Archive for October 2016

HUNTABLE RABBIT POPULATIONS   Leave a comment

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Every year country roads and farmsteads show abundant populations of rabbits. Yet when hunting season comes around they all seem to have vanished.  Estimating rabbit populations are difficult for the best of small game biologists.

The winter just passed was the warmest on record. There was above average rainfall which should transfer to abundant rabbit populations.

One rabbit in ten ever lives to be a year old in the wild. It seems that everything works against their growing old.

Like most small game animals and birds, Mother Nature allows rabbits to rise 30 to 50 young each year. But the odds are just against their survival.

Rabbits do well in heavy cover and in remote areas of overgrown fields. Hawks and other flying predators present danger to these furry bundles.  For this reason they like cover that conceals them from overhead sight.  Weather during the birthing times also effects rabbit populations.  They young of the year need favorable weather in their early stages of life.

Here in Illinois the best locations to find rabbits are those with good habitat. Weather in the central and southern locations is not what has hurt the rabbit populations.  But rather habitat loss is the problem.

Rabbit hunters have to work harder each year to find suitable habitat containing the “smallest whitetail.”

For the past 10 years or so the populations have remained steady but at a low level. Much of the blame for habitat loss in those years was high commodity prices for corn and soybeans.  Land that might otherwise go to set-aside programs like CRP went into grain production.

The loss of CRP land is a major problem as more and more land does not go into CRP and other set aside programs. Rather it goes to produce grain crops.  The once abandoned farmsteads that were popular with rabbits are being cleared as seemingly every inch of land is too valuable not to be placed in production.  Landowners are clearing trees and brush piles in an effort to make every acre productive.

With the commodity prices softening some of that land may be going back into habitat production and rabbit production will follow. Should this trend continue for the next two or three years it is possible that rabbit production looks good for the future.

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GENTLEMAN BOBWHITE IN ILLINOIS   1 comment

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The explosion of the flush, fast darting flight and the fact that they are excellent table fare makes the Gentleman Bobwhite a popular game bird in the southeastern part of the nation including southern Illinois.

Their adaptability to a variety of habitats helps in their development.  Modern forestry practices provide habitat for quail not previously found in some areas.  Studies show that clear-cut areas provide excellent habitat for as long as five years until the young pine and hardwood seedlings close the overhead canopy shading out quail food plants.

Nationally, the quail is the number one gamebird.  This is due to stocking of wild birds and the raising of birds for the preserve shooting market.

Quail live on the seeds of weeds, berries, insects and green vegetation.  They prefer vegetation that is neither too dense nor too thin.  Well managed habitat produces an abundance of quail for years.  The population replenishes itself within one or two years.

Extremes in weather can have some effect on the population. Illinois mild winter and slightly above average rainfall throughout the spring has seemingly aided in the survival of this year’s chick production. Predator control has a limited effect on the populations.  Probably more detrimental is the effect of free roaming cats or dogs.

Perhaps one of the better things to happen to the quail population has been the Federal government set aside programs which pay farmers to take marginal land out of crop production, sow them in grasses and leave them un-grazed and un-mown for years. In recent years fewer acres are now in place with the set-aside programs of CRP and CP42 Pollinator Habitat.

Proper fence row management provides cover as can a narrow strip of tall grasses or weeds.  Ditches, gullies and other such areas are manageable by letting vegetation grow to produce habitat.  It is important to quail populations that mowing be limited or even avoided from May 1 to August 1 each year. It is during this period that the hens are at most risk as they hunker down to protect either their eggs or chicks from the mower. The result is that the hens die and the destruction of the chicks and eggs takes place.

A bird of the edges, quail feed in more open areas but do not stray far from the safety of cover.  They would rather walk than fly and avoid anywhere that does not contain food, water and overhead cover.

Water to meet the needs of quail does not have to be standing water.  According to studies, quail will thrive on green plants and insects that result from damp soil.  Given green plant material and the insects that such growth attracts, quail metabolize enough water to survive and successfully reproduce.

The best place to hunt quail is where the quail are.  Hunters have limited options.  They have to know someone who has land available for hunting or belong to a club that manages for quail.  The minimum acreage is about 500-acres to hold enough birds to last an entire season without additional stocking.  With a stocking program, and the release of additional birds for shooting purposes during the season, less land will suffice.

 

DOVE HUNTING TIPS FOR THE LATE SEASON   Leave a comment

The key to late season dove hunting seems to be habitat management. It is not like shooting on opening day when there is a lot of attractive feeding sources in grain fields as yet un-harvested.

Here in Illinois hunters focus on grain fields and watering holes. With most of the land use dominated by agriculture that makes reasonable sense.  However, this land use can include such diversity in the habitat as to involve hedgerows, prairie, riparian and upland forest, timber draws and cedar glades in addition to the cropland.

The great habitat creates a potential for good wintering habitat and hunting. However, cold weather often causes the dove population to migrate south.

Fields planted to attract the late comers usually include such grains as native sunflowers and wheat. Fields usually nonproductive become productive by planting native feed-seed mixtures.  These seeds not only attract doves but they also benefit other birds native to the area.

The Illinois dove season usually begins in early September and continues for 70 days. Often dove hunters only hunt for the first few days.  Veteran dove hunters know that with planning and luck they can often find action for the entire 70 day season.

As the daylight hours become shorter, doves tend to feed earlier until in November when they are feeding in the early afternoon shortly after 1 P.M. Hunters tend to move to the prime feeding and watering areas.  These can include those nearer buildings such as grain bins.  They seek out spilled grain from harvesting operations.  The birds prefer watering ponds with bare shores as they provide a source of grit for digestion and security from predators that might be waiting.

Although late season dove hunting can be an iffy proposition there is also the possibility of a big flock of migrating birds arriving overnight.

A 12 GA shotgun equipped with a skeet choke and loaded with No. 7 shot can knock down doves up to 40 yards away. Steel shot is federally required for hunting all migratory birds including doves.

Late season dove hunting can be frustrating in that there are usually fewer birds available. However the temperature conditions are more comfortable for the hunter and often one has the hunting area to himself.

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