Illinois waterfowl hunters voice opinions on zones

Springfield —  Five years after Illinois added a fourth waterfowl hunting zone, most hunters in the state remained indifferent to the change – though some in the south and south central zones are still uneasy.

This according to the 2016-17 Waterfowl Hunter Report, which was released in March by the Illinois Natural History Survey.

A fourth waterfowl zone – the south central zone – was implemented for the 2011-12 regular waterfowl seasons and in 2012-13 for the September goose season. The other three zones are the north, central and south zones.

Following the 2016-17 waterfowl seasons, when asked by INHS’ Human Dimensions program about zone option preferences for the 2021-25 seasons, Illinois duck hunters generally did not have strong opinions.

“The most popular response among north, central, and south zone hunters was ‘I do not have a preference,’” the INHS report noted. “In the south central zone, 39 percent of respondents preferred ‘three duck zones with two season segments (a two-way split) in one, two or all zones.”

According to the hunter report, the two-way split was the second most popular choice of north and central zone hunters, whereas “four zones with no split” was second most preferred in south zone. Similarly, a three-zone structure preference from south central zone hunters was noted when asked about zone structure preferences.

Other findings in the INHS look at the waterfowl zone preferences:

  • When asked about the current location of zone lines, more than 75 percent of hunters were neutral or satisfied with the current lines.
  • North, central and south zone hunters were most likely to prefer “No change” but south central hunters were equally interested in “no change” and a three-zone structure that combined the south and south central zones and left north and central zones as they are now.
  • The line between the south and south central zones had the highest level of dissatisfaction (21.7 percent).
  • When asked how zone lines should change, there was no preference for moving the lines north or south, and 66 percent of respondents felt the “line should not move.”
  • Hunters in the south central zone also were the group most likely to indicate that changing their zone would increase aspects of duck hunting such as “number of ducks you harvest,” whereas hunters in the other zones were more likely to feel that “would not change.”
  • The majority of waterfowl hunters felt that their county was located in the proper zone.
  • Will, St. Clair, Grundy, Putnam, Fayette, Jackson, and Monroe were the counties hunters identified most as being in the wrong zones.

South, south central zones

While compiling the 2016-17 Waterfowl Hunter Report, INHS staffers took steps to break down hunter opinions of the lines separating the south and south central zones.

“To better understand satisfaction and concerns about the current zone line attitudes, those who spent at least one day afield in Franklin, Jackson, Perry, Randolph, Saline, Union, and Williamson were designated as “hunters of concern” and their attitudes were compared to hunters of the south central and south zones,” the INHS report explained.”Only hunters who spent at least one day afield in the south central or south zone were included in the analysis.”

Findings from the analysis included:

  • Hunters in the south zone were those most satisfied with the current zone line between the south central and the south zones.
  • Hunters in the south central zone were more likely to respond that changing the zone of the area they hunt most often would increase satisfaction aspects of their hunts. However, hunters in the south zone were more likely to say changing the zone would have no impact.
  • Overall, less than 16 percent of hunters felt changing the zone would decrease satisfaction.
  • Among those who do want a zone line change, most of the south central hunters want a section of the south zone to be part of the south central zone.

Interestingly, the report pointed out that many of the findings from the 2016-17 season were very similar to findings of a report in 2012.

Specifically, both reports suggest that hunters in the south central zone harvested more birds, but were less satisfied and had higher expectations than hunters in other zones.

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