Archive for September 2013


Photo courtesy Mike Schoonveld

Photo courtesy Mike Schoonveld

Modern trappers work hard to dispel the myth and misinformation about their art.  Contrary to the profile put forward by animal rights people, the modern trapper is a lover of the outdoor not a despoiler of it.  They love the outdoors and the skill required to outwit their quarry on its own turf.

The trapper is probably the most knowledgeable naturalist in the wild.  He knows his woods, and its occupants.

Surveys done in big cities find the public is not so anti-trapping once they learn trapping does not endanger species and seasons regulate the harvest numbers.  It is the people who know little about the outdoors and wildlife management that quickly to condemn trapping.  They seem to fall prey to the misinformation put forth by animal rights activists.

Trappers, not unlike hunters, must play attention to their gear, tools, clothing and scents to outwit the animals they seek.  They must scout their prospective trap line area for signs of animal activity.  Then it is a matter of gaining permission to trespass.  Pre-trapping season consists of trap maintenance, securing scents to cover human smells, and reading all the regulations that the state imposes upon the trapper.

Animals in the wild often fall victim to predation, fighting, accident, starvation, and disease.  Trapping is a substitute for some of this natural mortality and provides human use of some of the excess animals.

Trapping provides an income for thousands of outdoorsmen and women.  It can be supplemental income for youngsters in school.  Fur sales add millions of dollars to the economy.

Trappers also help property owners avoid damage to their land.  Trapping is an efficient method of controlling furbearers who have become a nuisance.  Oversize populations of furbearers can cause severe damage to the vegetation.  A marsh can become unproductive for other forms of wildlife.  Trappers help control animal populations.

Much is made of the holding of an animal in the “leg hold” trap.  Death by the lingering torment of disease from overcrowded populations is harsher than a day-long detention in a leg hold trap.  Trappers check their sets daily.

All animals die whether we harvest them or not.  Death occurs whether we see it or not.  Do we choose a form of death that provides a harvest and helps stabilize the population?  Alternatively, do we leave it to nature to provide one of the natural deaths of starvation, disease, predation, accident or fighting?  Do we enjoy an economic and recreational benefit or not?

Fur prices in recent year have been down.  However the prices for furs trapped during the 2012-13 season reached a 30-year high.  Furs such as muskrat, red fox and raccoon saw prices not seen since the 1970’s.   The result is an increased interest among novice trappers for this season.  Many experienced trappers are making plans for longer trap lines as well.

Trapping is a part of our heritage.  The early settlers were trappers.  Today it is an essential tool for wildlife management.


Whitetail Doe 0001

Early season bowhunters often encounter deer secluded in cornfields.  Hunting them requires an adaptation in hunting techniques.

Farmers are sometimes far behind schedule in planting their corn.  As a result, they do not get the field harvested until later than usual.  Many deer are going to stay in the heavy corn cover where they are less vulnerable.

Taking a white-tailed deer in a cornfield can be a simple matter of planning the attack and then staying with that pattern.

To begin, look for fields that are 80 percent harvested.  In areas with sparse timber for the deer to use as cover, they must move to the cornfields.  The deer seem secure in the cover of the unharvested corn and let down their guard.  Some deer will nervously approach a field and then completely relax once in the corn.  Good hunting days are those after fresh snow or rain has fallen and with a gentle wind blowing.

Begin the stalk on the downwind side of the field and perpendicular to the cornrows.  That is, if the cornrows are north and south, stalk will be east and west.  Start out about 30 yards in from the end of the field and move slowly across the field looking down the rows for deer.  Be aware of just how far up the rows you can see and divide that by half.

At the other side of the field, moves windward the distance that you determined as half of your visibility in the field.  Then return across the field parallel to the first path.  Again, look down each row in search of deer.  Repeat this pattern until a buck appears.

If a buck is sighted, back up three or four cornrows and move parallel to the row occupied by the buck.  At this point carefully look for other deer bedded near the buck sighted.  If they are spooked, the deer will in turn alert the bedded buck.  All of the time, remain down wind of the target buck.  If the quarry should be spooked and run away, remain in place and waiting.  Deer will circle to a location downwind of the place from which he started and then approach it to bed down again.  The bowhunter then has another chance for a shot.

If the deer is not alert, shoot his deer through the openings between corn plants.  A long shot is 15 feet in this kind of hunting.  Most shots are 8 to 10 feet.

Bowhunters shooting a heavy bow with the most stiffly spined arrows that accurately shoot from it do better.  Lighter spined arrows have too much parallax coming out of the bow.  Parallax is the bending of the arrow in response to the force of a bowstring upon release.  Because the arrow is flopping side to side, it hits on the corn plants and the arrow deflects from its course.  A heavy spined arrow travels a straighter course early on and then will penetrate heavy cover.

Hunting the cornstalk deer is a very challenging endeavor at best.  However, with this approach, the hunter to his advantage can use the heavy cover.



Located about 70 miles southeast of St. Louis and 300 miles southwest of Chicago, Perry County contains all the best of rural Illinois.  The Mississippi River lies 30 miles to the west of the county line.  One finds hundreds of acres of strip pits with fish and of public hunting.

This county with a population of about 25,000 is composed of flat land with rolling hills.  Originally founded by settlers in search of its vast coal deposits, it soon became home for many strip mining operations.  The coal was near the surface and therefore companies did not have to dig deep shafts to remove it.

Best known of the public hunting areas is Pyramid State Park, Illinois largest state park.  The park is southwest of Pinckneyville, Illinois.  To get there one takes Illinois State Highway 127 six miles south to Pyatts blacktop and then two miles west to the entrance of the park.

The areas of the park have names according to their acquisition.  They are Pyramid State Park (3,181-acres), Captain Unit (6,105-acres), Denmark Unit (4,385-acres), East Conant Unit (2,824-acres), and Galum Unit (2,520-acres).

Over all, the park is heavily forested hills with numerous lakes and ponds.  It was a strip mining operation for a shallow vein of coal and afterward the deed transferred to the state of Illinois.  All strip mined areas received plantings of hardwoods and pines.  Small fields sprinkled throughout the property contain planted food plots.  The outer edges of the park have cornfields which attract waterfowl and deer in season.

Beginning in 2002, this site became a Quality Deer Management Area.  This means that only antlerless or antlered deer having at least four points on a side are harvestable.  The rule applies to all methods of deer hunting.

Hunting is available for deer, dove, woodcock, turkey, rabbit, squirrel, quail and waterfowl.  All hunters must register by signing in and out at hunter registration boxes where hey list their harvest information.  There are a number of site specific regulations that are posted on the property and available on line at sheet/R5HFS/pyr.htm.

All other state regulations as to licenses and permits apply.

Regulations that apply specifically to the East Conant Unit include such things as special permits for deer and quail hunting.  Upland hunters must wear a cap and outer garment of solid and vivid blaze orange of at least 400 square inches.

East Conant is a little different typography.  It is mostly large crop fields interspersed with fencerows and two large blocks of forest.  Like the rest of the park, hunter quotas and other site specific restrictions are in effect to improve the hunting experience.  Annually this park and unit account for the harvest of over 6,000 mammals and birds.  Included in the figure are some 3,000 ducks, over 400 geese, 1900 dove, 200 squirrels, and 200 quail as well as other species.  About 150 deer are included in the harvest.

Most of these same game animals come from another Perry County public hunting area called Campbell Pond Wildlife Management Area.  This 520 acre land and water reserve reached by traveling east south of DuQuoin on Illinois Route 14 for 1.5 miles and then south on Crabapple road for 2.3 miles.  Then go east on Jellybean road.

The area contains 500-acres of hardwood with 15-acres of old field and 5-acres of water bordered by crop land on all sides.

The site specific regulations are basically the same as for Pyramid State Park.  The game officials of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources from Pyramid State Park oversee both areas.  For more information contact Pyramid

State Park, 1562 Pyramid Park Road, Pinckneyville, IL62274.  The telephone number is 9618)357-2574.


IL Whitetail 0016

How can you enfold tree plantings with your food plot program?  David Osborn explains in this third entry from his speech to the ODMA conference a while back.

Deer orchards are cheaper to install and maintain over the long haul as compared to other food plots.  They do not require installing and maintaining.  There is a lot of work up front but you do not have to plow the ground year after year.  Once you put them in that is your major investment of time.

The first couple of years you need to release them from grass complications.  Grass competes for water and soil nutrition.  Later on you may need to provide some fertilization.  But, maintenance is pretty low.

Some people plant an orchard and walk away from it.  Those orchards are seldom successful.  It is a commitment once you put in an orchard.  This is especially so for the first 2-3 years.  You still have to water some during drought periods.

“The amount of food that is available on the ground at any given time determines when deer come and use it,” according to Osborn.  Particularly mature bucks.  He reports, “They are more likely to come and eat from a small bait pile during the day than from a large one, according to a Michigan State study.”  The probable reason is a large bait pile, where there is plenty of food, teaches them there is plenty of food and they can come back after dark.  With a small bait pile if they wait, does and other wildlife will come and eat the food.  When the bucks get there at night it is all gone.

The same applies to orchards.  If you have trees that drop a lot of fruit over a short period they are going to feed nocturnally.  If you have something that drops a little bit of fruit over a long time then they are going to check it more frequently.

Large orchards put too much fruit on the ground at one time and are harder to hunt.  With small orchards you know where to look for deer to appear.  It is easier to get a feel for their travel patterns from bedding cover to the food source.  With a larger orchard they have too many options.

By isolating trees you cut down on the possibility of tree diseases transferring from tree to tree.

How does a tree orchard affect deer nutrition?  Most people think that dietary protein is the most important element in a deer’s diet.  It is important but the truth is that use more dietary energy than anything else except water.  Dietary energy is particularly important in summer and fall.  They need enough reserves to get them through the winter.  By planting a fibrous food source you help them get dietary energy to get through those times of the year.

Bourse (roughage) takes 14-19 hours to digest in a deer and does not provide dietary energy.   But if they have access to high energy food sources like acorns or fruits to help buffer the effect of the roughage it speeds up digestion so they can eat more food.  They can eat more of these high energy foods and better meet their energy needs over time.

Natural oak stands are typically not consistent producers of acorns.  You can improve production by having multiple species of oak.  Still during poor acorn years the deer still have a difficult time getting enough quality food to overcome the effects of low quality browse.

The acorn production can vary from one pound per acre to 800 pounds per acre.  You need from 90 to 108 pounds of acorns per acre per deer.  Deer will continually search for acorns even after all the viable ones are gone.

The time to have supplemental fruit forage is when they are searching for acorns.   The most valued use of a tree orchard is to compliment other food management practices.

Take an inventory of high energy food sources on your property.  With places like oat fields and clear cuts, take into account sources like food trees, berries, and high quality fruits.  Take into account all this food and identify times of the year when there is a nutritional gap.  Consider using tree orchards to fill the nutritional gaps.   Even if you do not find obvious gaps, it still may be just what is required to lure that big buck out of the brush and give you a shot at him.

Your local nursery can supply some of the domestic varieties that available.  You can select ones to fit the time requirement gaps in your nutritional needs.  There are varieties that produce fruit, early, middle or late.  Select trees that spread out food availability.

Do your homework and make sure these varieties will do well in your climate and area.


IL Whitetail 0062

As part of his presentation on use of soft mast in food plots for deer, David Osborn of the Warnell School of Forestry at the University of George explains some facts about deer movement.  “Habitat development will not have any effect on young bucks’ dispersal, such as moving away they mature,” asserts David.  “Their behavior is driven by herd social structure.”

If a food source is located just outside the deer’s core area they will shift their core area to use that food resource.  If the food source is located within their core area it does not affect the core area.  It might get smaller around something like a feeder.

If multiple sources of high quality complex food sources are present in their home range, the deer will either expand the size of the core area or they set up core areas around each of those sources and use them at different times.

Tree orchards are perfectly suited for small acreage.  If you have a small attractive food plot, deer are going to devour it.  Productivity of that plot is going to go down as it gets more use.  When you need it most it may not be very productive for you.

Browsing deer will damage young trees but it is not that costly to protect them with wire fence cages or tree tubes.  Eventually they will grow out of the reach of deer and their browsing will no longer damage them.

Once these trees mature and start producing it does not matter how much deer use them.  Deer eating fruit does not have any effect on future productivity.

Having established the need for soft mast as part of deer management on your land it becomes time to start planting.  David covers that too in his seminars.


IL Whitetail 0017

Planting trees is not new but it is an underutilized tool for attracting and possibly changing whitetail movement patterns on hunting property.  David Osborn is an advocate of growing more soft mast for deer.

Osborn in addressing a seminar at the conference of Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), he points out that most fruit trees we grow now are not native to North America.  They were not planted before about 1629.  Native Americans planted fruit trees to attract game animals to areas of the forest.  Their number one game animal was white-tailed deer.

David is a deer research coordinator at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources of the University of Georgia.  He oversees the Whitetail Deer Research Facility where he studies use of tree orchards for the purpose of attracting and feeding deer on hunting lands.  His seminar covered a great deal of information.  Therefore it is presented here in three parts.

Fruit orchards are forms of habitat management.  Tree orchards require a level of skill and stewardship.  “By knowing when fruit trees drop their fruit,” says Osborn, “we can select the time when deer will use those areas.  But, they are subject to crop failures and may not produce fruit one year.”

You cannot hunt deer over bait in many states but you can hunt them in tree orchards.

Once deer begin to be attracted to permanent food sources like an orchard, they return to it repeatedly over time.  Young deer learn the location from their mothers and will remember the location over time.  It is learned behavior passed from one generation to another.

Deer sometimes move seasonally from one home range to another.  It usually happens because there is something missing in the habitat.  It can also be because of intensive hunting pressure.   The more diverse the habitat it is less likely the deer will move seasonally.  A deer’s home range can vary from 100-acres to 3,000-acres.

What actually determines home range size can be sex and age of the deer, seasons of the year, and the location of the property.  As a general rule of thumb the better the quality of the habitat the smaller the range size.  With higher deer density the size of the home range is smaller.

A food plot has thermal cover and a variety of food sources for year around living it might minimize seasonal movement of the deer.  They need both lower and upper story cover.



Posted 09/23/2013 by Donald Gasaway in Misc.


058063-R1-82-82Private, public land and private hunting clubs offer waterfowlers a buffet in Illinois.  Public land offers hunting on big water, small water, river and green tree hunting.  Early season duck hunters find: pintails, teal, gadwall and wood duck.  Later the mallards and other species arrive.  By the time the mergansers and golden eyes arrive the season is almost over.  The peak of the migration tends to be about the middle of November.

Later in the season geese begin to arrive.  Most of the flock is Canada geese, but snows and blues are taken as well.

Teal and wood ducks are taken early in the season.  Teal hunting is exceptional on Rend Lake and Carlyle Lake because of the exposed mud flats in both locations.  The flats attract a great number of blue-winged teal.

Rend Lake Wildlife Management Area contains some 7,690 acres near Bonnie, Illinois in Franklin County.  Site specific information is available from the IDNR office at 618-279-3110 or writing to them at RR1, Box 168G, Bonnie, Illinois 62816.  Carlyle Lake Wildlife Management Areas is about 8,764 acres in Fayette County near Vandalia.  The address for the Site Superintendent is RR2, Box 233, Vandalia, Illinois62471 and their phone number is 618-425-3533.

Private water also holds birds.  It can be difficult and/or expensive to gain access for hunting.  That does not mean that the average hunter has to have second rate hunting.  Not at all!

Good areas for duck and goose hunting are on many state management areas such as Oakwood Bottoms, Rend Lake and Carlyle Lake.  The past couple of years, the latter two have held birds right on through the season.  Some have even overwintered.

Oakwood Bottoms is about 3400 acres of flooded timber in Jackson County near Murphysboro, Illinois.  For information about it, contact IDNR at 618-687-1731.

Far southern Illinois is famous for the goose hunting but excellent duck hunting is also available.  Although Illinois as a whole ranks low in the amount of public land available southern Illinois has a lot of good waterfowl areas.

Ducks are present in areas near both the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  Both rivers enjoy good harvests.  Waterfowlers with boats concentrate on areas off sandbars and wing dams for the best results.

Fewer public hunting areas are along the eastern part of the state.  One public area on the eastern border of the state is Dog Island Wildlife Management Area in Smithland Pool.  It is 220 acres in size.  For site specific information contact the IDNR office at Dixon Springs State Park.  The address is RR2, Box 178, Golconda, Illinois62938.  The telephone number is 618-949-3394.

In recent years the focus of waterfowlers has been around the Union County Conservation Area, Crab Orchard Refuge and Horseshoe Lake.  Commercial goose hunting clubs have taken to managing crops in a way that is not baiting and does not run afoul of the laws on baiting.  Yet they do attract ducks to their areas.

Union County Conservation Area is about 2800 acres near Jonesboro, Illinois in Union County.  The refuge office is at 2755 Refuge Road, Jonesboro, Illinois 62952.  Their phone number is 618-833-5175.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Williamson County is owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  The 23,000 acres near Marion, Illinois are a Mecca for waterfowl with parts of the refuge closed to humans.  There is still ample waterfowl hunting areas in refuge blinds or independently from boats in the west end of the lake.  For more information about waterfowl hunting at the refuge contact USF&WS, Carterville, Illinois62918 or call the refuge office at 618-997-3344.  Additional information is available from the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, Illinois 62959.  Their phone number is 800-GEESE-99.

Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area operates by the IDNR from an office at Box 85, Miller City, Illinois 62962.  Their phone number is 618-776-5689.  The Alexander County hunting area contains some 4,190 acres and is open to waterfowl hunting with special hunts for Disabled persons in addition to regular hunting programs.

Traditionally there are a lot of ducks held in the Cache River area and there is public hunting available.  Cache River State Natural Area, in Johnson County, is an unusual cypress swamp hunting area.  The 9,507 acres is different from the more traditional hardwood hunting areas found around Illinois.  For information about the hunting program contact the Site Superintendent at 930 Sunflower Lane, Belknap, Illinois or call the office at 618-634-9678.

Moving to the big waters areas, ducks are hunted from boats with boat mounted blinds.  Rend and Carlyle reservoirs are excellent examples.  Both also have excellent walk-in opportunities.

Other walk-in areas include LaRue Swamp and Oakwood Bottoms.  LaRue Swamp Federal Land is 1000 acres in Union County near Wolf Lake.  For information call 618-833-8576.

The above areas combine to provide over 60,000 acres of waterfowl hunting in the southern tier of counties.  They do not include the several hundred thousand acres in the Shawnee National Forest that also has populations of waterfowl visiting each winter.

Although regulations vary from one area to another, the minimum number of decoys allowed in most public areas is 12.  Some of the areas also have daily assigned blinds while others permit hunters to find their own hunting area after a certain time of the day.  It is best to contact the site, prior to actually planning a hunt.  They are happy to inform the public as to the restrictions in the area.  The IDNR is dedicated to providing a safe and quality hunting experience on public land.  Public land waterfowling is alive and well in southern Illinois.



Crappie Rend Lake 0002

Early in the fall, weather can be quite changeable with hot days and cool nights.  The changes can be confusing to crappie.  Once the weather begins to stabilize, with cooler temperatures the norm, fish tend to move deeper.  Crappies however move toward the shallower water and the cover than can find there.

All summer crappies suspend in open water.  In fall they move toward the weed lines in shallower water.  They will be near, but not in, the structure.  They will be in smaller areas than was the case during spring and summer.

Generally if you locate one fish there will be a number of fish in the same area.  As the vegetation dies, the fish move away from it.  If the angler can find healthy weeds, chances are that a number of fish will be in the same area.

Crappie fishing season extends later in the calendar year in southern Illinois.  Mild winters and an abundance of cooling lakes are good for a bountiful harvest of these find eating fish.

The most productive crappie lures in fall are the same ones that work in the spring and summer.  That is, the 1/32 ounce to 1/8 ounce jigs in white, yellow or chartreuse with either a plastic twister tail or the marabou feather tail.  Leadhead jigs with a small minnow are also deadly on fall crappie.

The jig and minnow combination is deadly on Cedar Lake over in Jackson County southwest of Carbondale.  The fish are in 6 to 8 feet of water.  On some southern Illinois lakes the size of fall crappie is not sensational, but they are good here.  There is good structure in Cedar Lake in the form of standing timber and brush.

In Jackson County there is 145-acre Lake Murphysboro near the town of the same name.  Crappies in this lake are up to 3/4 of a pound in weight.  The crappies like minnows suspended at 8 to 10 feet.

The 2,300 acres of Lake of Egypt produce crappie at varying depths.  Crappie in the shallow water during the evening hours can mean fish at 18 to 20 feet during the day.  Anglers sometimes overlook this lake due to pressure from recreational boaters as well as its close proximity to Crab Orchard Refuge.

The bait of choice on Lake of Egypt is minnows during the daytime.  Jigs are more popular in the evening.  Jigging spoons, Little Georges and Rattling Jakes can produce fish on the points.  The crappie action stays good well into the fall.

The three lakes of Crab Orchard Refuge are Crab Orchard Lake, Devil’s Kitchen Lake, and Little Grassy Lake.  All are located quite close to one another in Williamson County.  All provide good crappie action on jigs and minnows.  Crab Orchard will have fish on the causeways and around structure at depths of two‑and‑a‑half to three feet.

If the water level drops, the action picks up, but the size of the fish tends to decrease.

Structure is the key at Devil’s Kitchen Lake.  Look for fish in the timbered areas and edges of shallow weeds.  Do not overlook the beaver dams.

On Little Grassy the fish will be at about 8 to 10 feet.  Structure is best for locating fish.  As the water continues to cool, the fish will move a couple of feet deeper.

Crappies in southern Illinois are plentiful and provide action throughout the fall and early winter.  Before putting that tackle away for the winter, give it one more shot close to home.




Posted 09/18/2013 by Donald Gasaway in Misc.

%d bloggers like this: