SPRINGFIELD, IL – Generally good habitat conditions and the forecast of a very good migration of ducks from breeding grounds into Illinois this fall highlight the latest Illinois Waterfowl Public Hunting Areas Report from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Public waterfowl hunting areas are very important to Illinois duck hunters. An Illinois waterfowl hunter survey found 43 percent of respondents indicating they most often hunted ducks on state and federal lands. More than 58 percent of duck hunters reported attending a waterfowl blind drawing. Attendance at these drawings is testimony to the popularity of many state duck hunting areas, with many drawings attracting 10 to 40 times as many participants as there are blinds available.
According to the 2006-07 Illinois Public Hunting Areas Report, there were 75,489 hunter trips on the 51 public waterfowl hunting areas that have some form of reporting activity in Illinois. There are many large public areas on the Mississippi River and other parts of the state that have no method of tracking hunter activity, but they also contribute to much of the duck hunting that occurs in Illinois. For the 51 areas that track activity, hunters harvested 90,427 ducks last year. Of those, 49,913 were mallards – the most popular duck to hunt among Illinois duck hunters. The overall hunter success rate on these areas of 1.20 ducks per hunter per day was much better than the statewide average (0.77) that includes private land and public land hunting. Most duck hunters know that unless they belong to a private duck hunting club, the best hunting in the state often occurs on these public areas.
One of the best measures of a quality duck hunting area is the hunter success rate. Of those areas where more than 1,000 ducks were harvested last year, the top areas in the state in terms of hunter success greater than one duck per hunter per day were:
Sanganois (1.86 ducks/hunter; 6,657 ducks)
Rice Lake (1.80 d/h; 7,268 ducks)
Batchtown (1.80 d/h; 6,720 ducks)
Woodford (1.71 d/h; 3,884 ducks)
Godar-Diamond (1.55 d/h; 4,907 ducks)
Lake DePue (1.54 d/h; 1,414)
Anderson Lake (1.48 d/h; 3,891 ducks)
Lake Shelbyville (1.39 d/h; 2,028 ducks)
Stump Lake (1.35 d/h; 6,554 ducks)
Glades-12 Mile Island (1.32 d/h; 3,157ducks)
Union County (1.30 d/h; 1,695 ducks)
Calhoun Point (1.20 d/h; 2,927 ducks)
Horseshoe Lake in Madison Co. (1.12 d/h; 3,556 ducks)
Rend Lake (1.11 d/h; 7,925 ducks)
Marshall (1.08 d/h; 2,114 ducks)
Carlyle Lake (1.07d/h; 8,027 ducks)
Mazonia-Braidwood (1.00 d/h; 3,073 ducks)
Kaskaskia River (1.00 d/h; 2,017 ducks)
Other good areas with harvest of more than 500 ducks included:
Powerton Lake (1.03 d/h; 516 ducks)
Donnelley (1.00 d/h, 530 ducks)
Spring Lake (0.99 d/h, 544 ducks)
Horseshoe Lake in Alexander Co. (0.97 d/h, 1,449 ducks)
Clinton Lake (0.95 d/h; 1,017 ducks)
Chain O’ Lakes (0.81 d/h; 784 ducks)
Cache River (0.79 d/h; 793 ducks)
Sangchris Lake (0.67 d/h; 877 ducks)
Heidecke Lake (0.59 d/h; 568 ducks)
Ten Mile Creek (unknown d/h; 643 ducks)
Hunter success on these public areas is determined by a variety of factors including food and water conditions during migration. Areas that have good food conditions in August will produce good duck hunting if they are flooded properly by the time ducks arrive.
Current research in waterfowl management emphasizes the value of moist-soil management for ducks. There appears to be an abundance of waste grains available to migrating waterfowl in Illinois, especially mallards and geese, due to the advent of modern agricultural practices such as no-till and reduced tillage farming. However, many waterfowl do not eat corn, and wetland habitats along with moist-soil forage have been drastically reduced in Illinois due to wetland drainage, siltation, dams, and other alterations to the landscape. A combination of cereal grains and moist-soil plants at public hunting areas and refuges will provide quality duck hunting opportunities as could be expected with all cereal grains, while also providing waterfowl and other wildlife with ideal habitat and nutritionally balanced forage. Some examples of beneficial moist-soil plants for waterfowl include wild millet (barnyard grass), rice cutgrass, smartweed, sprangletop, sedges, panic grass, teal grass, arrowhead, and beggarticks.
Reports on habitat conditions on some waterfowl areas as of mid-August are outlined below.
Illinois River sites:
• Sanganois had very good stands of soybeans, Japanese millet and wild millet in blind areas, little food in Ash Swale, fair moist-soil plants in the walk-in area, very good moist-soil plants and soybeans in the Baker Tract, and excellent moist-soil plants in Chain Lake. Chain Lake is so silted in that access is extremely difficult, so the area can now be hunted with boat blinds when river levels allow access.
• Rice Lake reported good crops and very good moist-soil plants.
• Anderson Lake had good corn and decent moist-soil plants with some cockleburr problems.
• Banner Marsh had good crops in the refuges.
• Donnelley-DePue had good corn and buckwheat but no Japanese millet due to water conditions.
• Marshall had less moist soil plant growth in backwaters due to high water conditions, but corn in the south pond of Duck Ranch Unit looks good as do moist-soil plants in the north pond.
Mississippi River sites:
• Good submerged aquatics on Pool 12, while Pool 16 should have better than average food sources if water conditions improve by fall.
Lower Mississippi River Area (MRA) sites:
• Batchtown had excellent moist-soil plants such as smartweed.
• Stump Lake had excellent conditions with good coontail and sago pond weed as well as moist-soil plants.
• Fuller Lake had excellent coontail and moist-soil plants.
• Calhoun Point has very, very good moist-soil plants.
• Godar and Crull Hollow Rest Areas reported 50 percent of corn due to deer browsing and other plantings needing rain to germinate.
• All other moist-soil areas on the MRA are good. They have a mixture of pigweed and millets but lack of rain is hurting growth. Some pumping will be done to provide moisture if more rain does not fall.
Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs:
• Lake Shelbyville has good moist-soil plants on all units but the cereal grains are only fair due to lack of water.
• Carlyle Lake planted 700 acres of corn, Japanese millet, milo, and buckwheat and they are looking good except for 60 acres of corn that were not fertilized. In addition, Carlyle has hundreds of acres of moist-soil plants that are looking good, especially in Sub-impoundment 4 (Speaker Lake), where it is excellent.
• Rend Lake had dry enough weather to plant more crops than normal and corn and milo look very good so far. However, rain is badly needed in order for the seed to fill out as it matures. Moist-soil plants are stunted and suffering, although they are still producing some seeds.
Kaskaskia River sites:
• All are in excellent condition including 300 acres of corn, buckwheat and moist-soil at Doza Creek, 50 acres of corn at Beaver Lodge, 5 acres of moist-soil plants at Riley Lake, and 35-40 acres of moist-soil plants at Heritage Marsh.
The table is set for what should be a very good migration of ducks from the breeding grounds into Illinois this fall. Illinois’ harvest estimate of more than half a million ducks last year ranked #6 in the country. If hunting areas are flooded by pumps or precipitation in time for the migration, Illinois could enjoy another excellent duck season. However, hunters are cautioned to remember that weather conditions during migration – and overall autumn weather in Illinois – can change the prospects quickly.
It is important to get northwest winds during migration to allow ducks from Canadian Prairie provinces and the Dakotas to easily make their way to Illinois instead of staying west of the Mississippi River, as has happened in some years. If weather remains mild for too long a period in the northern breeding grounds, ducks sometimes stay north longer. In those cases, a strong winter storm in these areas sometimes cause mass migrations – often called a “grand passage” – where many ducks will skip over mid-migration destinations such as Illinois to go directly to wintering states like Arkansas and Louisiana. Early freeze up or droughts in Illinois, as well as excessive rain that floods so many areas that ducks are too spread out to hunt, are other potential spoilers for hunters who only hunt traditional areas in Illinois. Barring such weather-related events, most Illinois duck hunters should expect a great opportunity to harvest ducks on public and private areas in the state this fall and winter.
For information on Illinois waterfowl season dates, bag limits and other information, check the IDNR web site at http://dnr.state.il.us, or the 2007-08 Illinois Digest of Waterfowl Hunting Regulations available in September.