As winter settles in over Illinois, waterfowl hunters’ options expand statewide. With ducks and geese fair game in all three Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) designated waterfowl hunting zones it can be a real challenge to decide where to get your boots muddy. Being able to prudently predict their locations or to respond quickly to sightings will maximize your chances of bagging a limit this year.
Since weather determines just about everything when it comes to waterfowl, and since even the T.V. weatherman can’t predict tomorrow’s conditions with great certainty, we will have to base our overview on normal conditions prevailing. Bear in mind that abnormal weather events usually disrupt normal waterfowl movements.
Other than the fact that both species can swim, ducks and geese are totally different critters. They eat different food, they have unrelated migratory patterns, they nest in separated habitat, and they don’t even like to hang out together.
As December begins, duck hunting in Illinois’ northern zone is in its waning days. Assuming a 60-day duck season, hunting will end within the first ten days of the month. Shallow ponds, sloughs and backwaters will have frozen over, and many of the ducks will have moved south.
However, all is not lost for hunters who take the time to do a little scouting to locate the open water that will attract those hardy mallards that just can’t tear themselves away from grain-laden corn stubble fields. As a rule, these big ducks will be found in small creeks and ditches where running water prevents a total freeze-up. Simply walk quietly along the bank, and be ready for some heart-stopping jump shooting.
If you own a suitable boat and decoy spread, check out the public areas at Braidwood Lake (815-237-0063), and the Mazonia Fish & Wildlife Area, (815-237-0063), both of which will have open water
Duck hunting in the Central Zone will go on until around Christmas, with the northern areas being more susceptible to freeze-up. If there is open water, good numbers of ducks should remain in the abundant habitat along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. The remainder of the Central Zone offers little or no duck hunting.
The IDNR maintains an impressive list of public waterfowl hunting areas in prime duck habitat. A listing of public DNR sites in Illinois is available on line at www.dnr.il.state.us, or in pamphlet form; the Ill. Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations is available at all DNR offices or at retail license vendors.
Here are some of the Central Zone public areas that produced well in 2009, with phone numbers.
1. Marshall Fish & Wildlife Area: 309-246-8351
2. Banner Marsh: 309-647-9184
3. Anderson Lake: 309-759-4484
4. Lake DePue: 815-447-2353
5. Powerton Lake: 309-968-7135
6. Rice Lake: 309-647-9184
7. Spring Lake: 309-968-7135
8. Woodford: 309-246-8351
9. Shelbyville Lake: 217-665-3112
10. Batchtown: 618-376-3303
11. Calhoun Point: 618-376-3303
12. Glades 12 Mile Island: 618-376-3303
13. Godar Diamond — Hurricane Island: 618-376-3303
14. Horseshoe Lake — Madison: 618-931-0270
15. Sanganois: 309-546-2628
16. Sanganois Lake: 217-498-9208
17. Stump Lake: 618-376-3304
In the Southern Waterfowl Zone, where duck hunting will continue until mid-January, you should investigate:
1. Carlyle Lake: 618-425-3533
2. Horseshoe Lake (Alexander County.): 618-776-5689
3. Mermet Lake: 618-524-5577
4. Pyramid Rec. Area: 618-357-2574
5. Rend Lake: 618-279-3110
6. Union County Waterfowl Area: 618-833-5175
7. Crab Orchard National Refuge: 618-997-8339
8. Horseshoe Lake Refuge: 618-766-5689
Above are just a few of the productive public waterfowl hunting areas from which you may choose. It is advisable to call any area you plan to hunt prior to the season to learn of any site-specific rules that may apply. Be sure to inquire about boat rental, decoy rental, time of registration/drawing, and specific directions to the headquarters building.
Another option for Southern Zone duck hunting is the daily fee duck and goose hunting clubs that are to be found in close proximity to the big waterfowl refuges of Crab Orchard, Union County, and Horseshoe Lake.
Once commonly known as the “Quota Zone,” this area was world famous for its fabulous Canada goose hunting. But, the extreme southern tip of the state fell off waterfowlers’ maps when warming winters and no-till farming resulted in the geese moving their wintering grounds to the northern third of Illinois.
Some of the famous hunting clubs simply plowed their fields and planted corn and wheat, giving up hunting for agriculture. But, a hardcore group of dedicated waterfowl addicts vowed to hold onto their heritage. They figured that if the geese wouldn’t come down anymore, they would simply lure some ducks over the Mississippi River from Missouri and Arkansas.
It was a big gamble, but they took it. With plenty of farm equipment available, the club owners pushed dikes and levees up around their former goose fields, and installed pumps to flood sections of standing corn. Pits were moved, field blinds erected, and thousands of duck decoys were bought. Duck calls hung around necks that formerly had worn only goose flutes. Then, they settled back to await the results of their labors.
It took several seasons for the ducks to find the bonanza that awaited them in the former goose capital, but each season more and more quackers took advantage of the spacious refuges and bountiful feeding areas. In just a few years a handful of stubborn outdoorsmen had transformed a goose wasteland into a notable duck hunting destination.
Duck hunting in the Southern Zone runs through all of December, and well into January. After the seasons in the rest of Illinois have run their course, the Southern Zone is just heating up.
Here is how to find the duck clubs in the new quota zone. Contact Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1-800-GEESE 99, for hunting information on the area around Crab Orchard Refuge. Then, call Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau, 1-618-833-9928, and request infor
mation on waterfowl hunting opportunities near the Horseshoe Lake and Union County areas.
Some of the clubs I have hunted, and can recommend, are:
Collin Cain’s Grassy Lake Club: 618-833-7890
Tom Burns Club: 800-554-3356
Terry Pike’s Club: 618-997-1124