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Recent entries


Through the Lens

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?



Is EHD Rearing It’s Head Again?

Fri, October 04, 2019

It’s that time of year again in some parts of Illinois. The reports start showing up on social media, in gas station discussions, and as archery hunters begin to hit the woods.
“found another dead deer in the creek.”  “There’s a dead deer just at the edge of my pond. What do I do? “

Likely as not, the dead encountered was a victim of EHD. While northern IL has been inundated with rain, fighting saturated ground and some flooding issues, it’s been a completely different picture in other areas, especially southern Illinois where things are in a drought status.

I reached out to IDNR to get some hard numbers for this year’s EHD cases or reports, but at the time of writing, still no info has been forthcoming.

According to IL DNR, EHD is a viral disease, spread by biting gnats, which can cause high fever and severe internal bleeding in deer. While often fatal to deer, EHD is not hazardous to humans or pets. EHD-like symptoms in cattle have been reported where EHD has been confirmed in deer. Cattle can be successfully treated with medications. EHD is often confused with bluetongue, a similar disease that can affect sheep and cattle.

EHD does not impact deer populations evenly across the landscape. A mixture of deer combined with the presence of the virus and midges (biting gnats) that transmit the disease between deer are necessary for an EHD outbreak to occur. Heavy deer mortality can be observed on one property or in one area, while the property just the road will be hardly affected.

EHD affects bucks as well as does, adults as well as fawns and yearlings, though individual deer vary in their susceptibility to the virus. Some deer become infected and will be dead within 48 hours, while other deer will be minimally affected. Survivors of infection develop immunity to the virus. Dead deer are often found near water sources such as lakes, ponds, or streams, though a deer carcass found away from water is also likely to have succumbed to EHD.

EHD-related mortality occurs every year, but becomes more severe during droughty conditions. Limited water sources concentrate deer near exposed mudflats (lots of those left behind from receding floodwaters ) resulting from receding water levels. Midges hatch from these exposed muddy areas, resulting in abundant insect populations.
There is no effective management treatment for this disease. EHD outbreaks end when a heavy frost kills the midges necessary for transmission.


Il residents and landowners are advised to report any dead deer they find if the cause of death is not immediately attributable to accident, road kill, etc.

There are couple of ways to do this. The first is to contact the IDNR Biologist for your county. That information can be found here.

Another option is to use the online reporting form found on the IL DNR whitetail deer website. Just as aside – if you are using the online reporting form, it does include an option to include a photo. That is helpful to biologists if you can photo the deer when you find it.  Another aside – I have no idea where the online report actually ends up or how often they are collected and monitored.

Once upon a time we were encouraged to report to our local CPO. Let’s face it, those guys are covered up, it’s not a law enforcement issue, and they will in turn have to contact the local biologist, so just cut out the middle man and report to the biologist or use the online form.

The online form can be found here.

As additional resources, here are two good fact sheets and references :

Let’s us know dear Heartland friends and community – what are you seeing and hearing about deer in your neighborhood this fall?


Rend Lake Resort

Mon, September 23, 2019

Yesterday was a typical late September pre-dawn visit to Wayne Fitzgerrell SRA.  “Fitz” as we local like to call the park is favorite spot of mine – even more so this time of year as the leaves start turn, the fall bite on Rend starts to heat up and the deer and turkey start to show us what lies ahead for hunting in just a couple of weeks.

The early morning anglers were putting in at Sailboat Harbor – likely to look for crappie or catfish along “the rocks” of the IL State Route 154 bridge and causeway.

I had to wait a few minutes to turn into the park – several pickup trucks with dog boxes and beagles headed to the Goshen Trail Beagle Club event had the right of way.  Just on eo the many sporting dog events frequently held at Fitz.

I was scurrying just a bit – one eye on the sky and trying to calculate just how many minutes I would have of the pinks and oranges that were coloring up the eastern horizon. The smell of wood smoke from early breakfast campfires wafted out of the campgrounds. Young and still too nosy for their own good deer scampered around the edges of fields and across the road.  A flock of turkeys meandered across the road – quite unconcerned that they were costing me those precious few minutes that we photographers have to work with at sunrise and sunset.

As I rounded the bend to Hickman’s Point ramp – I couldn’t have been happier. Great sky, and two pleasant gentlemen and couple of boats at the well-maintained docks just added extra interest to the typical morning scene at Fitz.

As I sized up and shot frame after frame following the change in the quality and amount of light, I couldn’t help but be a little sad. Despite the flurry of early morning activity in the park – looking across the water at the now shuttered and empty resort, conference center, boatel and cabins – I was stuck by the emptiness of that portion of the park. When it was still open and operating it would be bustling at dawn – filled with field trailers, anglers, those just enjoying the beauty that is sunrise at Fitz. Wildlife watchers, walkers, folks heading out for a day on the water or the bike trail; all enjoying the special moments of early morning, eager to get the day of activities at Fitz underway.

Yesterday morning it was silent, empty and quiet. A blue heron and white egret having a little territorial tiff and a lone bald eagle circling were the only sign of activity.
As quick as it started, the sunrise photo op ended so I decided to drive around to the abandoned resort area and see what I could see.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of general care. Peeling paint, untrimmed weeds, even the barricades blocking the entrances looked sad and abandoned.  I did have to smile a little – the wildlife seemed quite unfazed by the neglect – perhaps even a little happy about it. A family of fat racoons waddled away from a couple of overturned trash cans at the hotel, along with a happy go lucky skunk trundling around grabbing grubs.  Two turkeys seemed fascinated by their reflections in the patio doors strutting and gobbling and I can only guess trying to figure why that other turkey just wasn’t responding like they expected.  Fat fox squirrels chased and rambled around the roof lines and disappeared into a few spots around the roof edges. As I drove over to the one famous Flagship boatel to see how things were looking – I noted a several groundhogs happily plundering the landscaping and then they quickly disappeared under the foundation edges when I got too close for comfort. There were at least a few trucks and boat trailers in the weedy parking lot – a sure sign that boat ramp there was indeed still being utilized.

Still in all it was sad sight. I remember they hey days when any other Sunday morning would have found the joint just a jumping with activity.  Slowly the sadness I felt began to smolder into anger.

It will soon be three YEARS since the facility abruptly closed following the 2016 Directors Hunt that was held there.  At the time of the abrupt and sudden closure DNR cited multiple factors – “IDNR has several concerns about the condition of the buildings at the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center.  Mold, peeling paint, and other potential health and safety related discoveries led the Department to have safety concerns for visitors to the resort…The lease termination follows a notice from IDNR to Rend Lake Resort, Inc. last month that the firm was delinquent in rent and related lease payments totaling more than $205,000.  The IDNR is also of the understanding that the operator owes $14,000 in real estate taxes, $21,000 in utility payments, and $47,000 in hotel operator’s taxes.” Said IDNR in press release announcing the closure.

Since that fateful day in 2016 multiple requests for proposals have been issued by IDNR – each one announced with fanfare and alluding to the fact the resort would be open, up and running very soon.  Each time, no bids have been received. Each subsequent RFP has seen a little more in the way of incentives. Prospective vendors cited the high cost of mold remediation – so IDNR poured thousands upon thousands of dollar in mold remediation – nope that wasn’t enough, still no vendors. The next RFP saw a 1 million incentive added – nope still no takers. The most recent RFP (that is currently on its third extension and still no takers) increased the dollar incentives to 1.5 million total and gave prospective vendors the option to take on only a portion of the resort – such as the Marina, or the bar/restraunts instead of the resort as whole. Still as of today, with an October 3rd deadline looming, there have been no bids received.

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth, there have been some good ideas and concentrated efforts on the part of local tourism officials and politicians to bring in vendors but nothing that has resulted in any meaningful progress.
So, there it sits, continuing to deteriorate. So much so that one of the boatels has required demolition already. The specter of the recently burned Eagle Creek debacle hangs in the air and makes me wonder – Will Rend Lake Resort ultimately go the route of Eagle Creek?

Will it continue to sit empty and uncared for until it’s simply no longer feasible to re-open? I hope not, I sincerely hope not but I can’t seem to put my finger on anything that IDNR is really doing to remedy the situation.  I understand that in the current lean financial times it hardly makes sense to pour money into closed facility for maintenance and upkeep but on the other hand just allowing it fall into ruin doesn’t seem sensible either. Should IDNR perhaps explore operating the resort on its own while continuing to search for an adequate vendor or vendors to operate the facility?

Essentially, it’s time for IDNR to either fish or cut bait. Either renovate, open it, and make it the once vital region economic engine that the resort once was or give up now and just remove it all and redevelop that area of Wayne Fitzgerrell SRA. Reopen the ramps and docks that are closed – and just realize that the glory days for a resort at Rend Lake are over.


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