Giant Goose Ranch

The News Outside

Midwest Summer Fishing Report, Dale Bowman , Jul 21

Ticks are becoming growing problem, Jeremiah Haas, Jul 19

Lake Iroquois Huge Fish Kill, Kenya Ramirez, Jul 19

The Science behind Fish Oil Supplements, NPR Illinois, Jul 19

Redear Sunfish Record, Dale Bowman , Jul 19



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Recent entries


Through the Lens

Mississippi Valley Duck Hunters of IL Celebrates 50 Years

Wed, June 13, 2018

If you are looking for some great waterfowl related fun this coming weekend - a visit to the Quail Club in Belleville is order.  MIssissippi Valley Duck Hunters of IL will be hosting a day long celebration of their 50th Anniversary that includes a calling contest, retriever demos, waterfowl related vendors, raflles, food and lots of other fun activities.

Mississippi Valley Duck Hunters of Illinois (MVDH), a bastion of waterfowl conservation will celebrate its Golden Jubilee on June 16th at the Quail Club in Belleville, IL.

The Golden Jubilee celebration will feature a calling contest as the centerpiece of the day, food, waterfowl hunting related vendors, youth clay bird shoot, retriever demos and all things related to waterfowl conservation hunting.

Founded in 1968 by group of concerned pool duck hunters who felt that if they banded together as a group the could have better voice in the setting of regulations and conservation of waterfowl on Illinois public lands.

From the onset MVDH mission has been to insure that public land waterfowl hunting opportunities exist for “Average Joe” duck hunters.  Bob Bitters, a founding member who is still an active member explained that MVDH first “project” was blind allocation in IL public hunting areas, especially the Mississippi Pools. “We worked hard, and often it was not pleasant because folks were pretty divided on the issue, and these were our friends and fellow hunters that we were going up against. But, we stayed at it until we have the blind draw system that hunters know and understand today. When we first started out once you had a bind, it was pretty much yours for life, but that system wasn’t fair to new hunters.”

Equal opportunities for public land hunting, enhanced opportunities for public land waterfowl hunting, and conservation of water waterfowl have been the common thread throughout the fifty years that MVDH has served waterfowlers throughout southern and southwest Illinois. Although the bulk of the projects over the years have been within a several county radius of St. Clair County and the club’s home base in Belleville, they have no specifically designated service area.  If there’s a need, MVDH will do their best to help enhance waterfowl hunting throughout the state.

Funded by membership dues, outstanding community wand waterfowl industry support, along with various fund raisers such as the annual Call Auction, Chicken and Beer Dance, gun raffles, MVDH has long been known for being generous with other conservation related groups such as Delta Waterfowl, Duck’s Unlimited, Whitetails Unlimited and various youth events.

The contributions to water fowling as we know it Illinois by Mississippi Valley duck hunters have been many over the years. “We’ve always been an issue related club” said 50-year member Jim Marten.

Some of the most notable contributions have been working to move from private blinds on public land and the creation of the blind allocation system (blind draws) that exists today.

MVDH duck hunters were also the driving force behind the removal of permanent blinds at Carlyle Lake in it’s earliest days, and the enacting of the boat blind only regulations.

MVDH were instrumental in the creation of early teal season as we know it today. The first teal season was originally an experimental season in the late 60’s.  After that first experimental season, MVDH felt strongly that a teal season was doable, and in turn in 1970 formulated a survey that was distributed hunters that dealt with attitudes, number of teal seen, number of teal confused with wood duck – a survey like those often used by INHS in our current hunting environment. By collecting mass amounts of data and presenting a well thought out proposal during a public meeting with then IL Department of Conservation, Teal season was reinstated and has grown into the season we know and enjoy today. 

Many old timers can remember when the days hunting on public land ended at 12 Noon. Again, MVDH used their ability to gather data and work with the waterfowl community to enact a change in shooting hours from noon until 1 PM.

The contributions of MVDH to the world of waterfowling in Illinois can be seen throughout public land hunting areas, city parks, refuges and other public lands. The club has purchased and installed concrete goose pits for several public land hunting areas and provided seed to IDNR waterfowl management areas during the budget impasse to ensure that areas were still planted during the dark days when no seed or supplies could be purchased.

Perhaps one of the most notable and enduring projects of MVDH is their nest structure project. The club builds and places anywhere between 30 and 40 nesting structures throughout public areas, including municipal parks and refuges. The club also builds multiple nesting structures for other species such as song birds and squirrel feeders which are often bundled with seed from their seed program to make “Habitat Packages” that are extremely popular at local conservation group fund raisers.

It’s fairly safe to calculate that MVDH are responsible for several thousand nesting structures that have been placed in public areas over the clubs 50-year history and installed the first nesting structure ever placed at Carlyle Lake.

MVDH meet the fourth Wednesday each month at The Quail Club in Belleville, IL at 7:30pm and meeting most usually feature a guest speaker in addition to the regular business meeting. New members are always welcome and interested parties can visit a meeting to get a feel for the organizations and its missions and goals. President Kip Schneider encourages all interested parties to pay a visit or to contact him for additional information at 618-530-0911.  Information about the club can also be found the Mississippi Valley Duck Hunters of Illinois Facebook page.

In upcoming issues of Heartland’s orint version, we will take a deeper look at some of the most notable historic conservation actions spearheaded by MVDH and will hear the tales of the Blind Reallocation Wars, the formation of Carlyle WMA as we know it today, and the birth of teal season in IL


Elderberry Blossoms are Bursting Forth!

Wed, June 06, 2018

I’ve been watching my elderberry patches for a few weeks now, just waiting on them to get to full bloom so that I can grab some of the wonderful fragrant flowers.  Folk tales abound about the heady scent and magical properties of the elder flower.  This website has a great three part series on elderberry folklore.

Most folks think of harvesting the berries in the late summer for jelly, juice, syrup, wine – but the flowers are an equally tasty treat.

With all wild harvesting, make certain that you are indeed harvesting elderberries. I have seen the newcomers to foraging confuse them with queen Anne’s lace and various hemlocks and other wild roadside, ditch line, and creekbank plants that have large white umbel type flower heads.  As always correct id and safety are paramount.

Much of the elderberry plant is toxic (the leaves and unripe berries contain cyanogenic glycosides that get converted to cyanide upon ingestion), but the flowers and ripe berries have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for years.

Something else to keep in mind when harvesting elderflowers – don’t be greedy. If you harvest all the blossoms, you won’t leave anything to produce berries, and you want those berries to come late summer. Thankfully, elderberries are prolific producers of blossoms.

Harvesting elderflowers is best done early in the morning, when pollen and nectar are at their highest.

For use in the kitchen, just grab some big buckets or I prefer brown paper sacks - a set of small shears and and nip off the just the blossom. If you want to leave a small length of stem for ease in handling, just remember that the stem can be toxic, so you don’t want any big pieces of it in of your culinary creations.
Nothing seems to quite say early summer like an elderflower cordial, especially when made into elderflower lemonade – it’s quite the refreshing treat!

Elderberry blossoms are among the most fragrant of flowering shrubs; the scent hanging heavy on cool dewy morning is almost magical. They are also extremely prolific producers of pollen. This cordial incorporates just sugar, water, a little lemon in making this cordial, you’ll be combining these wonderful properties with sugar and a little lemon, that creates an elderberry flower-infused simple syrup that you can be diluted to your preference as a summer drink, in summer cocktails, or even used as a substitute sweetener.

You’ll need:

30-60 elderberry flower clusters (depending on flower cluster size)
7 cups water
4 lbs. sugar
3 lemons
cheesecloth or mesh strainer

To make this elderberry flower syrup, collect 30-60 clusters of elderberry blossoms.  Much of the flavor in this cordial comes from nectar and pollen, so collect flowers on a sunny day, not immediately after a rain, and choose flowers that aren’t past their prime and starting to turn brown or dry
Don’t rinse the flowers under water after harvesting. Rinsing will wash away exactly what you after – the pollen and nectar. Give the heads a few good shakes and any little bugs that might be hiding will come right out.

Next, create a simple syrup of water. Bring 7 cups of water to boil on the stove, remove it from the burner, and then add a 4 lb. bag of sugar, stirring until it is dissolved completely. Allow the simple syrup to cool for a while. If you add the elderberry flowers to hot liquid they turn an ugly, unappetizing brown.

My test for temperature to add the elderflowers is if I can hold my hand on the side of the pot without it being uncomfortably hot.  Once you are satisfied that the simple syrup has cooled, begin picking the flowers into the syrup. Remove as many of the larger stems as you can, but don’t think you have to pick off each flower one-by-one (that’s just too tedious for any of us!). Any tiny, tiny stems that make their way into the syrup won’t contribute any significant amount of toxin.

Next, slice thin 3 lemons, and add to the syrup.

Place the elderflower syrup mixture into the refrigerator, and leave it there to steep for 48 hours, stirring/shaking occasionally. I place it jars for ease of storing in the fridge during this process and to be able to give a periodic shake to fully mix things.

After two days in the fridge, strain the syrup through cheesecloth into cleaned and sterilized jars. Keep refrigerated for use over the next few weeks. I have found that much longer than six weeks and it starts to ferment. Some recipes for elderflower cordial call for the addition of citric acid to prevent fermentation; I can’t say that I have found this to be needed, but if it makes you feel better toss in 2 tablespoons of citric acid to the mixture.

For longer term storage – I have successfully frozen it in ice cube trays.  I have not tried canning it – although it might be possible to can the way you can any simple syrup.
Once you have your syrup – you can use it to make one of my favorites, Elderberry lemonade!

To make Elderberry Lemonade mix about 3-4 Tablespoons of the elderflower cordial with a pint of water (or adjust to your preference for sweetness). You can also make a lovely summer cocktail by simply adding 1 or 2 tablespoons to some tonic water and your favorite alcohol or white wine



New Illinois State Record Shortnose Gar

Sat, June 02, 2018

MADISON COUNTY - Illinois has a new record fish – a shortnose gar caught on May 27 on Horseshoe Lake in Madison Co. by Donald Lawrence of St. Louis, MO. The fish was certified by IDNR Fisheries Biologist Fred Cronin at 6 lbs., 15.2 oz. (previous Illinois record shortnose gar was 5 lbs., .96 oz. from the Vermilion River in 1999).
Anyone who has followed me for very long at all knows that I have such an affection (perhaps affliction?) when it comes to gar and the other prehistoric fish.  I really want anglers to stop viewing gar species as the enemy and start seeing them as a great sport fish. Gar are good!

You can imagine my excitement when I received the email from our Fisheries Chief Dan Stephens announcing the new hook and line record. Not only is this a new Illinois State hook and line record, it may well qualify for a North American record as well when looking at the NAFW HOF listing in the records book. It’s not currently known at present if the angler will be pursuing that record as well.

Angler Don Lawrence, of St. Louis, Missouri generously provided IDNR with photos and narrative.

“I purchased a fishing kayak in 2013 and I caught my first gar (longnose) on July 13, 2013 on Creve Coeur Lake and have been hooked (pun intended) on fishing for gar ever since. I’d never seen a gar before and when you get up close and personal, they are really quite formidable. Gar are long, slender, covered in fish scale armor plating and have mouths full of sharp pointed teeth! They are very powerful and will put up a great fight, if you can hook them. A hooked gar will often launch itself completely out of the water, shaking its head violently trying to spit the hook. I’ve lost more than my share of fish during this exciting and slightly dangerous time. In my opinion, gar are one of the best fighting freshwater fish.
My fondness for catching gar usually leads me to Horseshoe Lake in Madison County, Illinois. This old Mississippi oxbow is full of shortnose and spotted gar. As an additional bonus, the IDNR stocked the lake with alligator gar in 2016. The world record for alligator gar is 279 lbs.!! I’ve been hunting for ‘gator gar but have not come across one yet. I’ve had the best luck on this lake using cut bait or whole shad suspended a foot under a bobber. It’s exciting to watch your bobber zip across the lake then submerge as the gar chews on the bait. When fishing in this manner, you’ll need to be patient. Gar like taking their time and will chew a bait for a few minutes before swallowing. Most people do not eat gar, but they can be quite tasty. It’s worth a try. Gar are not deserving of the “trash/rough fish” label. They are apex predators and have not changed in millions of years; plus, they are a blast to catch!”

What I find most fascinating are the photos of the knife sheaths, and the preserved gar heads. I’ve just recently embarked on learning how to tan gar hides and have hopes of making a quiver by seasons end. I am firm believer in using every bit of anything I harvest, especially when it comes to these fascinating fish. While I have preserved gar heads seemingly everywhere around here (perhaps the gar skulls on the porch posts deter riff raff visitors?)  – mine are not quite as nice looking as Mr. Lawrence’s, so you can bet that I will be reaching out to Mr. Lawrence soon in hopes he will be able to give me some hints and tips.

Remember when you hit the water this year – Gar are good! The are great fun to catch, very tasty to eat, and a very useful fish; from the tasty meat, to hides, to scales. Please stop breaking their jaws, bashing their heads, and in general considering gar “trash fish”. They really are an amazing fish!



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