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SOUTHERN ILLINOIS WATERFOWL HUNTING   Leave a comment

 

Flocks of ducks and lines of geese crossing the winter skies provide a reassurance of winter being on the way to southern Illinois.  A little behind the northern part of the state, and perhaps milder, winter still means waterfowl hunting aplenty.

Skilled and novices hunter attempt to lure birds from the flock into gun range of their hiding places in the fields and watery areas. Daily the birds lift off from the protection of the refuges in search of food in far distant grain fields.  Most return each evening to spend the night.  This is winter in this part of the state.  The birds will repeat the cycle again tomorrow.

With commercial hunting clubs that cater to the needs of waterfowl hunters on a daily basis, southern Illinois also has public access areas for the freelancer with a boat and dozen decoys.  Hunters, who check with local Chambers of Commerce and tourism bureaus, can still find low cost waterfowling.

The public access areas of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge consist of two types: Public Hunting and Controlled Hunting Area.

Those wishing to use the Public Hunting areas are required to possess a Recreational User Permit ($2 per day) which can be purchased at the Visitors Center on Route 148 about two miles south of Illinois Route 13 on Route 148. Only temporary blinds can be used in these areas.  They must be removed at the end of each days hunt.  Both water and ground blinds must be at least 200 yards apart and can contain up to five hunters.  Generally speaking, the open hunting area lies at the west end of the refuge property.

The Controlled Hunting area is located just south of Route 13, between the open and closed areas of the refuge. It consists of 14 water and 15 land blinds.   There are also 2 handicap accessible blinds which are available on a reservation basis.  Physically challenged hunters with a Class II Disability Card can reserve one of the two blinds for up to 5 days per month.  For details contact the Refuge at 618-997-3344.

All hunters, regardless of the area in which they hunt, are required to have an Illinois General Hunting License, Federal Waterfowl Stamp and Illinois Waterfowl Stamp. Local sporting goods, bait shops, and other venders in the area have an ample supply of all of these.  Licenses are also available on line at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website.

Free information about the Refuge and hunting programs can be obtained from the Visitors Center at the phone number listed above.  A free color brochure on hunting in Williamson County is available from Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, Illinois, 62959.  Their phone number is 1-800-GEESE-99.  Information is also available on line at: or by email to: info@visitsi.com.

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STRIPER FISHING   Leave a comment

Are you looking for reel screeching runs from a big brawny fish that is sure to break tackle? The striper is hard to beat.  For anglers in a number of Illinois lakes these transplants pay big dividends in fishing action.

The striper is a saltwater relative of the white bass.  It resembles the white, but is more elongated and less compressed with a nearly straight back.  The color of the striper is a dark greenish to bluish on top with sometimes a brassy tinge that becomes lighter on the sides.  The underside is silvery.  Most prominent are the seven to eight narrow stripes along the sides going lengthwise giving rise to their name.  Weights vary, but generally they reach about 5 pounds by their third year.  Anglers are now catching fish in the 20 plus range.

Originally a salt water fish that returned to freshwater only to spawn, the striper became popular with freshwater biologists in the 1940’s. When Santee Cooper Lake in South Carolina became an impoundment it trapped some stripers that had gone up the river to spawn.  The fish thrived in this freshwater environment as they gobbled up the numerous shad of the lake.

Biologists taking note of the situation began to stock them in other large freshwater lakes in the eastern U.S. The successful stocking efforts created a new fishing opportunity for open-water anglers on large reservoirs.

Stripers do not usually reproduce naturally in fresh water and require restocking by local state fishery departments. Myths about stripers depleting populations of other game fish are false.  Biological study or surveys have established this fact.

Feeding on gizzard shad, they provide a service to the other populations of game fish in that they are the only predator feeding on the larger shad which are too big for other predators. Adult stripers eat primarily shad and do not eat spiny fish like black bass, white bass, or crappie.

One key to locating stripers seems to be stable water levels.  In the early days, local anglers caught some of the stripers, but not consistently.  The marauding schools moved up and down the lakes.

Although stripers spend most of the year roaming deep open water in pursuit of shad, they seem to be fond of the dam tailwaters.  Anglers move in and cast both lures and live bait into the fast moving waters.

Heavy bass gear will work for these fish.  A medium or heavy rod and bait‑cast reel with 15 plus pound monofilament line will work well.  A 7 foot rod with a flexible tip is a good choice.  The flexible tip allows the fish to grab the bait without meeting with a lot of resistance before they are safely hooked.

The fish’s voracious eating habits allow it to gobble up the bait before the angler is even aware of the strike.  They hook themselves.  The bait on a 2/0 to 4/0 circle style hooks seem to be the most popular.

Some stripers will take topwater lures such as the Cordell Redfins trolled in the early morning hours.  Later, one can move up close to dams and locks to cast large jigging spoons and Sassy Shad.  One ounce jigs with plastic bodies in pearl or white seem to work well.

Electronics locate the large schools of fish as they chase the shad.  Once a school is located, anglers either jig or trolls lure or live bait on downriggers.  The jigging is more exciting and productive.

Downstream from dams or locks rip rap banks attract stripers.  The gizzard and threadfin shad are attracted to the plankton and algae in the rocks.  The stripers follow them in and feast on the shad.

Basically, the striper will go anywhere that there is a current break and a good food supply.

Fishing for stripers is an exciting sport and if you decide to keep a couple, they are excellent eating.

 

DON GASAWAY YOUTH GOOSE CALLING CONTEST   Leave a comment

On the third Saturday of September for the past 13 years I have sponsored the youth goose calling contest at the Southern Celebration of National Hunting & Fishing Day on the campus of John A Logan College, Carterville, Illinois.

I do not sponsor it for any personal gain other than a chance to see youngsters have fun carrying on the calling traditions of their parents. The judges for the contest donate their time and pay their own travel expenses.  The judges are sequestered behind a curtain on the stage.  They cannot see the participants and the callers must not talk while competing.  This year’s judges were Michael Ritter, David Renfro, Zach McCurdy, Gabe Evrard and Cory Niccum.  All are national known winners of calling contest around the country.

Contestants are divided into two age categories named juniors and Intermediates. They participate under the same rules as adults in similar calling contest nationwide.  Each judge scores the participants presentation.  The highest and lowest scores are thrown-out and the three in the middle become the callers score.  The youngsters draw numbers from a hat to select the order in which they participate.  The drawing is held again for the second round.  The contestants call twice as a minimum.  If there are any ties a call off it presented.

This year’s winners in the Junior category are Payton Wottowa (1st), Hunter Chapman (2nd) and Audrey Ham (3rd.) The winners in the Intermediate category were Ty Draper (1st), Caleb Ham (2nd) and Alex Webb 3rd.)  They all received a huge amount of waterfowl related merchandise and the first place in each category also received a shotgun.

CATCHING ILLINOIS CATCHABLE TROUT   Leave a comment

Each October, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks rainbow trout into lakes around the state.  While they refer to this program as the catchable trout program, to some the term catchable does not apply.

While some anglers will quickly catch their limit, others will fish all day for a fish or two, perhaps none.  The highest percentage of fish taken comes on opening day.  All too soon anglers catch the most stupid fish.  Catching then becomes more challenging.

Trout taken early are the more aggressive feeders that have learned to muscle out the other guys.  They seem to take just about any bait presented leaving the more shy fish.

Trout react to temperature of their surroundings.  They move to locations within the lake that are most comfortable for them.  It could be a particular depth or a cove where the water temperature is ideal.

They prefer a temperature range of 56 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit.  When water temperature reaches the 80 degree or higher level, fish die.  Trout also prefer water with a pH in the range of 5.8 to 9.5 which is a range between acid and alkaline. Most southern Illinois lakes have a pH of 7.5.

Catchable trout are hatchery reared fish.  They grow up on a diet of trout pellets.  When released into a lake or pond they continue those hatchery feeding habits for a few days.  These adaptable little fish soon adopt the wild trout feeding habits and maintain them until caught by an angler.

This adaptability means that the angler must also adapt his patterns to continue to catch the fish.

Early on the trout will take spinners and marshmallows.  Even Velveeta cheese spread placed on a very small hook suspended about 18 inches beneath a small float.

After a few days, anglers must switch to live bait.  It is at this point that worm dunking becomes popular.  Rainbow trout have about 2,500 taste buds.  That compares with about 9,000 in humans.  Trout are one of least selective feeders.  However, they soon turn to only baits that contain tastes commonly found in living tissue.  They seek out live baits such as mealworms, red worms, maggots, minnows and nightcrawlers.

Pieces of nightcrawler on a number 10 hook are very effective.  About one third of a nightcrawler can be skewered onto the hook making the bait last longer.

Fresh from the hatchery fish tend to feed within the top foot or two from the surface.  Late season fish become bottom huggers.  Slip sinker rigs tipped with nightcrawler seem to be most productive.

In the late fall weather can also be an indication of fish location.  On a windy day, it is advisable to fish with the wind in your face.  Most of the catchable trout locations are lakes with relatively featureless bottoms.  Structure such as drop offs and points become the only thing to which the fish can relate.

On opening morning, these catchable lakes often have anglers standing elbow to elbow.  However, if you can wait a day or two, the lake you may find a more normal trout fishing opportunity.

For a list of waters open for the taking of catchable trout, contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources regional office near you or the site superintendent of a park listed in the Illinois Fishing Information booklet published by the IDNR.  The booklet is available wherever fishing licenses are available and on line at http://www.il.gov.us.

CHUKARS ARE CHALLENGING   Leave a comment

Most hunters are familiar with the fact that Ringneck Pheasants came to North American through efforts by. But, there was another exotic introduced a few years later in l893 that has not received as much notoriety.  They are the Chukar Partridge or Chukars which came to at least 4l states and six Canadian provinces.  The stockings began with just five pairs but now include millions of birds that are available in the wild in l0 western states as well as on hundreds of shooting preserves throughout the country.

In the wild, these imports from India are not difficult to hunt, but the areas they choose for habitat are difficult to negotiate. They love hilly areas and run uphill and flying downhill when flushed.  They do not hold well for a dog because they are a nervous bird that likes to keep moving.  Because of its choice of habitat it does not displace any of native birds and it provides a gamebird in areas where none existed previously.

Chukars do not do well in all areas due to their particular dietary requirements. They are members of the Phasianidae family which includes domestic chickens, wild fowl such as Francolins, guinea fowl, partridges, peafowl, pheasants and snowcocks.  These birds feed primarily on the ground even though they will take food from shrubs and low tree limbs.  The young feed on insects while the older birds tend to feed on what is available.  They prefer such things as buds, fruit, roots, and seeds but will eat insects, snails, worms and other small animals.  It is this eating of worms, slugs and snails that is their downfall in most of the country.  This food supply is often the host of disease organisms that kill the Chukar.  They eat grubs and worms where they are available and as a result tend to die out in such areas.

Early attempts to establish huntable populations of Chukar in the eastern states met with failure due to the bird’s inability to avoid eating grubs and worms. Shooting preserves met with moderate success raising them on wire.  Flight pens with mesh floors kept the birds off the ground where they could not get access to worms and grubs.  But, the birds became too accustomed to the presence of humans.  As a result, they seemed to lose much of their wildness.  This made the birds less suitable for hunting preserves.  Breeders overcame the problem by the raising of the birds in isolation.  They do not have human contact and thus retain the wildness that makes them flush when approached.  The end result is a very good game bird for the shooting preserve.

Chukars are about the size of a ruffed grouse with a striking appearance. The back and breast are a subdued olive-gray tone set off by the deep crimson of the bill, feet, and legs.  The white throat and cheeks separate from the breast by a jet-black necklace which loops upward to form a mask across the eyes.  The sides are buff colored and barred with dark black and chestnut vertical stripes.  The tail is a rust-brown color.

In the wild, the chukar is as much a covey bird as the bobwhite quail. On a shooting preserve they are often in groups of 3 or four.  When flushed they burst into the air, their short, broad, cupped wings enable them to attain a speed of 35 to 40 miles per hour in just a few seconds.  As soon as they reach top speed the chukar glide.  Upon landing, they tend to run uphill and hide in the nearest cover.  Once the hunter is out of sight, chukars will reassemble the covey.

Flushing dogs are the ticket to hunting these little uphill racers. Pointing dogs will often point to a spot where the birds were as they race away through the cover.  The flushing dog will charge through the birds sending them scattering into the air.  After they have been scattered, chukars will often hold tight in the tallest grasses or in clumps of grass and brush.

As for what gun and ammo to use, the best gun will have an improved cylinder and modified choke. A lightweight, fast handling shotgun is best.  12 or 20 gauge with 26 inch barrels is a good choice.  No. 7 1/2 shot is ideal.

If you would like to take the challenge of the chukar contact any shooting clubs. Many of them will offer chukar shooting in addition to the pheasant and quail shooting.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS NATIONAL HUNTING AND FISHING DAYS CLELEBRATION   Leave a comment

 

An estimated 30,000 people will flood onto the campus of John A. Logan College, Carterville, Illinois over September 23 and 24.  Southern Illinois Hunting & Fishing Days is a southern Illinois tradition for the past 30 years.  The purpose of the event since its inception has been to introduce the public to the outdoor experience and ethics.

The huge crowds mean the two hundred plus vendors will present everything from food to hunting and fishing equipment for sale. Each year the vendor space expands due to increased demand.

Fishing activities include weigh-ins for both the popular King Catfish Contest and the High School Team Fishing tournaments. Fishing experts on a variety of species will present seminars for anglers from all levels of expertise.  The 5,000 gallon Bass tub contains a variety of Illinois fish.

A myriad of dog demonstrations include retrievers, foxhounds, coon dogs and pointing dogs. Other dogs include search and rescue dogs, agility dogs, and dock dogs.

The “dock dogs” display is one of the most interesting to visitors. There is a competition by the “pros” for the longest distance covered by a jumping dog and in between contests other dog-handlers can train their dogs in the sport.

Popular activities in the Kids Village sponsored by McDonald’s restaurants of southern Illinois include such things as fishing and nature seminars, BB gun shooting, and archery shooting. Children fish for stocked fish in the campus pond and win prizes such as bicycles.

Another popular activity at Southern Illinois Hunting & Fishing Days is a variety of waterfowl calling contests. Held each year they attract callers from across the nation to compete with the best of the best.

Waterfowlers compete in the popular waterfowl calling contests each day beginning with the youth contests and winding up with the World Open contest on Sunday afternoon. Contestants compete for pride, money and merchandise.

Archers can shoot in a field archery course set up on the campus. A smaller target range is available in the Archery Tent.  Dick’s Sporting Goods, sponsor of the tent, will have free drawings every hour.

In the Deer Tent the “Tucker Buck”, the largest non-typical buck ever harvested in North America is on display. Also the Tennessee state record typical buck is on display.  Inside the college the Illinois state record Hybrid Black Crappie, caught at Kinkaid Lake this year will be on display.

Artists, taxidermists, and other artisans display their work in the campus gym. Food venders are available across the campus.  Recreational vehicle (RV) and boat dealers will also be displaying their products.

Make plans now to attend the 30th Anniversary of the Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days September 23 -24, 2017.  You and your children do not want to miss this one.

 

FALL HUNTING IN SOUTHERN ILLINOIS   Leave a comment

Fall hunting trips bring out the hunter in all of us.  Just such a trip to southeastern Illinois is an excellent idea for an extended weekend or even just for a day afield.

Excellent wildlife habitats and thousands of acres of public access land, make southern Illinois a paradise for the hunter.  The combination of state, federal, and county lands provide hunters with more than 400,000 acres in which to pursue game and enjoy the outdoors.

Weather and habitat conditions during the hunting season affect wildlife.  Farm production schedules’ do also affect the presence of game in certain areas.  If the crops have all been harvested the game may move to another area.  Game is usually common in and around the agricultural fields.

Although not abundant, quail are present in larger numbers than most of the rest of the state. Quail like areas with a good mix of row crops, small grains, legumes and grassland.  Land connected by wooded fencerows and forest edges is best.  Turkeys also like this type of cover and they are much more numerous.

Illinois deer population owes its numbers to programs that brought back their numbers from a time when they were devastated by over hunting. The programs began in southern Illinois.  Deer like grain crops but seek those fields located next to heavy edge cover and forests.  They like to feed in the fields and feel more secure in the heavy cover as they rest.

Rabbits prefer the abandoned farmsteads with their mix of row crops, small grain and shrubby fencerows.  Southern Illinois contains probably the largest numbers of cottontail rabbits. Old pastures and forest edges provide the right combination of open areas with an overhead canopy that protects them from flying predators.

Fall hunting trips also provide sportsmen with an opportunity to wet a line in one of the many lakes and ponds of southeastern Illinois.  Such adventures are Cast & Blast trips.

For a complete listing of the public lands of southern Illinois check the IDNR Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations available wherever hunting licenses are available.  It is also on line or from the IDNR offices around the state.  The booklet lists the properties, the game available and any special site-specific regulations that apply.  It is fall and time for hunters to trek to base camp in southeast Illinois.

 

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