Archive for October 2011

DEER STALKING IN THE SHAWNEE NATIONAL FOREST   1 comment

Early settlers to Illinois country found the diminutive Virginia white-tailed deer.  It supplied food for them and the hides provided shelter.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, the deer were fewer and more difficult to find.  Today in the 21st century, the deer gene pool has been enhanced with transplanted whitetails and wise use of the resource.

 The deer of the state began as an experiment in wildlife management that took place in the Shawnee National Forest.  Wisconsin deer transplanted in the forest bred with the smallerVirginia subspecies.  Their progeny were later transplanted to other areas of the state. 

 Illinois has major river bottomland country that is typically very fertile.  The silt deposits result in good soil.  The rough ground along drainage is difficult to clear for agricultural purposes and thus remain good deer habitat. 

The hunting for deer in the Shawnee National Forest is great and the public access is second to no other area in the state.

 Stretching from Cave-in-Rock on the east to Grand Tower in the west,Shawnee contains some ten Illinois counties.  The hills of Bald Knob (elevation 1,048) and Williams Hill (elevation 1,064) cap some 277,000 acres of hardwoods and pines.  In fact, the forest area is a transition zone between North and South, East and West.  It consists of a variety of habitat.

 Deer typically travel river bottomland corridors.  The travel forces them together for a good genetic mix.

 Good phosphorous content in the soil of the western part of Illinois coupled with the availably of forage in the Shawnee National Forest, affect antler growth.  For deer grasses, weeds, browse, fruits and mushrooms are as important as acorns and other nuts.  Weeds are often overlooked as food sources by most people.  But, they provide high levels of protein and phosphorus and are easily digested.  The same can be said of mushrooms a popular springtime food for deer.

 In winter deer seek high carbohydrate foods such as corn and acorns.  The Shawnee has a high number of oak trees combined with scattered corn fields.

 All of these food sources can be found in abundance in the forests of southernIllinois.  The additional factor of mild winters leads to a low winter kill in the herd.

The Shawnee is the largest tract of public hunting land inIllinois.  Its appearance is more like the Ozark Mountains to the west than the flat agricultural fields usually associated with Illinois.

 The trophy potential of the area is good and several Boone and Crockett bucks have been taken.  However, the general body size of the deer is slightly less than one would find in central or northern counties.  This is simply because they do not have as easy access to corn and soybeans that the deer in those agricultural areas.

 Counties such as Pope in the Shawnee can be as much as 70 percent wooded with rolling grass and crop fields intermixed.  The large expanse of wilderness that is wooded can mean that a hunter will have to walk as much as two or three miles before coming to a road.

 Hunters do not usually experience crowded conditions except during the firearms season.  A hunter can get away from the crowds within the forest, but it takes some walking.  Leasing of ground around the forest is becoming more common.  If a hunter spends some time in the area knocking on doors, they might find some landowners receptive to hunting.  Orchard farmers take a beating from deer populations and are anxious to rid themselves of some of the animals.

 For more information about theShawneeNational Forest and the hunting regulations of the State ofIllinois, contact: Illinois Department of Natural Resources,One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois 62702-1271.  For information about the forest contact the United States Forest Service Office, Harrisburg, Illinois62946 or 800-699-6637.

TIPS FOR EARLY SEASON RABBIT HUNTERS   5 comments

The early part of rabbit season tends to be one when the weather is mixed as are the chances of success.  It is a time when planning and stealth are important.

 Many hunters do not pay attention to the moon phases but perhaps they should.  The best time to hunt rabbits is when the moon is in a dark phase and the worst time is during a full moon.  Common sense suggests that with a full moon the rabbits are out feeding all night and sleeping in during the day.

 Because of the rather limited insulating properties of rabbit fur, they tend to be more active when the temperatures are above 50-degrees and there is not wind.  Rabbit hunting is at its worst when temperatures fall below freezing and the wind is high.  Snowing weather also makes for bad rabbit hunting as they tend to just hunker down.

 Early in the hunting season, rabbits can find plenty of food in the cover.  Later as the food is consumed, they have to move around more in search of grain crops such as wheat and Milo.

 It is a good idea to hunt the edges of shelter belts and CRP lands.  The animals will dart in and out of the heavy cover as they feed on spilled grain along roadways.  They will move from cover to the remaining crop fields and grassy areas.  Open areas offer the hunter some clear shots.

 In years with heavy predator populations, rabbits become scarcer.  The remaining animals will be very wary and tend to stay in the heavier cover for protection.  If the rabbit population in a specific area is greater, they will tend to be found in more open areas.  This makes them easier to hunt.

 Rabbits that are well hidden will often sit tight and allow the hunter to walk past.  It is a good idea to walk and stop periodically to make them more nervous.  Rabbits cannot stand the pressure of hunters stopping near them.

 Another good idea is to keep possible travel routes in view at all times.  As the animals scurry along fence lines, ditches or little streams, they may stop on the edge of cover so as to not expose themselves to danger.  Good rabbit hunters soon learn to spot their prey in the thickest cover.  They call it looking for the eye.  The large black shining dot is a sure fire giveaway as it stands out giving the hunter an edge.

 Always take a second or two to look back over your shoulder at the area you just covered.  Rabbits are notorious at sneaking around a hunter and beating a hasty retreat out of the area.

 If the area in which you are hunting does not contain a lot of “pills” and prints then the odds are that it does not contain rabbits.  If there is no telltale sign of rabbit activity it may be a good idea to just move on to another area and not waste time.  You might find a few animals there but not enough to make it worth all the time and effort.

 There are fewer rabbit hunters these days.  That can be a good deal as it becomes easier to gain landowner permission. Rabbits are not as pressured as might be in a pheasant hunting area.  Line up a number of hunting locations before the opening day of rabbit season.  That way you do not have to waste valuable hunting time gaining permission to hunt.

 Finally, it is important that a rabbit hunter wear comfortable clothing and boots.  Choose your clothing according to the weather.  Boots should be properly broken in prior to the beginning of the season.  Wear them around home or walking in the neighborhood so that they toughen up your feet and become more flexible.  A blaze-orange hat and vest are recommended to make you more visible to other hunters who might be in the field.  Rabbits do not react to blaze-orange on their own.

 Heavy duty brush chaps or reinforced pants are good.  Rabbits tend to sit tight in heavy brush and thorns.  You might have to go in after them in order to get the little rascals to move into more open areas that presents shots.

TIPS FOR WINTER BOAT STORAGE   Leave a comment

A survey done by BoatUS marine insurance found that most damage done to boats in storage is done by four legged vandals rather than two legged one.

 Bass boats are likely to be damaged by critters during the off season.  This is probably due to the fact that they are put away uncleaned.  Carpets, live wells and upholstery hold smells from the many fish that have been landed.  They smell like lunch to a hungry raccoon, squirrel or mouse.

 Most bass boats are kept in backyards or other locations that are attractive to critters.  Once the four legged vandals get on board they find that fabrics used in upholstery, life jackets and seat foam make excellent bedding.  They are inclined to just set up housekeeping for the winter until evicted by the owner in the spring.

 Squirrels will use the fiberglass as chewing material which they need to maintain their dental health.

 What can you do about this?  Begin by giving the vessel a through cleaning before putting it in storage.  You can take it to one of those spray car wash places or give it a pressure wash at home.  Take all your gear out and remove the drain plug.  Spray the boat inside and out.  By the time you get home most of the water will have blown off the boat and the plug can be replaced.

 Place all gear removed in a warmer dry storage area.  The family garage is a good location but so are rental storage places.  This includes batteries, trolling motors, PFD’s, emergency gear, outboard motors, removable fuel tanks, etc.  This not only protects them from the elements but also from theft.

 During storage make frequent visits to the boat to evict any critter than has taken up housekeeping.  There are commercial repellants available.  You can make your own by placing a large jar of ammonia in the boat.  Just punch holes in the top of the jar to let the scent come out.  Mothballs also make a good repellant.

 If all else fails, try one of those low voltage electric pet fences that you can get at the pet store.                                                    

No matter how careful you have been, the gelcote finish of most bass boats does get nicks and scratches.  Lee Robertson, Event Support Manager for Skeeter boats has some tips for repairing the damage prior to winter storage.  “As far as fiberglass goes I like to have it real clean” he maintains.  “I use products that most people probably won’t use.”  He uses a McGuires product called Quick Wax.  The reason is because it is easier to apply and does not turn white when you get it on the rub rail or some of the rubber parts on the boat. 

Wax is good because wax it is a protecter and helps protect against UV damage.  

Gelcote is just like it has been for the past 20 or 30 years other than some changes in chemicals and some added chemicals to help UV resistance.  It is the outer layer of a fiberglass boat that gives it the shine and color.  Gelcote is a hard resin that is more durable than just paint.  It will last quite a long time and can be refinished. 

You can buff it out.  Small scratches and imperfections can be removed with a good compound for buffing and sanding with a very fine grade of sandpaper.    That can be done until the point where you clear off the top of the metal flake.  When you get to that point your basically into the paint.  Get through the flake and you are basically done refinishing the boat unless you want to go have it clear coated.

 With a little care and elbow grease, you can put that boat away this fall confident it will be looking good in the spring.  It will also save you some time in the spring when the fish are waiting to be caught.

BALDWIN LAKE’S FALL CATFISH   1 comment

Usually when one talks about Illinois catfish lakes, they are Channel Catfish waters. BaldwinLake, in St. Clair and Randolph counties, does have a channel catfish population it is not the one producing large fish.  The competition for food is too great in this lake.  Catfish action here is with the Blues and Flatheads.

 Blue catfish in this lake run from 8 to 60 pounds in weight.  Sixty-three pound fish have been caught.  Flatheads tend to be from seven to 30 pounds with 63-pounds being the largest caught.  It is believed that 70-pound plus fish live in the lake. 

The blue catfish feed on the extensive shad forage base and are most often taken by anglers using shad for bait.  There both Gizzard Shad and Threadfin Shad are present.  Both populations do well in the warm water of this cooling lake.  Threadfin shad die in other lakes when the water temperatures reach 47-degrees and lower.  As a result, some IDNR fisheries managers from other parts of the state will capture threadfin at Baldwin and transfer them to lakes in their areas.

 The Flatheads also like the shad but will feed just as well on bluegills.  Because of the flathead consumption of bluegills the bluegill population is just OK.  No real large fish are caught.  However, another sunfish is doing very well. 

Redear sunfish have flourished since being reintroduced into the lake. They are about 10-inches in length at this time which has surprised biologists.  The Longear sunfish and Bluegills are not doing as well.

 Largemouth bass in the 3 to 5-pound range are present but they are not caught by anglers in any great numbers.  Hybrid bass, a cross between white bass and stripers, were once a great species in this lake but they have not been stocked in the lake for a number of years and do not reproduce.  Some hybrids are caught each year but not in large numbers.

 Smallmouth bass were introduced to the lake and have adapted well.  Today they are found all over the lake.  When water is being pumped into the lake on the south end from the Kaskaskia River smallmouth tend to be attracted.  If smallmouths are not present in that area you can check at the hot water discharge area.  It is where water is pumped out of the plant in the north end of the lake.

 The smallmouths are up to 5 pounds in size and 22-inches in length.  Most are in the three to five pound class. 

Most people tend to fish the north end of the lake near the levy at the hot water discharge in the fall and winter.  Most of the south half of the lake is closed then as a refuge for migrating waterfowl.

 Parking for levy anglers can be found in the northwest portion of the lake area.  The boat launch is just south of the parking area.

 BaldwinLake is found in the Baldwin Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area.  The 2,018-acre perched cooling lake is owned by the Illinois Power Company but is leased to the IDNR to manage for recreational use.  Illinois Route 154 runs through the town of Baldwin.  In Baldwin, anglers can turn north on 5th Street and travel 4 miles to the intersection of 5th and Risdon School Road just past the power station.  Turn west and the park entrance is about a mile.

IMPROVE SHOOTING HABITS FOR MORE BIRDS   2 comments

Those of us older hunters probably learned our hunting and shooting skills from relatives.  If you are like me, that also meant you learned some poor shooting skills.  My father’s advice for shotgun shooting was “point it in the right direction and pull the trigger.” 

What do we look at when a pheasant flushes?  The answer is obvious, the tail to identify cock birds.  That is also where we often are shooting.  Hunters usually are shooting behind the bird when we miss, for that very reason. 

The amount of time available for shooting is much more than most of us expect.  To illustrate his point, take a shot at two clay targets cast right after one another.  We usually hit one or the other but not both.  This is typical since we rush one of the shots thinking there is not enough time. 

 Next place only one shell in the double barrel gun.  The same two birds are cast with the shooter shooting one, loading the second shell, and shooting at the second clay target.  It is a dramatic way of demonstrating all the time that is available for aiming and shooting.  By the way shooters improve significantly in the number of birds hit. 

Getting back to the pheasant flushing, just where should the hunter be looking?  With all this time available, he should look first to identify the bird as legal.  Then he can look to the eyes of the bird.  If you can see the eyes of a pheasant, you can kill it.  The idea is that if you can see the eyes, it is in range, and your focus is at the front of the bird and you will not shoot behind it. 

By practicing on clay targets, hunters can improve their success in the field.  I do not mean just going to a trap or sporting clays range and shooting all the targets.  Focus on those clays that are cast in a manner similar to what you will encounter in the field.  Overhead, rising and crossing shots are best. 

Another area to be examined may be gun “fit”.  The fit of a shotgun has more to do with how one holds it rather than cutting down, or building up, the stock.  It is a question of how the hunter mounts the gun. 

One way to practice proper mounting of a shotgun can be done at home.  The hand that holds the forearm of the shotgun should have the index finger pointing toward where the gun is aimed.  This allows the shooter to point to his target, making the shot a more normal function. 

At home the shooter can stand five to six feet from a mirror with a gun that is empty.  He then mounts the gun to the shoulder and points toward the mirror.  If the gun is properly mounted, the bead on the end of the barrel and the shooter’s eye are in alignment.  By practicing this many times at home, it becomes a natural feeling mount when in the field. 

What about the difference when shooting with heavy clothing as opposed to shooting with light clothing.  To compensate for that move the hand back or forward on the forearm of the gun.  That is, still with the index finger point where you want to shoot. 

Once in the field two other points are important.  With clay targets is it is important to focus and shoot at the forward side of the target.  This “head” side is the one that is toward the direction the target is moving.  Do not focus on the bright color body of the target or on the “backside”. 

The other pointer is to raise the barrel up to the target not from above down.  If bringing the barrel down from above the target or bird, you block your view of the bird. 

Get out this year and try these new techniques in the field.

GO WHERE THE COLD FISH GO   1 comment

As we move into the colder months, we can still find fish before the ice covers them for the winter. “It is a matter of looking in the right spots,” says T.J. Stallings of Road Runner lures.  The smart angler moves frequently to find fish.  If no fish are taken in 30 minutes, then it is time to move.

 According to Stallings, “In the late fall, fish seek warmer water temperatures and react to approaching cold fronts.”  As the cold front approaches, the wind tends to move toward the front.  Fish feel the rise in the barometric pressure and become more active feeders.

 The high pressure rotates clockwise and pulls air from the east/northeast.  As the front passes, the colder, heavier air sinks and the fish slow down and move to deeper water.  Smaller fish do not feel the changes as much and is the reason for small fish staying in shallow water longer.

 Eventually the small fish move deep to wait out the winter.  The larger fish will be suspended near them.  But, they will be fewer in number.  That is why small baits tend to work better in winter.  The large fish feed less often during the colder months.  It can be as much as thirty percent less.

 For the sluggish fish of late fall Stallings recommends drop-shoting or aCarolinarig as the fish are not too eager to eat.  He recommends tweaking the Road Runner lure by changing the blade on the Bleeding Bait Road Runner to a small willow style blade.  In lieu of the curly tail body, he adds weight by using a two-inch piece of senko.  The slated body helps get the lure down to those suspended fish. 

Work from shallow water and cast toward the deeper water.  Fish slowly.  A sluggish fish will not attack a fast-moving lure.  As the lure is retrieved, note where it is hit and at what depth.  Then focus on that depth.  It is probably the only productive zone on that given day. 

Long flexible rods are a good idea for cold water fishing.  Those seven plus foot rods will allow one to take up slack line for a quick hook set, yet add the whip necessary for long casts.  They allow one to cover more water without moving their casting location.

 A good line for this type of fishing is four pound monofilament.  It is light enough to not spook fish. 

Stallings maintains that the old weather poem contains good advice for the early winter angler.  When the wind is blowing in the North, no fisherman should set forth.  When the wind is blowing in the East, tis not fit for man nor beast.  When the wind is blowing in the South, it brings the flood over the fish’s mouth.  When the wind is blowing in the West, that is when fishing is best.

Posted 10/20/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Freshwater Fishing

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TOPWATER KEY TO LAKE FORBES FALL ACTION   3 comments

Fall bass fishing is kind of an iffy proposition on any lake.  Find the schooling bass and you have good success.  Fail to find schooling bass results in a tough bite.  Topwater action on Stephen A. Forbes Lake heats up in the fall.  The excitement of bass smashing topwater lures increases as the vegetation of the lake increases each year.

 This Marion County542-acre lake lies about 14 miles northeast of the east‑central Illinois community of Salem.  It is within the boundary of the 3100‑acre Stephen A. Forbes State Fish and Wildlife Area.  The surrounding forest is composed of oak and hickory trees which provide a colorful back drop to fall fishing activity.  The lack of cottages and docks on this lake make it popular with anglers in search of some solitary fishing.

 Completed in 1963 the lake has a maximum depth of 31 feet with 48 miles of shoreline.  The base of the lake is limestone.  The relatively shallow lake has an abundance of areas less than 8 feet in depth.  The average depth is about 15 feet.  The shallows on the north end offer good vegetative cover for largemouth bass.  The water’s pH level of 7.8 is ideal for fish habitat.

 In the fall Gizzard and Threadfin Shad move to the shallows for warmer water and in search of plankton upon which they feed.  It is also an attempt to avoid predator bass that drive them into coves and shallows.

 Natural reproduction of bass in this lake is supplemented with additional fingerlings each year.  The stocked fish tend to make up about 25 percent of the total bass population.  They come from brood ponds within the park.  The ponds are operated by the Illinois Natural History Survey with the assistance of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Most of the bass found in the lake seem to be in the 2- to 3-pound class.  Fish up to 7 or 8 pounds have reportedly been found.  The forage in the lake is primarily shad.

 Other species in the lake include: channel catfish, bullhead, crappie, bluegill, sunfish, hybrid striped bass, tiger muskellunge, warmouth and suckers.

Finding good weed growth seems to be the key to finding fall largemouth bass.  The fish tend to be found somewhere in or near weeds.  The two main types of vegetation are coontail moss and duckweed. Topwater lures such as Moss Boss, Frog and the Rat can be worked over any surface vegetation.  The explosion of fish from the water beneath the vegetation is enough to excite even the most jaded of bass anglers.

 Any lay downs along the edge of the weeds should be worked with 7 inch plastic worms and salt craws.  Just flip lures into the branches and along any tree trunks.  It is advisable to position your boat so you can work parallel on the outer edge of the weeds.

 Spinnerbait and buzzbait anglers often find fish over main lake and secondary points.  While working these points keep alert for bass forcing shad to the surface in a feeding frenzy.

 For topwater and shallow water action fall is a difficult time to beat on Stephen A. Forbes Lake.  There are slips and boat ramps available as well as a concession stand offering rental boats, meals, bait, tackle and a variety of other services.  For more details contact the Site Superintendent, Stephen A. Forbes State Fish & Wildlife Area, R.R.1, Kinmundy,IL62854.  The phone number is 618‑547‑3381.

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