Un joven cazador espera escondido durante la temporada de pavo. Fotos de Steve Beltrán.

August 1, 2023

Hunting Season Primer

Autumn is a wonderful time of the year. The colors changing, cooler weather, and the rustling of leaves on the ground. Children are back in school as Mother Nature prepares to say goodbye to another successful growing season. Many Illinois fields are prepped for harvest and the motors of the combine can be heard as this year’s crop is collected. This exciting time also marks the beginning of the fall hunting seasons. It is an exciting time for young and old hunters alike. Families come together to celebrate a tradition and provide food for the table. Hunters start their preparation by visiting their local sporting goods store to browse the latest equipment and buy their required licenses and tags. Let’s not forget to explore the new regulations and pick up a copy of the latest hunting regulations.

A father and young son prepare to go hunting. Both are wearing camoflage clothing and have big smiles. Behind them is a treeline and in the distance a field.
Hunting is a great way to make lasting memories together.

After a few trips to the gun range, and maybe a dozen or two arrows into a target, hunters can feel confident going out and having a successful, ethical harvest. Honing your skills is important to check your equipment for changes and assure that you’re accurate and effective with your shot placement. Also, let’s not forget to check those tree stand straps and ground blinds. A heavy wind may have shifted your ladder, or a squirrel may have chewed through your straps. A day can be ruined after a fall or accident resulting from weathered outdoor equipment.

A well-prepared outdoors person can save time and effort with a little preseason planning. Be sure to check your gear and pack a good knife, warm clothes, safety harness, headlamp, first aid, hand warmers, phone charger, food and water, and let’s not forget the “TP” among other things. When you’re walking out the door be sure to let someone know where you’ll be and what time you intend on returning. Tracking a big buck can take some additional time in the field and sharing your location with loved ones can prompt them to come help if you’re running late and don’t have a way to communicate.

If by chance you are looking for a place to go you can always consider one of Illinois great public hunting areas. Check the online site for rules and regulations as some sites have different dates and times for hunting activities. Most of the state areas also require a windshield card to be displayed in your vehicle. When in doubt, check with the local Conservation Police Officer.

A chocolate Labrador retriever dog with a pink tongue and bright green collar sits in a fall field with two game birds in front of it.
A dog can be a fun and valued partner during upland game hunting.

Let’s not forget the general safety measures while in the field. Start you planning early and take a hunter safety class (Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1980 may not be issued a hunting license unless they present a valid Hunter Education Certificate of Competency issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Safety Education Division or another state), call your local conservation police officer for law changes, and review the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.

When handling a gun, remember the classic four golden gun rules.

  • Treat all guns as if they are always loaded.
  • Never let the muzzle point at anything that you are not willing to destroy.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
  • Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

Please consider fair chase for the animals. Take ethical shots and make every attempt to retrieve your wounded game and include it in your daily bag limit. Illinois added laws in 2013 that supported the ethical consumption of game.

Here are some basic tips on some of the animals you’ll encounter while in the field.

  • One of the longest hunting seasons is for squirrels. A good friend of mine always said “If a squirrel weighed 25 pounds I’d stop deer hunting all together.” With proper preparation squirrel meat is some of the best in the field. Early morning and late afternoon are when squirrels are most active and generally the best time to hunt squirrels. They live in forested areas and love nuts and seeds. Finding a nut-bearing tree will lead you to a successful squirrel hunt.
  • Deer season is extra-long, and several methods of take are legal. Deer can be tricky as their behavior changes throughout the hunting season. Morning and later afternoon hunts are the best and, depending on food source, shelter and the breeding cycle, their mobility can vary significantly. Deer meat is relished in Illinois for its great tasting flavor and quantity.
  • Upland game hunting is a great way to exercise and share the excitement with a dog. Rabbit and pheasant hunting seem to go hand-in-hand. Focus on fence rows and food plots for elusive birds and rabbits that like to hide under the brush and protect themselves from predators. Time in the field with your family canine is always rewarding seeing them work their natural instincts.
  • Furbearer season is exciting for young and old. This time-honored activity still provides plenty of fun for food and hide. Furbearers can be harvested with a trap or firearm. Trappers venturing in the field should take a trapping education course and brush up on the fine craft of furbearer sets and harvest. Illinois has several fur buying locations.
  • Waterfowl season is a great time to spend with friends and family. If you’re lucky enough to have a pit blind or a boat, you can add some comfort to waterfowl hunting. This type of hunting allows for a good social environment and leaves plenty of time for conversation and coffee. Always be sure to check the annual changes set by the federal regulations for limits of waterfowl and other migratory birds.

Illinois has many more fall hunting opportunities. Spend some time outdoors this fall and build your family tradition by exploring some of Illinois best hunting opportunities available. State Parks, Forests and Wildlife Management Areas are all places to consider when venturing out for a hunt. Some areas require special permits and have unique regulations. Be sure to brush up on the current regulations to stay within the law.

A taxidermy deer head mounted on a brown wall is decorated with a medal and a fake mustache.
A great harvest can remain hanging around for seasons (and years) when you work with a local licensed taxidermist to preserve the memory.

Let’s not forget the opportunity to preserve these memories by visiting your local Illinois licensed taxidermist. A great harvest can be prepared to hang on the wall. Future generations will have and provide a chance to reminisce about the exciting hunt for years to come. Preserve the animal and get it to the taxidermist as soon as possible. Also, if you’re taking the harvest into a processor, be sure to tell them to prepare it for taxidermy.

Good recipes, a good butcher, and some family help will convert your harvest into a bountiful meal. There are several great ways to process game meat into delicious meals and snacks. Your local store should have seasoning, cure and food processing equipment. Or a local butcher may have a long list of flavors and types of meat made from whatever animal you harvest. The Illinois Learn to Hunt program also offers some excellent recipes. Be sure to share some with friends and family.

Please remember to be a good steward of the resource. Those who take wildlife unlawfully steal from all sportsmen. Imagine the time and effort you put into having a successful hunt only to discover the deer your son was pursuing got taken by a poacher last night. Just think of the memories you’ll lose when you find out that nice 10-point buck was killed over bait and could have been Grandpa’s last deer. Share in the protection of all our wildlife and contact a local CPO with violations or anonymously at the TIPS hotline. Report a violation online or call TIP line at 1-877-236-7529; deaf and hearing impaired at 1-800-526-0644. Conservation officers are working hard to protect Illinois wildlife. They need your help locating violations in your area. For all other requests for an Illinois CPO after regular business hours, contact your Illinois State Police district HQ dispatch center.

Sergeant Steven Beltran has been an officer since 2000 and currently works in northwest Illinois. He welcomes your questions and loves to share in his passion for protecting Illinois resources. He can be reached at steven.beltran@illinois.gov or (815) 218-4165.

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