CHANDLERVILLE, Ill.–Illinois waterfowl blind draws are like game-day tailgates at Soldier Field. Only with gun raffles and wilder food options.

Or as a state official said in an unguarded moment, “Redneck Woodstock.’’

Seriously, draws illustrate how precious public land is in Illinois.

On Sunday, I drove 3 1/2 hours to the draw at Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area at the junction of the Sangamon and Illinois rivers. Nearly 2,000 people clotted around grills, deep fryers and massive food and drink spreads.

“It is like an outdoorsman networking event,” Eric Lemcke said. “The more guys you know here, the more things you can do.”

Eric Schenck, executive director of the Illinois Conservation Foundation, put it in perspective, “It’s groups organized to compete, hoping to increase their odds.”

In other words, an ad-hoc social contract (with apologies to John Locke).

Site superintendent Doug Jallas said there were 1,463 entries for 44 blinds, a three-percent chance of drawing a blind.

That’s why the many groups banded together.

Autumn Harvest SC, LLC is more organized than most. But it is mainly what prime organizer Frank Lemcke, Eric’s dad, calls a sweat-equity club.

“You want to hunt more, put more time in [working],” Frank Lemcke said.

Ken Jahnke suggested I meet with the 70-80 people under the white tents of Autumn Harvest.

“You couldn’t see a better party,” said Frank Lemcke, a familiar face in north suburban Ducks Unlimited.

There was a party. Beer, listed as the soup of the day, was slugged before noon.
Food was stellar: venison hindquarter, brats, pork loin sandwiches, snow goose, duck, burgers, Polish sausage, roasted corn, Rice Krispies treats, brownies, potato salad and fries.

The cooks (l-r)–Bob Peters, Mike Mackey and Eric Lemcke–for the Autumn Harvest.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Bob Peters was the main cook; help came from Eric Lemke and Mike Mackey, who dropped fresh-cut fries in a propane-fired deep fryer.

The party is a prelude to the serious business of drawing a blind.

Frank Lemcke said their group started about 30 years ago drawing on the Chain O’Lakes. As hunting grew tougher, they looked to Bath, a river town on Route 78 south of Peoria.

They bought a house on the Illinois River. Originally they rented land around Snicarte Island, then started getting in the daily draw at Sanganois. Then began trying to draw season permits.

Frank Lemcke (left) working the tents of Autumn Harvest.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Jahnke drew a blind for the last two years in a row. Last year Autumn Harvest drew half a dozen blinds, defying the odds.

Nearly to the minute at 2 p.m., wildlife biologist Tim Krumwiede did the opening talk.

First blind chosen was 67, then 47.

The mood grew quieter around Autumn Harvest with each draw, which Frank Lemcke checked off his list. Finally Ashley Suchsland of Gurnee was drawn and picked Blind 14. At the end, Mark Pillar drew their only other blind (24).

All done before 3 p.m.

“Anybody wants to stick around and break down the tents is welcome,” Lemcke said.

Sweat equity and luck.

PEOPLE: Chauncey’s Great Outdoors (WMVP-AM) has a live remote from 6-7 Saturday morning at Paul’s Pizza and Hot Dogs in Westchester.

STRAY CAST: Round gobies nibble a Mini-Mite and spike like Mitchell Trubisky handles the football on the snap.