Growing up in Northern Illinois I have watched as more and more land has been taken over by local, developers, conservation groups, and annexed into city limits. All of these have created obstacles for the hunter and they have personally cost me several plots of land on which I used to hunt.
Overcoming these obstacles has been a difficult battle and has certainly cut into my time in the field. Hunting opportunities have slowly disappeared for many and due to this we, as outdoorsmen/women, have to resort to finding other ways to get into the field. This leads us down the path to public land.
Public land often has a stigma about it that it is difficult to hunt, or that there is no game available in these areas. Too much pressure and not enough land are common phrases that are often associated with public land hunting. Though these can be true, this should not stop you from enjoying the opportunities that are available.
In Northern Illinois there are several public hunting opportunities that offer the hunter a variety of species and hunting styles that they can enjoy. From duck and goose, to pheasant hunting, and of course, deer hunting.
The Chain of Lakes state park located in northern McHenry County and Lake county Illinois offer a wide range of hunting. They participate in a pheasant release program that offers the upland hunter a chance to chase after the colorful and elusive birds. They also have plenty of areas for the duck hunter and then they also do a first come, first served system that allows archery deer hunters the opportunity to stand hunt for some of the abundant deer in the area.
Volo Bog and Morraine hills offer a wonderful opportunity to the Archery deer hunters with a lottery program that they run for the entire hunting season. Permits are filed with the main office by August 31st. The names are then selected and weekends are filled according to the applicant’s choice selected on the application. The hunter is then given a large window to hunt and scout the area. Wednesday and Thursday are used for scouting and then Friday through Tuesday you are allowed to hunt.
Morraine hills also has a lottery system that offers the gun hunter an opportunity at deer hunting during the firearm season in Illinois. The system works just as the standard state application, however it is a Special Hunt area that is filled out on the application for firearm permits. Hunters who receive these permits are able to take advantage of the large expanse of land to stand hunt the designated areas during the season.
The McHenry County Conservation district has also opened up several of its sites to the archery deer hunter. The conservation areas allow the hunter to hunt these areas during the entire season, on their selected weekends. In order to be allowed to hunt you first must qualify for an application by participating in a shooting qualification process that shows your proficiency with your bow. This insures that the hunters are able to harvest an animal quickly and humanely without having wounded animals and people tracking through out the property.
With any public area there are always rules to follow and these rules have been put in place to protect the land as well as the other hunters that are in the public areas. You will run into areas that have specific regulations on how high you must be off the ground in order to hunt, how far from a designated stake you can venture, and also there are often restrictions on the harvest of the animal. Some areas require you to take a doe prior to taking a buck. An earn-a-buck style of herd management is used.
Following these rules that have been put in place at these Site-Specific areas is very important and too often it can take only one hunter that disobeys the rules that can ruin if for other hunters and often lead to areas being closed to hunting. It is easy for area to close due e to one hunters ignorance or refusal to follow the rules.
There are some key points to hunting public land and they are easy to learn, follow and adapt. If you pay attention to these they will not only make your experience that much more enjoyable, but will also offer you a successful hunt as well as an opportunity to return the next year.
- Be respectful of other hunters that may be hunting the same area. Don’t walk through their areas or create a lot of noise when going to your stand.
- Follow the site-specific rules without any question. Don’t trim trees, don’t pierce the bark of a tree, place your stand at least 6’ off the ground. These are an example of some of the rules you may come across.
- If you are given the opportunity to scout, take full advantage of it. Learn the deer’s habits and patterns in the area. Public land deer will often change their habits frequently, but if you take the time to learn the area you will be ahead of the curve and this certainly will help in your success.
- Be safe! Wear your safety harness when in your stand and don’t take unnecessary risks.
- Pick up after your self. If you carried it into the woods you can certainly carry it out.
I don’t want to go on and on about how you should do this and do that, but just wanted to touch a bit on some of those common sense issues. Follow the rules set by the site and you are sure to enjoy the opportunity that you have been given.
Public land is intimidating and often overlooked by the hunter because of this. However, if you do your research and spend some time learning the areas you can easily have a successful harvest. The time and effort that you put into scouting an area, following the rules, and just getting out and enjoying the woods will repay itself with a successful trip.
Just remember with hunting success isn’t always about the harvest, but it is about what you take away from your adventure. The first year of hunting a public area might not end with the harvest of a deer, but it will certainly prepare you for the following years and what you take away from the hunt is up to you. It is your experience and it is up to you to make it a memorable one.
Shoot straight and shoot often!