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Illinois Department of Natural Resources
August 2020
August 3, 2020

2020-2021 Illinois Hunting and Trapping Digest

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By Kathy Andrews Wright

Gracing the cover of the 2020-2021 Illinois Hunting and Trapping Digest is one of Illinois’ most secretive game birds, the Virginia rail (Rallus limicoloa), often called a “marsh chicken,” referring both to its preference for marsh habitats and appearance. The photograph was provided by Matthew Williams.

The image of the cover page of the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations 2020–2021. The cover is mostly light olive green and features a large photo of a brown long-legged marsh bird foraging along a wetland shore.
Image of Illinois Digest cover.

“We wanted to draw attention to what some considered a lost art in North America, Virginia rail hunting,” explained Jared Duquette, Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Program Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) Division of Wildlife Resources. “A labor-intensive sport, rails are seldom seen, staying deep within the dense, emergent marsh vegetation unless flushed. Hunters who learn to identify this rail by its one- and two-syllable song, kik, kik, kik, kidik, kidik, kidik, will be amazed at the number of birds inhabiting the marshes where they duck hunt. And those taking the opportunity to harvest a Virginia rail will be rewarded with another locally sourced meat that can be served as an appetizer, similar to a dove popper, or in gumbo.”

Recognizing the diversity in hunter interests and needs, IDNR offers outdoorsmen and women the 2020-2021 Digest in the traditional paper format as well as a digital format. Also available this year is a quick reference guide.

“In our continued effort to meet the needs of Illinois hunters, we’ve taken to heart their requests to have information on hunting season dates, hours and limits available at their fingertips,” Duquette said. “As a result, outdoorsmen and women will find this year’s Digest contains a quick reference guide, both as an insert in the paper Digest and in a digital format that can be referenced from a phone, tablet or computer.”

A bowl of a cream based chili on a red cloth napkin with a corn bread muffin on the left side and nasturtiums garnishing the chili on the right.
Pheasant white lightning chili from the recipe featured in 2020–2021 Digest garnished with nasturtiums and chopped parsley. Photo by Uros Marjanovic.

The 2020-2021 edition continues with the layout premiered last year and contains numerous infographics, popular with readers as means of conveying complex information in a visual format. As in previous years, finding new regulations is easily accomplished by scanning for highlighted sections, and, based on popular demand, a game recipe is included to help new, as well as experienced, hunters bring a satisfying recipe to the table. This year’s gastronomical feature is pheasant white lightning chili.

“The improvements you’ll note in the Digest are a result of the suggestions we have received from the public,” Duquette noted. “Throughout the year IDNR Division of Wildlife staff are working with, and listening to, outdoorsmen and women, learning what they need and find useful. Those conversations are invaluable to the agency in preparing the next rendition of the Digest.”

For those whose interest in rail hunting has been piqued, consult the waterfowl section of the Digest to learn about the season dates and daily and possession limits.

Learn more about Virginia rails, and other wetland-dependent birds, by reading Emergent Wetlands Critical for Nesting and Migratory Birds, authored by Auriel M.V. Fournier, Aaron P. Yetter and Joshua M. Osborn, scientists at the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Forest Biological Research Station.


Kathy Andrews Wright is retired from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources where she was editor of Outdoor Illinois magazine. She is currently the editor of Outdoor Illinois Wildlife Journal and Illinois Audubon magazine.

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