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Deer hunting Midewin: Different rewards and quirks in hunting Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Deer hunting at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a different sort of hunting with its own rewards and quirks.

The view from a ground blind on the edge of woods and prairie at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Credit: Dale Bowman
The view from a ground blind on the edge of woods and prairie at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
Dale Bowman

As rain stopped its rhythmic tapping on the blind Sunday, I came awake, startled, and stared into the eyes of an 8-point buck 15 yards away. Its neck, head and antlers spiked above dried fall prairie at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

It was not a dream, yet it was my dream.

But I could not get a shot, then spent the rest of the day anticipating seeing it again near dark. No such luck. But there is the second season.

Illinois’ opening three-day firearm deer season ended Sunday. The second season is Dec. 3-6. When the Illinois Department of Natural Resources releases harvest totals, I will post them at chicago.suntimes.com/outdoors.

For the first time, I drew a firearm deer permit at Midewin. Its deer hunting started in the fall of 2001. Midewin had 110 permits this fall, administered by the IDNR, for the two firearm seasons and muzzleloader season.

I enjoyed scouting for deer as an excuse to wander the U.S. Forest Service’s 20,283-acre site near Wilmington.

My wife likes to point out, disparagingly: ‘‘Hunting is a metaphysical exercise for you.’’

She’s right, though her main point is that I rarely bring home the venison.

It is different hunting Midewin. There are specific hunting sites, marked by flexible posts with numbers. There are GPS coordinates for each spot, but I rather proudly used my navigational skills in the dark on opening morning (aiming to the right of Orion in the southwestern sky) and found my post.

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie utilizes a system of permanent signs that are marked with numbers designating hunting spots, which have GPS coordinates. Credit: Dale Bowman
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie utilizes a system of permanent signs that are marked with numbers designating hunting spots, which have GPS coordinates.
Dale Bowman

Hunters signed in directly at the trailhead parking lots, so they could see where others were.

I saw no deer on opening day, but I heard a couple snort in the dark. On Sunday, I heard a couple of more snort in the dark, then saw the big buck.

It was different tamping down prairie plants to make shooting lanes, different to sit on the edge of prairie and woods.

The public continues to be able to access Midewin during hunting season. Hunters must be at least 150 yards away from parking lots and trails while hunting.

After the second season, I will decide on applying next year.

More information is at fs.usda.gov/activity/midewin/recreation/hunting.

Illinois hunting

Bowhunters continue on a pace well ahead of last year. There were 59,815 deer reported through Thursday, compared with 55,079 for the same period in 2019. . . . At William Powers State Recreation Area on Chicago Southeast Side, hunter heritage biologist Nicky Strahl emailed that 19 hunters bagged four geese, two mallards and six other ducks last week. . . . At Heidecke Lake, site superintendent Chris Jones emailed that 20 boats reported 55 ducks last week.

Wild things

A rare evening grosbeak. Photo provided by John Heneghan
A rare evening grosbeak.
Provided by John Heneghan

On Friday, John Heneghan messaged about an evening grosbeak at his feeder last week. Sightings are usually rare in northern Illinois, but he messaged flocks of eight or more were being seen during the finch irruption this fall/winter. . . . Annual Thanksgiving tip: Readers report good visits to see sandhill cranes at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, southeast of Valparaiso, Indiana. Click here for the information on seeing the cranes at J-P.

Stray cast

Hunting Sunday without wondering about the Bears was like meditating and not worrying whether the youngest is doing remote learning.