Photo courtesy of IDNR.

February 1, 2023

How to Plan a Hunt on Public Land

A brown wooden sign with white letters forming the name, Siloam Springs State Park. The sign is surrounded by a brick border on top of a mowed tuff. To the right is a road and a beige house is in the background. To the left are a scattering of green trees.

Illinois is a state rich with hunting opportunities, no matter if you herald from within the state borders or outside. With Illinois’ many public hunting sites, 247 to be exact, residents and nonresidents are inundated with opportunities to hunt for a variety of species throughout a year’s time. However, planning hunts on public hunt sites can be tricky if hunters don’t have all of the information in regard to the location they hunt. Not only is it important that hunters are aware of maps and site contacts, but also site-specific rules that alter the hunting that takes place on each specific site. For example, in terms of deer hunting, Siloam Springs State Park only allows antlerless or antlered deer with at least four points to be harvested and Buffalo Rock State Park only permits archery deer hunting.

The beginning step for any hunter, no matter your experience hunting public sites, is to visit HuntIllinois. HuntIllinois is an interactive and simple tool for hunters to quickly locate all information regarding hunting and trapping in the state of Illinois. Hunters may find this tool especially helpful for sites with specific regulations, such as limits on dates for seasons that are not identical to state regulations. Then, depending on your experience level with public hunt sites, HuntIllinois offers a variety of resources to better plan your hunt.

A screenshot of the Hunt Illinois website homepage

For hunters unfamiliar with their area or looking to explore all hunting locations available, the Illinois Hunting and Trapping Digest, which can be found linked to HuntIllinois’ main page under the “Hunter Digest” tab, features detailed tables and maps which best provides an overview of the public land in Illinois. In these tables and maps, located on pages 54-69 of the 2022-2023 Digest, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) quickly provides information regarding what hunting is available at the sites and what permits would be necessary to hunt. This is a great starting point for hunters curious about Public Hunt Areas, as they can compare Hunt Areas within specific regions. For example, if you know you would prefer to stay in the IDNR Region 5 near Union or Johnson county, you can then quickly compare the 14 Public Hunt Areas to determine which offers Turkey-Fall Gun hunting. Then you can quickly locate the Hunter Fact Sheet for that Public Hunt Area for more details and information regarding permits needed.

For hunters with an idea of the region or county they plan to hunt, the “Hunt Planner” tool located in the top middle of the page should be your first step! This tool utilizes Where, What, How and When to help hunters find the right location.

  • Where: The Hunt Planner tool will prompt you to select the location you want to hunt and lists a variety of filters to help limit your search. Once a filter is selected, users have the option to select multiple locations if they so wish.
  • What: The Hunt Planner then asks you to select species that you are looking to hunt. Like the location selection tool, hunters can select multiple species.
Three screenshots showing the process of filling out the Hunt Planner application on the Hunt Illinois website. It starts with a prompt for where do you want to hunt, and then asks what do you want to hunt.
  • How: Depending on the hunting methodselected, different Public Hunt Areas will be excluded from your search. For example, if you select hunting with a shotgun or muzzleloader, the Hunt Planner will automatically rule out Public Hunt Areas that do not allow for firearms in certain seasons.
  • When: Finally, you will be prompted to select the season(s) in which you plan to hunt. Like all steps before, you have the option of selecting multiple seasons.

Once you have completed all the steps of the Hunt Planner, a listing of results will appear. Click on any of the names listed to be directed to the Hunter Fact Sheet for that location. The Hunter Fact Sheet includes all information a hunter needs, including printable maps and species-specific rules for hunting.

Three screenshots showing the process of filling out the Hunt Planner application on the Hunt Illinois website. It starts with a prompt for how do you want to hunt, and then asks when do you want to hunt. After all the prompts are completed, results appear.

Additionally, hunters looking to quickly glean information about certain public lands or State Wildlife Areas (SWA) can look for specific site information under the “Hunting Site Info” tab on HuntIllinois, which will direct you to all Hunter Fact Sheets. You can search by Hunt Area name and find all information pertaining to species regulations, permits and site contacts. Whether you are brushing up on facts about the same SWA (State Wildlife Area) you’ve hunted for years or you are looking into another SWA, this tool provides quick access to information.

Now that you’ve successfully navigated planning a hunt on a public hunting site, don’t forget to apply for the site-specific permit lotteries! In the 2022-2023 Hunting and Trapping Digest, pages 54-69, the public hunt tables list specifically which hunt sites require special hunt permits issued through the IDNR permits office and which sites require hunters to contact site staff directly for a hunting permit. To apply for special hunt permits, if it is required for the site you wish to hunt, like deer and turkey permit lotteries, which run from March of 2023 to August of 2023, you can visit ExploreMoreIl. Without a permit, all of your work in planning a hunt on public land might go to waste.

Kaleigh Gabriel is a Wildlife Outreach Specialist with Lewis and Clark Community College, working out of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources building to assist the Division of Wildlife Resources. Growing up just between Sangamon and Christian county, she spent a lot of her time hunting and fishing in Illinois. She received her bachelor’s degree in writing/journalism from Manchester University, Indiana.

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Submit a question for the author

Question: I live in winnebago county in Illinois can I hunt at public areas in Jo Davis county?

Question: Hi, 13 hunters plus myself booked with a guide and all 14 of us never seen a buck in 5 days it was a tough week ! I don’t want anybody’s secret spots. Just an idea what counties that have public land that could have mature bucks on thank you , Rick