No duck hunter appreciates a deer slug whizzing by their head from the ridge line above. Carefully study the hunter fact sheets and maps to determine if there will be other activities (including non deer hunting hunting activities) , structures, etc nearby.

Again, we welcome you – we just ask that you treat our natural resources, local hunters, and communities with the same courtesy and respect you would expect from us when we visit your neighborhood.

Happy Hunting and we wish you a successful and enjoyable time in our beautiful state.

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What Do the Numbers Tell Us?

Thu, November 07, 2019

Now more than ever the R3 movement is steamrolling throughout governmental agencies and conservation. We have multiple programs, activities, and events solely aimed at Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation of hunters.

We know hunter numbers are dropping – but have you ever given much thought to the actual numbers in Illinois?

I recently became involved in conversation with a fellow waterfowler who said he simply didn’t believe it. Where he hunts, the crowds and competition for public land hunting spots just continues to grow each year.  Similar conversation with a few deer hunting friends.  These anecdotal observations didn’t seem to jive with all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth about our declining hunter numbers, and the vast sums of money being spent to address that problem in Illinois. 

So, off I went in search of some those hard numbers and found a wealth of information on the DNR website.  If you have the time – make a visit to https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/LPR/Pages/IDNRLicenseCounts.aspx

The information there will alternately anger you, possibly confuse you, and if nothing else, make you think and ask your self why the numbers are what they are. What can you as a hunter in Illinois do to improve our numbers? In truth, I’m still trying to unpack the numbers that came up in some of my searches and reconcile them to admittedly anecdotal information. Some seem to make zero sense. Yep..I’m still trapped in the search and filter part of this particular rabbit hole.

Here are few interesting tidbits I pulled out while perusing the data available.  What are your thoughts on these numbers, and what do you think they are really telling us?



 

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