Illinois pheasant numbers down some but still above 5-year average
By Greg Breining
Illinois hunters can expect a season that’s perhaps not quite as good as last year, but is still better than average.
Spring crow counts suggest “we’re down about 12 percent from last year but we’re still above the 10-year average,” says Wade Louis, habitat team program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
As always, northeastern Illinois will produce the most birds. “Livingston, McLean, Ford, LaSalle counties — anywhere in the northern half of the state you find good habitat, you will find birds,” Louis says.
Winter, spring and summer weather have been favorable for birds. Illinois is rarely cold or snowy enough to severely impact pheasants. Parts of the state have received heavy rains though. “Locally we could have some mortality,” says Louis, but the effects probably aren’t widespread.
Illinois is not the pheasant state it was in the 1970s. “There was a boost in the early ’90s with the CRP program. Then it went down again and we stayed pretty steady over the last 10 years or so,” says Louis.
The reason — no surprise — is grassland habitat. Many pheasants alive today owe their survival to the Conservation Reserve Program known as State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (SAFE). The largest safe acres in Illinois are in the east-central region.
The key to finding birds this fall is finding some of this high-quality habitat, Louis says. Look for grassland with a mix of native wildflowers and grass species near crops. Avoid overgrown fields of dense grass without much diversity where it’s too hard for birds to run around.
In a state that is 97 percent privately owned, a big challenge is finding access. Private land is a great option, if you can swing it. If not, try Illinois Recreational Access Program (IRAP) lands. These are private lands leased for hunting, available to hunters who sign up.
According to Tammy Miller, special programs manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, “As of today, we have five counties — Christian, Henry, Knox, Scott, and Whiteside — totaling approximately 1,150 acres that have upland game hunting on them through IRAP.”
If You Go
Upland game hunting through IRAP occurs the last three weekends in December. A group of up to four hunters can hunt a two-day weekend in December. Hunters must complete an application and send to IRAP for a lottery that will be held about 25 days before each hunting weekend. For details, click here
The pheasant season this year runs November 6 – January 8 in the north and November 6 – January 15 in the south. Daily bag is 2 roosters; possession limit is 6. (Exception: On the second day of the hunting season, you may possess no more than twice the daily limit.) See state hunting regulations for upland game zone boundaries.