Illinois Department of Natural Resources
November 2020
November 2, 2020

Immersing Myself in Nature Throughout the Year

By Sydney Hunter
A hunter with a blaze orange vest and hat walking through a prairie. Trees are in the distance.
Photo courtesy Gail Jacobson, Hilltop Hunt Club.

Photos courtesy of the author.

As an Illinois resident who spends as much time in Wisconsin as at home, I am blessed to be surrounded by natural and managed wild habitat where we explore, dog train and hunt. The Midwest is home to such a diverse landscape, rich in wildlife. Even though we are called the “Flatlands” we do have areas with rolling hills tucked between miles upon miles of farmland, lush forests, wetland refuges and my favorite—our prairies packed with myriads of wildflowers and grasses.

For me, knowing and understanding the game I pursue during the hunting season means immersing myself in nature during the off season. My observation skills remain sharp, I learn to identify what game feeds on and their seasonal habitat preferences, and it is great conditioning for the dogs and I.

I recently took an early morning walk and snapped some pictures of local wildflowers and grasses, then challenged myself to identify them (I used the free interactive app Illinois Wildflowers). I was lucky enough to see bees buzzing and milkweed caterpillars eating breakfast, as well as dragonflies, spider webs and morning dew. Our prairies are home to many species supporting monarchs, such as black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower and meadow blazing star, as well as varietals of milkweed, asters and goldenrods. One very common Midwest wildflower is Queen Anne’s lace. Growing up I remember my mother had a friend who made Queen Anne’s lace jelly. I decided to try it myself and it turned out quite delicious. With a quick search, I found Ellen’s recipe and her description of the jelly is right on: “Queen Anne’s lace jelly has a lovely flavor: fruity, not too sweet…it kind of reminds me of juicy fruit gum, but less sweet, with longer lasting flavor, and no chemical aftertaste.”

Take a closer look around you and try to identify some of your local habitat the next time you find yourself immersed in one of Illinois prairielands. 

Sydney Hunter is an outdoorswoman who lives in northern Illinois with her two teenage daughters and two Boykin spaniels. She enjoys being active and is the Vice President of the South Central Wisconsin Ladies Pheasants Forever Chapter to promote the 3R’s and the Vice President of the Mississippi River Valley Boykin Spaniel Club to promote the breed. She is passionate about dog training and bird hunting with her Boykins and taking ladies on their first bird hunts. She is a bass fishing instructor for the Illinois Becoming an Outdoors Woman program where she got her introduction to upland hunting around 7 years ago and will be guiding for the Wisconsin program as COVID-19 restrictions allow.