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Versatile Hunter

Bucks, Ducks, Upland, and Turkey Doggin’ Reports

Wed, November 14, 2012

Deer: I’ve gotten report after report after picture after picture of nice bucks. I’ve hunted multiple days myself, but to no avail.  It’s one of those “hold off on does and little guys until the big boy steps out” kinda years.  And now I’ll be scrambling to put meat in the freezer.  My personal rule is never to take young bucks, so I am now looking at popping an unlucky doe or two during gun season.  Might the shotgun season land square on the rut peak? 

On his first deer hunt Oct. 12 on the 45,000-acre McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, Picone harvested a nine-point buck that weighed just shy of 200 pounds on the hoof and dressed out at 175 pounds.  The buck set a new base record for the heaviest deer taken on the property, and Picone’s name now will appear first on that list.  Participants praised the Wounded Warriors program for giving heroic war veterans an opportunity to experience deer and turkey hunting trips, despite their physical setbacks.

Wheelin Deer Hunt

This is a nice buck harvested on November 2 by my buddy, Pat Morse, at his farm in Macoupin County.  It was headed off to bed around 7:30a and never quite made it.  Said to gross right at 170”. 

Morse Buck

Eric Felmey, of Pekin, arrowed this Peoria county beauty on the evening of November 8th.  The buck sports a double white neck patch and some great mass, length, and character.  Initial estimates put it around 200 inches gross.  Eric had one trail cam picture of the buck on October 7 and had an encounter with him on October 31 in which he was unable to get a shot off.  Luck and perseverance prevailed.  Big congrats on the deer of a lifetime, Eric!

Trail Cam Pic

Felmey Buck

Waterfowl: After reports of good starts on public ground along the IL River, things seem to have slowed, and then picked right back up very recently.  I’m hearing mallards stories now, although Horicon Marsh in WI is supposedly holding 75-100k mallards right now.  We had a good opener with mixed divers and geese at Powerton.  My Emiquon hunt produced 9 ducks of 4 species and I’d consider that a slow day.  They also recently lost 40k birds.  New surveys should be out tomorrow.

Upland: Reports of decent pheasant numbers as compared to recent years here in central and east-central IL.  Same goes for quail, and reports of multiple hatches despite the drought. Unfortunately, my dog Brahms broke a toe chasing squirrels in the back yard the day before the opener (d’oh)—and we had a permit for the Jim Edgar Quail Units!  Just my luck. . .  Looks like we’ll have to wait until after first shotgun to chase roosters and quail and then it’s back to guiding at the local clubs. . . Regardless of where or when, running a good hunting dog is such a rewarding experience. . . .

Turkeys: Caught some turkey poults on camera this past summer—more good news despite the drought.  Has anyone heard of hunting turkeys with dogs?  I’ve heard about it, but never seen it.  This story and picture are pretty cool:  Thin.k your hunting dog can sit that still?  Doubt it. . . .

Most exciting news to date for our family as of late (outdoors and not).  This little guy. . . 

Brooks Harvey


Help a kid go hunting this fall

Sun, October 21, 2012

I can’t describe the feeling achieved by taking a young person hunting.  The sights, sounds, and excitement in their voice is unforgettable.  Whether the hunt ends in a harvested animal matters not, although it’s always a welcomed end for all involved.

So how does someone even get involved in such an event?  There are many ways to find these events and plant yourself right in the middle of one.  And the volunteer opportunities can range from actually guiding the hunt, to preparing the food, to simply offering up your property for a hunt to take place.  It really doesn’t matter how you help out, just that you do.  If you own property on which a youth hunt could take place, offer it up to a neighbor or friend if you don’t have kids yourself.  Offer to guide them—it’s a wonderful experience and will get you out to the places you so love—and with added value.  There are youth events and opportunities in all realms of hunting—from upland to turkey, waterfowl, and deer.

Some of the local events in the central Illinois include youth pheasant hunting events at various state-run sites such as Mackinaw SFWA, Sand Ridge, and Clinton Lake.  Guides with good hunting dogs are always needed for these events, as well as food and drinks for before and after the hunt.  People to simply hold guns and help coordinate hunting areas are also needed.  A good ratio is one adult for each kid involved, plus a guide.  Approximately two kids per guide are ideal.  Too many more and things can get a bit hectic in this fast-paced hunting style.  Pointing dogs are excellent as they allow for less of a surprise and allow the adults and kids to get set up in order to shoot before the flush.  Slightly dizzied birds can also allow for a more controlled environment for first timers.  12 or 20 gauges with open chokes (youth models are great!) will work wonderfully.  One thing I’ve noted on previous trips—the old single shot shotguns that parents think are so safe also kick like mules and the young one typically hates pulling the trigger after awhile.  If you’re worried about them being able to shoot too many shells, only give them one shell at a time to shoot. 

Opportunities for youth turkey hunting are available during the youth season and throughout the five turkey seasons in Illinois.  A good place to meet potential landowners for a youth hunt are at your local NWTF banquets.  On average years, this youth season may come a little early for the traditional turkey hunting season expectation of hot gobbling action.  Be prepared for potentially cooler temps and rain.  Tents are the way to go.  Turkeys, even with their excellent eyesight, do not seem to notice a tent in the least.  Black interior is a key.  Typically, we hunt birds off the roost and then move to the tent when the action slows during mid-morning.  The tent is the perfect spot for young folks to relax in a comfortable chair and snack while waiting for a bird to enter a field for a shooting opportunity.  A good flock of decoys works well in this situation.  Hens in various positions and a single jake seem to do well for us.  Big gobblers get jealous and jakes seem comfortable with the setup as well.  Think about allowing them to shoot any legal bird for their first opportunity.  After that, you can teach them the value of holding off for that big gobbler—same goes for a first deer hunt.  As with any hunting—setups may need to change based on weather and timing of the season.  A full or extra full choked 12 or 20 gauge will do just fine.  And don’t be afraid to ask friends and neighbors if they’ll let you take your son or daughter hunting on their ground—it’s awful hard for people to say no to this request, and for good reason—these are the hunters and conservationists of tomorrow!  If it’s your property, this is also a great time to be out scouting for your upcoming season.

Duck hunting youth events are plentiful here in central Illinois and are one of my favorites.  Kids and adults can talk at normal levels and move around between working ducks.  Asking a kid to sit quietly for hours on end (as in deer and turkey hunting) can be a challenge.  Several of the state-run sites such as Banner Marsh, Rice Lake, and Spring Lake, among others offer youth hunting days.  IDNR also coordinates a private club youth goose hunt each year—contact them for more information. Go to a DU or Delta Waterfowl event and meet people that may offer up their blinds during the youth season.  And get your kid enrolled as a Greenwing or other youth membership to teach them the importance of supporting conservation.  Volunteers to help coordinate, call ducks, and well-behaved dogs are always welcome.  Show up and offer your services, or coordinate ahead of time with a neighbor and his son or daughter that perhaps have never hunted waterfowl before or just don’t have a place to go.  This time of year is usually a blast with local woodies and mallards, as well as the other early migrants (such as blue winged teal) often being around in decent numbers.  And best of all—they haven’t yet been educated!  The kids usually get a lot of shooting in and get to see some amazing sights.  Remember though that for a young person to hit a 60 mile per hour duck isn’t the easiest thing in the world.  Bring a bunch of shells, snacks, drinks, and coffee for yourself.  Put a very open choke in the gun and work the birds in close for the kids to shoot.  Water shots are okay, especially for the young person’s first bird.  Otherwise, they are going to do a lot of missing and we want to teach them early on that long shots aren’t a good thing.  Take the time to teach them some of the etiquettes of hunting ducks (not shooting birds working another blind, allowing the birds to get close, etc. . .).  Teach them about the biology of the birds you are shooting at—migration patterns, species, weather, wind direction for setting decoys, blind brushing, etc. . .  They love to learn about these kinds of things and it will make it all the more interesting while in the blind.  Again, a 12 or 20 gauge shotgun will work just fine, depending on the size and experience of the youngster.  Don’t give them too big a gun as they will be shooting magnum loads for this experience, as is typical in turkey hunting also. 

Deer hunting can be accomplished much the same as turkey hunting, although it is extremely important to dress them extra warm for this time of the year.  Although, youth shotgun season usually falls during decent weather and can be done from an elevated stand or ground blind/tent (elevated double stands work great for this so you can be right next to them and get a great view of the other animals that roam our woods).  Never forget safety harnesses, of course.  We all know slugs can kick hard so be sure and size the gun appropriately.  A 20 gauge will do the job just fine.  Again, be sure you’re teaching them to take appropriately shots and make sure they are familiar with the gun and kick well ahead of time. 

As with any youth hunt, be sure to stay positive regardless of the situation and don’t be afraid to call the hunt if the young person gets bored or is uncomfortable—you want this to be as much a positive experience as it can be.  Always bring a camera and take lots of pictures!  A photo of their experience (and a mounted bird or shadow box) will ensure they never forget how much fun they had.

If you are looking for a place to take your young ones on a hunt here in central Illinois, I’d be happy to point you in the right direction and/or assist in finding property and guides for the event to take place.  Connecting outdoors-minded folks for these kinds of events is a passion of mine and something I take very seriously.  Getting today’s kids outside is an honorable effort worth doing for so many reasons.


Positive news and other ramblings

Tue, October 09, 2012

With elections right around the corner and a whole lot of negative ad campaigning and general media lean towards the negative, I thought I’d infuse some positive news reporting into the mix. This came recently from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website I visited:

Participation in wildlife-associated recreation increased in 28 states since 2006, according to the findings of the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation State Overview Report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today. The State Overview Report is the second in a series of reports to be released by the Service over the next few months highlighting results from the National Survey.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released the first report on August 15, 2012. The National Survey, conducted since 1955, measures participation in these activities and related spending on trips and equipment across the nation and in individual states. The 2011 National Survey data show that hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers spent $145 billion last year on related gear, trips and other purchases such as licenses, tags and land leasing or ownership.

Overall, the 2011 Survey found that 38 percent of all Americans 16 years of age and older participated in wildlife-related recreation in 2011, an increase of 2.6 million participants from the previous survey in 2006. Participation in recreational fishing increased by 11 percent and hunting was up 9 percent.  This increase reverses a trend over previous Surveys showing a 10% decline in hunting participation between 1996 and 2006.  The 2011 Survey reports a corresponding increase in hunting equipment expenditures, which are up 29 percent from 2006.

Other interesting facts:

• Of the 28 States with increases in the number of wildlife-related recreation participants from 2006 to 2011, the largest percentage increases were seen in Alaska (47 percent) and Louisiana (40 percent).

• South Dakota had the highest proportion of state residents who hunted– 21 percent.

• Alaska had the highest proportion of state residents who fished– 40 percent.

• Vermont had the highest proportion of state residents who wildlife watched– 53 percent.

The full AP article can be found here:

Executive Summary: Hunting participation is UP. 

Questions to Ponder: Why??  Is it mostly women?  Are we doing a better job of recruiting youth? Is it because of rising game populations (such as waterfowl, which had another banner year)?  Is it because people are more concerned about what they are eating (the organic movement that has given rise to more people wanting to harvest what they eat themselves)?  Is it because people are overall realizing the importance of being outdoors? Softening of state hunting regulations? Outreach programs? Or is it simply because the U.S. population is increasing? My guess is that it’s a mix.  Regardless of why, what a great story to hear.

On a related note, regardless of why you enjoy being outdoors (for recreation, wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, camping, etc. . . .) we are all truly after the same thing.  I think we forget this sometimes and end up fighting about the more trivial things like how many bucks we can shoot, by which method (no crossbows for God’s sake—wait—make that no compound bows—wait make that no guns—wait make that only recurve bows with flu flu arrows—wait!!!), whether or not we should be able to shoot an animal with a gun or just with a camera. . . . . I wonder what would happen if everyone that enjoyed being outdoors for any reason whatsoever formed an alliance—think they might be able to get something done politically for the sake of all wildlife populations??  My guess would be a resounding yes. 

Ever see this (mis)quote from Henry David Thoreau?  It’s a good one:

“Many men fish their entire life without ever knowing it’s not the fish they’re after.”

Anyone else realize that by going out to hunt you get to see some of the most amazing things you would normally never get to see? Among my most memorable:

• watching a sharp-shinned hawk feed on a freshly caught dark eyed junco 10 feet from me while I was wearing a ghillie suit on the ground

• watching a hen turkey give me the stink eye on her nest not 3 feet from me in the woods as I stopped to take a break from an afternoon of morel hunting (I didn’t see her until I stopped)

• watching a thousand mallards land on top of us while we videotaped it all from a layout blind after shooting time in SD

• watching a mature buck clean out a scrape and pee in it 20 yards away

• hearing several gobblers spitting, drumming, and gobbling so close that you can literally feel the acoustic vibration in your body

• watching a cock pheasant explode from under my feet as I then watched it sail away in absolute amazement over what had just happened (my very first pheasant experience)

• watching shooting stars on a perfectly cloudless night while my dog and I waited for first light in the duck marsh

There are too many others to recount. . . . Hunting rocks!


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