LACON, Ill. — Danny Newell, 74, reminisced Sunday about his 58th season of waterfowl hunting while waiting for the blind draw at Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area.
He remembered when the old Department of Conservation had rental boats pulled on shore and duck hunters lugged motors to the boats.
‘‘Then the guys who worked at Caterpillar, when it was still around, had money in their pockets and started buying johnboats, so they had to put in a launch,’’ Newell said. ‘‘Then, as the site changed and started filling in, they had to go to mud motors.’’
He bought a Mud Buddy.
Cody Schlosser and Jordan Beall of Henry boated downstream to the draw in an 18-foot johnboat, which came with a story. Earlier this summer, they made a nine-hour drive to Alabama to buy a 40-horsepower Pro-Drive.
‘‘It was the last one within 1,500 miles,’’ Schlosser said.
Waterfowlers go to extremes.
Draws entitle the successful to a blind site, which usually requires building a blind or repairing an existing one, for the season. Think about it as king for a season, though the odds of drawing a blind are slim.
When I asked why Marshall and not nearby Woodford SFWA, which has better hunting, Schlosser said, ‘‘Less people here.’’
Retired site superintendent Tony Colvin ran the draw at Marshall. Twelve spots were available at the Sparland Unit, but only nine people put in. There were 169 cards in the wire mixing barrel for drawing 24 spots at Marshall overall. Those odds are far better than at Woodford, where hundreds drew for 24 spots.
Schlosser came to his first draw at 16 and drew successfully. (He hasn’t since.)
‘‘Beginner’s luck,’’ he said.
‘‘Beginner’s luck, that’s why I am here,’’ said Beall, who was at her first draw.
They brought along Kramer (named for the ‘‘Seinfeld’’ character), a 5-month-old chocolate Lab.
‘‘My dad has been doing this since before I was born, and he has only drawn two,’’ Schlosser, 24, said.
They did not draw one.
Sitting in the shade in a folding chair, Newell remembered: ‘‘Used to have a group of 15. Now 10 of them are dead and other guys stopped going.’’
His group of three didn’t draw a blind.
When the 2 p.m. draw came, the crowd packed toward the tables by the check station, though most hung in the shade.
Noah Swanson, 7, was the first of several kids to draw from the barrel. The first blind went to Jennifer Padilla
of Metamora, who came with her husband, Jay.
‘‘I just said, ‘Wahoo,’ ’’ she said.
They picked Blind 6, which is usually the first pick.
Swanson’s father, Kyle Medearis, said: ‘‘Been at the draw 16 years and never drew a blind.’’
As for why he comes to the draw, Schlosser said: ‘‘Good fun. You see a bunch of people you only see three or four times a year.’’
It’s an experience, and it’s why I’ve bounced around to different sites during the last dozen years.
Best of Show
The Berkley PowerBait Gilly, a soft, bluegill-shaped bait, took overall Best of Show at the ICAST 2021 New Product Showcase.
July and August are my favorite months to explore areas with prairie plants, such as Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. On Sunday, I was rewarded when I stopped by Dixon Waterfowl Refuge on the way home from Marshall SFWA. I tested my plant-identification skills and think I saw hoary vervain, prairie rosinweed, wild bergamot, rattlesnake master, Indian plantain, gray-headed coneflower, royal catchfly, mountain mint and milkweed.
Anthony Rizzo reminds me of discovering a small pebble under the ball of my right foot after I completely strapped on my waders.