Waterfowl hunters seeing good reason for countdown to season
Carlyle, Ill. — To listen to fall flight forecasters, one may expect to find mallards and pintails sitting in blinds when the state’s duck hunters show up this fall.
Eric Schenck – and a majority of Illinois waterfowlers – aren’t so gullible.
“Anyone who has hunted ducks in the state knows that a lot of things, like weather, can change how the season turns out and how the migration actually evolves,” Schenck, the Ducks Unlimited regional biologist for Illinois, said. “That said, if you are a hunter interested in a full array of ducks, it looks like you will have more opportunity this year.”
Proposed season dates for Illinois have been released and are similar to last year’s.
North zone hunters will open the state’s duck season on Oct. 20 and their season will run through Dec. 18. Central zone hunters open on Oct. 27 and will wrap up their season on Dec. 25. The south zone season opens Nov. 22 and runs through Jan. 22.
The south central zone, which made its debut last year, opens for duck hunting on Nov. 10 and closes on Jan. 8.
That fourth duck hunting zone, which was championed by DNR and supported by many hunters in parts of southern Illinois, was generally deemed a success. The zone encompasses Carlyle Lake, a major waterfowl hunting hub.
“It was basically what the hunters wanted, and it will take a few years to see how it really works out,” Schenck said. “DNR went into that campaign to get the additional zone with good data and were able to push it through.”
Hunters in that zone had mostly favorable opinions of the inaugural season, which provided them an earlier start than hunters in more southern parts of the state.
“The majority of our club, and I’d say 85 percent, was in big favor of the early season over the Thanksgiving opener,” Brent McKinnon, president of the Carlyle Lake Waterfowlers Association, said. “The older veteran members who have been hunting this lake and been members for many years know the importance of any earlier season.”
McKinnon said that it is all about hunting opportunity, and weather plays an important role in providing it.
“Many people go out and spend $500-$1,000 a year to beef up the gear, ammo, and equipment each year, and for a guy who does that and only has a window of 15-20 days to hunt doesn’t get much bang for his buck,” he said. “Now for those who oppose the earlier season the new zone provides, they have a legitimate argument. There are times when late January hunting can be very good at the lake.”
Whichever zone a hunter finds himself in this year, the projections look rosy,” Schenck admitted. The annual duck count on breeding grounds revealed a record number of ducks, including 10.6 million mallards.
Along with the season dates, DNR also released this year’s bag limits. The limits are six ducks of any species but no more than four mallards (no more than two hens), and not more than three wood ducks, two redheads, two scaup, two pintails, one canvasback and one black duck. For mergansers, the limit is five daily, only two of which may be hooded mergansers.