Recipe is ripe for a very good rooster season in Illinois' pheasant range
By Andrew Johnson
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Pheasant hunters in the Land of Lincoln harvested just over 31,000 birds last year, down slightly (8%) from the 2018 season.
“Last pheasant season was a good one, especially in counties that have been proactive with enrolling new CRP and pollinator habitat acres,” says Jason Bleich, private land biologist in Illinois for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “As always, where there's good habitat, there's good bird numbers.”
WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
“The winter of 2019-2020 was relatively mild, and winter mortality due to weather was likely low for pheasant and quail,” says Bob Caveny, ag and grassland wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Caveny says spring brought above-average rainfall to central and northern parts of the state, which potentially impacted early nesting attempts. However, on a good note, he says weather conditions improved across much of the state from late June through most of July.
Building on those thoughts, Bleich reports that timely precipitation events bolstered the habitat and insect production during the brooding season.
“Mid- to late-summer rains have been icing on the cake to produce a bumper crop of wildflower blooms and the associated insects that pheasant broods need for survival,” Bleich says.
HABITAT AND TOP SPOTS
“Statewide, there is less suitable habitat available in Illinois than in years past,” Caveny says. “Localized areas of high-quality habitat can still be found across the state, but overall there are fewer areas that support good populations of upland game, providing less opportunity for hunters.”
Bleich says what habitat is available is looking really good, which leads him to believe things are looking up as fall approaches.
“Between our agency partner reports, farmer and landowner reports, and PF/QF chapter reports, I think we are in for a great fall across the Illinois pheasant range,” he says. “High-quality, large blocks of pollinator habitat are definitely places hunters will want to focus their efforts for highest success in the field, and east-central Illinois remains the hotspot for pheasants.”
IF YOU GO
Hunters should take advantage of the Illinois Recreational Access Program (IRAP), which leases private property in Christian, Clay and Scott counties for quail and pheasant hunting. These sites can be reserved for a two-day hunt on Saturdays and Sundays in December, and they can accommodate up to four hunters and their dogs.
IRAP upland game sites are managed for upland bird habitat and have been scouted for bird activity. No pen-raised birds are put on these properties — only wild birds. The 2020 IRAP application is now available, and more information can be found online here
The Illinois pheasant season is open Nov. 7 to Jan. 8 in the north zone, and from Nov. 7 to Jan. 15 in the south zone. The daily limit is 2 roosters, with a possession limit of 6 birds.