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Illinois hunting: Upland-game program

SIBLEY, Ill.–Dan Newhouse meticulously cut at a pheasant on a table just inside the open door of an old barn shed on the east edge of Sibley Habitat Area.

“The last study on parasites in pheasants [in Illinois] was done in the 1930s,’’ said

Newhouse, a retired wildlife biologist. “It is another piece of the puzzle. It will

help the biologists manage the sites.’’

Let’s talk about public hunting sites. Illinois ranks 47th among states for public land.

But there is one remarkable program for public hunting in Illinois, the free upland

game permit program. Draws for three dozen plus sites are held each August. Those

who draw a permit and several hunting companions (depending on the site up to six

hunters) have the site for the permitted day, or king for a day.

I was bummed this year when neither I nor any of my regular group drew a permit.

But luck was with me and late invites came to two premier sites: Sibley from Heartland

Outdoors publisher Jeff Lampe on Dec. 4 and Saybrook HA from faithful reader John

Saban on Thursday. I will get to Saybrook another day.

Sibley was everything I expected from a massive expanse of cover (630 huntable acres)

to quality birds. Put it this way, two cockbirds flew up while we were in the parking lot.

Star of the day was Pip, a Springer spaniel pup owned by Jeff “Springer’’ Idleman.

Gary “Farmer’’ Forlines’ 10-year-old Lab Indy and Lampe’s 3-year-old

Lab Bridget completed a trifecta of good dogs. I hunted with Forlines and Lampe on one

of Indy’s first hunts, the most remarkable public-land duck hunt I’ve ever been on. Dogs

and memories link naturally. Pip and Sibley will be linked in my memories.

The dogs did good work finding birds and we shot solidly: 5-for-8

on cockbirds in three hours of hard hunting. We saw three other cockbirds we did not

shoot at and 18 hens.

“I would have to go back to when I was a kid for something like this,’’ Forlines said.

That is the value of the free upland game permit program.

A series of studies are ongoing to make the sites even better. Eric Swenson and Tim

Lyons have an extensive radio-telemetry study at Sibley and Saybrook. Idleman and

Lampe wore GPS units for them. More another time on that. We also did pre and post

questionnaires on expectations. I had high expectations of the hunt, but it was even

better than I expected. Sibley is all of that, even in the first week of December.

Snow spit enough for a dusting in Gibson City when we broke for lunch at Bayern Stube.

Then we came back to give our pheasants to Newhouse.

It is such a good site other studies are going on, including the parasite study Newhouse

helped on. Hunters at Sibley brought their harvested birds in, then he carefully removed

the trachea, large intestine and crop. In a couple cases, he recovered a radio transmitter

in a pheasant.

After cutting out the parts he needed, he breasted the birds for the hunters.

As I chatted with Newhouse, Lampe spotted a pair of cockbirds fly out of the nearby

grass. He and Forlines set off with Bridget and Indy.

It was time.

The spits of snow slacked as I drove home.