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Malone turkey

Conservation Corner

Nesting habitat key for pheasants

Mon, January 31, 2011

Nesting habitat, winter cover, and food for young chicks are the critical components to increasing ring-necked pheasant numbers in this area. Dr. Bill Hohman of the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Management Institute and Iowa State University pheasant expert William Clark say habitat for ring-necked pheasants includes:

Nesting habitat.

Although hens will nest in roadsides, grassed waterways and other strips of vegetation, they prefer to nest in blocks of cover larger than 40 acres that contain ground litter and a leafy canopy. Undisturbed CRP fields or hayfields not mowed until after nesting can be excellent nesting cover.  Iowa studies show hens were three times more likely to nest in cool season grasses like bromegrass and alfalfa than tall switch grass.  However Switch and other native grasses are better winter cover than brome grass and stand up better in snow storms.

Winter Cover.

Shelterbelts or other woody cover with a shrubby understory, cattail wetlands, and dense stands of native grasses all give good winter cover. Pheasants will spend most of their time within the first 150 feet of the edge of these good patches of cover and move into adjacent crop fields to eat. Vegetated wetlands are also used heavily by pheasants for roosting and escape and loafing cover from late fall through spring. Pheasant survival in winter can be quite high in areas with a couple of 5- acre shrubby woodlands, or 30-acre wetlands or switch grass patches.


Waste grain is usually an abundant source of winter food; leave rows of corn or sorghum along field edges for more. At hatching, young chicks and hen pheasants remain within 100 yards of the nest for only a day or two, then begin to move as much as half a mile away to fields with a mixture of grasses and broad-leaved plants with an abundance of insects. During the first few weeks of life, chicks feed on beetles, bugs, caterpillars, ground spiders and other slow-moving animals that supply protein. Weedy edges of fields, hay fields, and native prairies with a significant component of broadleaved plants have many more insects in them than dense grass.  Food is not considered a limiting factor for pheasants as much as cover is.

Heavy spraying of herbicides reduces insect populations just as much as insecticide use, because it destroys the weeds that are the
habitat for the insects.

For more information, including discing, burning and other management ideas, see a web leaflet from the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Management Institute at

NRCS Conservation programs such as WHIP Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, can provide financial assistance to establishing or improving wildlife habitat.

Wildlife Ways

Did you know….

The ring-necked pheasant was introduced to the United States from Asia before the 1800s. A very popular game bird, the pheasant is now found across much of the northern two-thirds of the country.


Habitat An Oasis in the Cornfields

Sat, January 29, 2011

Illinois NRCS WHIP Success Story

Habitat An Oasis in the Cornfields

Ray Goosens enrolled 21.7 acres into the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) in 2002 to attract wildlife and provide an oasis of habitat in an area of central Mercer County dominated with row crops. NRCS District Conservationist Jason Hessman has worked with Goosens to provide NRCS engineering design and cost share assistance for a shallow water area. Hessman also works with NRCS and Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Biologists to plan and design shrub plantings, field windbreaks, native grass and forb plantings, and a hardwood establishment for Goosens’ property.

Goosens takes pride in his project to provide high quality habitat for a variety of wildlife. “My goal is to create a wildlife sanctuary,” said Goosens, a Henry County Deputy who finds the site to be a sanctuary for himself as well. “I want my 11-month old daughter to grow up appreciating the nature and wildlife that God created.”

The ¾ acre shallow water area was constructed according to NRCS standards. A low profile levee and water control structure was installed to manage water levels and stimulate the germination of water loving plants. Seeds of many wetland plant species can lie dormant in the soil seed bank for years. Over time, native wetland plants will naturally germinate and re-colonize. Migratory waterfowl will find Goosen’s property a hospitable place to visit. Over the next few years, Goosens will plant shrubs, grasses and trees and witness his barren property’s transformation into high quality wildlife habitat with food and water sources for a variety of species including pheasants, wild turkey, deer, and quail.

NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) staff will continue to provide Goosens with technical assistance to maintain quality habitat over the years. NRCS/SWCD staff will provide guidance on activities such as controlled burning to maintain vigorous grass stands and will help secure equipment, such as tree planters, native grass drills and burn equipment through the SWCD and wildlife groups.

“I think WHIP is a great program. I wish more people would take this opportunity to provide habitat for wildlife,” Goosens said.

Goosens and his family will enjoy the natural areas and wildlife habitat for years to come. But the benefits of this project and others like it reach far beyond the landowner. Portions of Goosens’ WHIP project were once highly erodible cropland. With the establishment of grasses, shrubs and trees, the soil will be protected from erosion and area streams will be spared the associated sediment- and nutrient- laden runoff. The shallow water area will filter pollutants and nutrients from runoff flowing from surrounding cropland, improving water quality in the watershed. With WHIP, Ray Goosens has found technical and financial assistance to improve his property for wildlife and protect our soil and water resources.

For more information on WHIP visit your local USDA Service Center.  or


By: Jill Creamean, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist
November 2002



Whitetail deer habitat basics:

Thu, January 27, 2011

Whitetail deer are so plentiful these days in most parts of the country, it’s surprising to some people that they were decimated to the point of near-extinction by unrestricted hunting at the turn of the century.

Whitetails are found all over the North American continent, with populations in the millions. They survive in the big woods of northern Maine to the deep saw grass and hammock swamps of Florida. They thrive in mixed farmlands, brushy areas and timber, and can survive the desolate cactus and thorn brush deserts of southern Texas and Mexico.

Most people love to spot whitetail deer, but overpopulations, especially near urbanizing areas, can cause problems. Whitetail deer can be destructive to crops, fruit trees, ornamental plants and gardens. They can also cause serious damage to forest vegetation from over browsing, and are a danger to motorists as they are commonly hit by autos.

Food preferences:

Deer eat a variety of plants, but in farmland areas, cultivated crops, including corn and soybeans, top the list. A major portion of the diet in the fall is waste grain after harvest. The most critical food need to deer is the fall and winter food supply, because they determine the reproductive success of the doe. In summer months, woody browse such as buck brush, sumac, and oak is part of the diet. Various forbs and grasses are also part of the diet in the spring and summer. Fawns slowly shift from their mother’s milk to forbs and grasses as the summer continues.

Cover needs.

Ideal whitetail habitat contains dense thickets for cover, and edges of timber and grass or crop for food. Areas with the largest amount of timber have the highest deer populations. Cold and heavy snow in northern regions cause deer to concentrate in protected areas such as heavy timber, conifer stands, brush, and shrub swamps. 

During the summer, deer can be found wherever food, water cover and solitude exist. In May and June, does seek seclusion for fawning in brushy fields, heavily vegetated stream bottomlands, forest edges, pastures, and grasslands.  They will heavily utilize prairie grass fields instead of timber if it is available.  We are always thinking of prairie grasses for quail and pheasants when we do planning but deer will also utilize it heavily.
Some guys get frustrated because they used to be able to see a lot of deer in the timber during hunting season.  However after a neighbor plants large amounts of prairie grasses, the deer will migrate to that and not use the timber as much.  The deer can sit down in the prairie and allow hunters to walk past them on a deer drive and then they will get up and sneak away from the hunters.

Green browse food plots of clovers and alfalfa, and diverse native grass and forb mixtures offer good fawning habitat.  The green browse food plots provide great protein for the bucks’ antlers. 

For more information, visit the NRCS website at or visit the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Management Institute at

Did you know….?

A female deer usually has one fawn as her first born, but in subsequent years usually has twins. Whitetail deer are good swimmers and often enter rivers and lakes to escape predators.



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