Really big weekend in Illinois: Upland game & bucks

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Ivica Kuhtic-Hrdjun goes to a beekeepers’ meeting and talk turns to bucks when Mike Rusnak shows him a photo of a big buck stuck on a backyard fence in a Glenwood.

It’s that time of the year, elusive bucks loose their sense in rut and show the rationality of teenage boys. (Mike Murphy’s Buck of the Week and other nominations show that activity picked up by Halloween weekend.)

Overall this weekend should be the second biggest for hunters in Illinois. The weekend of the first firearm deer season later this month will draw more than 200,000 into the Illinois fields and woods, but this weekend will have close to those numbers.

Upland game–pheasant, quail, rabbit–seasons open Saturday. Decades ago this was a cultural event (church breakfasts, fire-hall dinners) in many places with hundreds of thousands venturing afield.

Those days are gone. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources estimates only 15,549 hunted pheasants last year, even with an increase of four percent; rabbit hunters dropped six percent to 34,874; and quail hunters increased five percent to 11,328.

The drop in upland hunting is a function of both landscape (suburbanization, farming practices) and cultural (other pursuits, focus on deer hunting) changes.

Upland prospects remain largely the same.

Road surveys for pheasants were similar to 2014. But here’s a tip, officials found that areas with State Acres For Wildlife (CP38 or SAFE) Conservation Reserve Program practice showed positive trends.

The road-kill index for rabbits was down 21 percent (1.6 rabbits per 1000 miles raveled). That surprises me. I thought the wet summer led to better cover. The number of quail counted during road surveys was slightly higher and the number of stops where quail were seen or heard was slightly lower than in 2014.

Armistice Day (Nov. 11) traditionally was the peak of duck migration. With climate change, that date moves toward Thanksgiving. A push of waterfowl did come with Halloween weekend weather. At Heidecke Lake, nine boats reported 17 ducks on Saturday, then 11 boats had five geese and 19 ducks on Sunday.

The next two weeks will be the prime for bowhunters aiming for rutting big bucks.

I asked forest wildlife program manager Paul Shelton what date is the peak of the rut. He said using the deer/vehicle accidents as an index, average from 2005-13 was Nov. 13.

“Although annual peaks varied by as much as a week before that to almost a week after,’’ he cautioned.

It is time.

One thing that should help all hunters is the incredibly fast crop harvest. On Sunday, both corn and soybean harvests in Illinois were 96 percent complete.

Click here for the IDNR’s annual report on status of pheasant, quail and rabbits.

DEER NOTE: For the first time this year, the weekly harvest report is below the same time last year 22,632 compared to 23,035. More significantly, another sign of the rut comes with the harvest sex ratio shifting dramatically to 56 percent males and 44 percent females.

WATERFOWL NOTES: Braidwood Lake had a fair weekend with 51 hunters taking 54 ducks and one goose; while the Mazonia lakes drew 63 hunters who only bagged 18 ducks. William W. Powers State Recreation Area (Wolf Lake) on Chicago’s Southeast Side had a slow weekend with 42 hunters taking two geese, three mallards and six other ducks.

ICE SCOOP: Ice will come, despite the 70s this week. I hear The Wetlands Initiative plans at least one day of ice fishing at Hennepin-Hopper lakes this winter.

BOATING: The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant pulled both the new weather-wave buoy off Wilmette and the Michigan City buoy for the winter.

STRAY CAST: Republican “presidential candidates’’ bashing debate moderators are like “fishermen’’ being skunked at a trout farm.

* * * * 


The Early Show: Chicago area’s only fly-fishing show, presented by the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance and DuPage Rivers Fly Tyers, is 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook. Go to Notables include Kyle Zempel, Bob Long Jr., P. J. Smith, Abe Downs, Austin Adduci, Tim Adkins, Ed Buric and Doug Taylor.

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