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Recent entries


Through the Lens

Making Squirrels Great Again

Thu, August 01, 2019

Let’s face it squirrel hunting – that long held traditional way to build hunters and woodsmen has fallen from grace.

R3 and hunter recruitment programs bypass the lowly squirrel in favor of focusing on large game, turkey, waterfowl, and in the process miss out on the critical foundation building that squirrel hunting provides not just young hunters but any new hunter.

Squirrels are not glamorous. There aren’t Squirrel Pro Staff positions. No Squirrels Unlimited conservation groups. Squirrels and squirrel hunting seem to have lost its “cool” factor. Folks don’t seem to see three or four squirrels on your belt or in your vest as the same quality “trophy” as a big buck, a tom with a full fan, strap full of greenheads. The squirrel has been relegated to lowly little rodent “tree rat” status, and that’s extremely sad. 

Generations of us began our lifelong love of hunting and being afield as wee little ones tagging along with grown-ups or the “big kids” roaming and learning about the forest, it’s inhabitants, how to read sign, how to be safe, how to feel successful in bringing home supper all from squirrel hunting. How many of us can remember the excitement of saving all our squirrel tails to send in to Mepps in exchange for that little bit of extra money? How many of us remember just how proud we were that Mom fixed a great supper of squirrel, biscuits, gravy, and sliced fresh from the garden tomatoes all because we were able to bring home that meat?

Squirrel hunting sets the stage not just for children, but for any new hunter to develop strong hunting and woodmanship skills.  Hunting requires a basic skill set: patience, persistence, self-discipline, camouflage and stealth. The ability to read and understand the signs of your quarry, the ability to read and understand the rest of the landscape around you.  Whether it’s a 200-inch buck or 2-pound red squirrel, the basic skill set needed is the same.

In my experience most of the really good hunters and woodsmen that I have come to know all started their time afield trundling along as a wee little one hunting squirrels. That basic foundation of gun safety, stealth, reading the surroundings, was all built in a hot, buggy, late summer woods.

I say – let’s make squirrel hunting great again! I say let’s go back to building those lifelong foundations of hunting and woodmanship skills by making an individual commitment to taking our youngsters and new hunters squirrel hunting this season.  You just might realize how much you miss those long-ago days when you traversed the woods chasing Mr. Bushy Tail.

I spoke with Dwayne Durr, a certified hunter safety instructor along with Jill Fox, a Mom who gets her youngster outside at every chance about why squirrel hunting works especially well for the young and new hunters. Both were in agreement on the key reasons:

1. Chance for success is high. We know that if youngsters are not successful harvesting game, seeing game, interacting with game the odds of them wanting to stick with it are just about zip. Squirrels are plentiful. While there is the learning curve of proper shot placement, the opportunity for available shots that lead to success is high. Because the chance for success is high it helps to build confidence and gives young ones the chance to proudly bring home supper for the family.

2. There are more opportunities for squirrel hunting. There are no Quality Squirrel Management Areas. No special fees, tags, permits, lotteries or drawings to hunt squirrels. They are found here there and yon. There’s not a packed parking lot at the local SFWA with squirrel hunters all vying for just the right spot. Any reasonably managed piece of public can and will produce squirrels. Landowners who would never grant permission to someone to hunt deer, turkey, or waterfowl on their property often will allow a squirrel hunter to make the occasional foray through the woodlot or along the fence row.  Especially if the little bushy tails have been sneaking into mama’s garden from the fence row wrecking the tomatoes and stealing all her pears.

3. More tolerable weather.
Yes, it can be darned hot, humid and buggy. However, hunting early in the day or on towards evening goes a long way to solve those issues. It’s hard to keep a young one interested in the outdoors or hunting if they are freezing cold and miserable or bundled up to the Michelin Man degree of roundness and can’t move. Done squirrel hunting for the morning? What the heck throw in a quick, barefoot, rolled up pant leg, wade in a creek for cooling off and just a little more fun in the woods before heading home.

4. Low entry investment. It doesn’t cost half the family coffers to get a young one set up to squirrel hunt. Study boots/shoes, lightweight pants and shirt (worn thin hand me down camo works even better as it’s cooler) a hat, a can of bug spray and you are set. The ability to use a lower cost entry level firearms like a .22 or a youth model shotgun also helps to decrease the entry cost.

5. The environment is vibrant and full of interesting things. Because of the timing of squirrel season, the woods are vibrant, rich, full of all sorts of things kids find downright cool. Snakes, spiders, birds, other small game, baby animals out learning their place in the world. Frogs, crawdads, mushrooms. Lots of things that can be incorporated into fun learning. If interest in squirrels alone begins to wane a little, there’s something new and cool to check out just around the corner in the trail.  It’s much easier to keep a child interested when there’s plenty going on around them than when just sitting endlessly waiting on one deer to walk by, or a flock of ducks to make an entrance. This same vibrant living landscape makes for great opportunities to learn tree, plant, mushroom identification and makes it easier than in a empty desolate winter hunting environment.

6. Squirrel hunting is forgiving. It’s okay to miss the shot. There will be an opportunity again shortly.  It’s okay to get a little loud and rambunctious and scare off the squirrels.  They are squirrels for heaven’s sake. They will return, it’s not a 200-inch buck that you just blew into the next county for next three days.  You can hike along for a little ways and find another tree to sit under and poof there they will be all over again. It’s okay to lose focus on the quarry while intimately examining a spider building a web or a mother bird feeding a nest of babies, or any number of things that present themselves along the trip. There simply is not as much pressure, not as tight time constraints, not as much impetus to be selective and get a “trophy”.  Squirrel hunting lets kids be kids in the outdoors while still learning and building that love of being afield and becoming proficient in their safety habits and skills. Squirrel hunting is what teaches youngsters that hunting is not all just killing. It’s about the total experience of being immersed in the outdoors, having fun and spending time with those we love.

Let’s get those kids and new hunters out there this squirrel season, and start making squirrel hunting great again!



Really. Big. Fish.

Sat, February 16, 2019

It’s February Heartland friends,so you know what that means! I’m all about the lake sturgeon in Winnebago and all the sturgeon related fun in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Spearers heading out on Lake Winnebago to cut in and set up their shanties

Each February Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and Lake Winnebago are transformed into all things sturgeon. Lake Winnebago, affectionately known to locals as “Bago” is with the exception of a small and very short season (this year’s MI spearing season lasted 80 minutes before meeting the harvest cap) in Michigan is the only place in the world that the long-standing tradition of sturgeon spearing takes place. Wisconsin DNR provides a wealth of information not just about sturgeon spearing, but lake sturgeon conservation and management.

WIDNR at the Wendt’s registration station waiting patiently on the first sturgeon of the 2019 season to arrive

The Sturgeon Spectacular takes place opening weekend of sturgeon spearing season and grows each year to include more activities, more fun, and more celebrations of really big fish. While certainly the focus is on the sturgeon, and spearing – the Sturgeon Spectacular offers many activities for those who choose not to spear, but still want to experience the traditions, culture, and fun that can be had in Fond du Lac.

Snow Sculpting Competition

The 2019 Sturgeon Spectacular even featured WISSA – the 2019 World Ice and Snow Sailing Championships featuring competitors from 11 countries.

WISSA competitors on the ice

The entire Fond du Lac community gets behind the Sturgeon Spectacular activities that center around winter and really big fish. It’s easy to find something that appeals to everyone – Ice sculpting, snow sculpting championships, motorcycle and snow machine races on the frozen lake, special concerts and exhibits at the library, children’s museum, and Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts. Lakeside Park also supports events such as the ceremonial burning of the good luck sturgeon effigy and bonfire,  “Spearing and Beering” which highlights local brewers. We can’t forget the “Running of the Sturgeon” nighttime parade. There are dog sled demonstrations and rides, a fat tire bike race, and a fun run, walk and dog jog.  One almost needs a list, a day planner, and plan to see all of the Sturgeon Spectacular events. Luckily there is also a shuttle that runs daily from one event area to another.

An accordion and polka playing sturgeon in the “Running of the Sturgeon Parade”

Ceremonial burning of the sturgeon “good luck” effigy

The downtown district and merchants also offer a plethora of sturgeon related specials – special cookies, coffee drinks, meal specials and other special sturgeon related discounts. Everywhere you look, it’s all about the sturgeon and really big fish. Store windows sport decorative sturgeon art, bars and restaurants signage features good luck and wishes messages to spearers. Menus feature sturgeon themed specials -some even serving sturgeon!

Sturgeon Snickerdoodles! from Annie’s Fountain City Cafe

A popcorn sturgeon?! Of course says Faris Gourmet Popcorn Company

Just one of the many beautiful ice sculptures displayed throughout Fond du Lac

For those who aren’t spearing, but still long for a look at really big fish, the tradition is to gather at Wendt’s on the Lake near the sturgeon registration station to ooh and ahh over the massive fish being brought in off the ice and listen to the stories being told by the spearers.  This is an experience you will never forget!

Really Big Fish on the table at Wendt’s WIDNR registration station

Whether you visit to spear, beer, play in the snow, or just enjoy winter in Wisconsin plan today for a great winter getaway this time next year! The Fond du Lac CVB will be more than happy to assist you in planning your visit.

Forget that wienermobile - Fond du Lac has a sturgeonmobile!



SB0201 Seeks to Ban All Lead Ammunition For Hunting

Sat, February 02, 2019

There’s been a flurry of bills introduced during the first few weeks of legislative session in Illinois, and rest assured that we will be providing a look at all of them in the coming few days, but SB0201 just jumped out at me on the “WHAT????!!” list.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Iris Martinez (D) of the 20th district, seemed straight forward enough when I started reading through it.

“Section 5. The Wildlife Code is amended by adding Section
5 2.5b as follows:

6   (520 ILCS 5/2.5b new)
7   Sec. 2.5b. Nontoxic ammunition.
8   (a) Except as provided in subsections (e) and (g), and as
9 soon as can be practicably implemented by the Department of
10 Natural Resources under subsection (d), nontoxic ammunition,
11 as certified by the Department, shall be required when taking
12 all wildlife, including game mammals, game birds, non-game
13 birds, and non-game mammals with any firearm.
14   (b) The Department shall adopt by rule a public process to
15 certify ammunition as nontoxic ammunition and shall define, by
16 rule, nontoxic ammunition to include only ammunition in which
17 there is no lead content, excluding the presence of trace
18 elements of lead. The Department shall establish and annually
19 update a list of certified ammunition. The list of certified
20 ammunition shall include, but not be limited to, any federally
21 approved nontoxic shotgun ammunition.”

Nothing surprising in that section, and I think a good many of us saw some type of push to ban all lead ammo coming. We all have our individual arguments for/against; we know how to fight a lead ammunition ban. We know what to do, have data and arguments at the ready.

What caused me to nearly fall out of my chair – was the second section of the bill. The section that frankly, in my opinion is just ridiculous and would be a giant fiasco.

(c) To the extent that funding is available, the Department
23 shall establish a process that provides hunters with nontoxic
1 ammunition at no or reduced charge. The process shall provide
2 that the offer for nontoxic ammunition at no or reduced charge
3 may be redeemed through a coupon sent to a permit holder with
4 the appropriate permit tag. If available funding is not
5 sufficient to provide nontoxic ammunition at no charge, the
6 Department shall set the value of the reduced charge coupon at
7 the maximum value possible through available funding, up to the
8 average cost within this State for nontoxic ammunition, as
9 determined by the Department. The nontoxic ammunition coupon
10 program described in this subsection (c) shall be implemented
11 to the extent that there is sufficient funding within the
12 Department.

Our DNR is already underfunded and understaffed. Thankfully there is included the all important phrase “ to the extent funding is available”. This bill would task IDNR with setting up this entire program to PROVIDE non toxic ammunition.  AT NO OR REDUCED COST.  Could someone please explain to me how exactly this could or would work? Putting our DNR in the position of distributing ammunition sets off a whole series of questions.  First question is does this after the fact turn our DNR into an ammunition dealer? Is that even legal?

I can’t quite figure out the intended logistics of this proposed program either. How would a hunter actually acquire the no/low cost non toxic ammunition or “coupons” ?  Do you get your ammunition when you get your tags and permits? 

It seems to me that this bill sets forth in just a few words an enormous undertaking for IDNR. An undertaking that the agency is not able to fulfill in it’s current state of funding and staff. Essentially a whole new program and all that entails would have to be created.

I say remove the language tasking IDNR with this nonsense of distribution and provision of ammunition. Let us first argue, debate,  and decide if a total lead ban for hunting is appropriate for Illinois hunters. Then, should that even come to pass, hunters would just have to find ammo on their own.

Seriously do we want to have to acquire our ammunition through a DNR program? I think not.

What do you think Heartland Community? Is this a shining example of legislation written by someone who has little knowledge of things actually work? A step towards impairing our ability to hunt? A, I just a crazy grump old broad? (well, I suppose that’s a given!).

Let’s discuss this situation Heartland folks!