Production of the Annual Hunting and Trapping Digest: A Look Behind the Scenes
By August 1 each year—when the new hunting and trapping licenses take effect—the latest version of the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations (Digest) has been posted online and deliveries are sent to license vendors throughout the state. A stack also awaits Illinois State Fair visitors who make it a point to stop by Conservation World.
What few people know is that developing each Digest is a year-long process for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The lion’s share of the responsibility for the Digest lies with Division of Wildlife Resources staff, yet the Digest is an agency-wide project. Personnel from the Office of Law Enforcement review content from an enforcement standpoint; Office of Strategic Services staff review all aspects pertaining to the issuance of licenses and permits; Office of Land Management staff are involved with the details relating to hunting on public lands; staff from the Office of Legal Services track legislative initiatives related to wildlife resources.
Publication of annual hunting and trapping regulations dates to the 1930s.
“The earliest publications simply listed hunting seasons and bag limits and were sized to fit into your shirt pocket,” explained Mike Wefer, Chief of the Division of Wildlife Resources. “At that time, most people had access to hunt on privately owned land and Illinois’ state park system was in its infancy. Over time, new species have been added to the game list, and some were removed. Season dates and bag limits have been fine-tuned as research studies and annual species inventories have increased our knowledge of each species. The addition of hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands meant a need existed to inform sportsmen and women of sites where hunting and trapping could occur.”
The evolution of the rules and regulations on hunting and trapping in Illinois drove the decision to reformat the annual publication. The current Digest format premiered in 1991 when the then Illinois Department of Conservation released a publication featuring the 1991 Illinois Migratory Waterfowl Stamp—a black lab with a Canada goose decoy—on the cover. That document has evolved into the 64-page that we see today.
Within the Division of Wildlife Resources, Tori Arterberry and Kaleb Wood spearhead the annual review process in coordination with the Wetland Wildlife, Forest Wildlife, Ag and Grassland and Wildlife Diversity Program Managers. They work to update season dates, zone lines and bag limits, which entails tracking changes that have occurred through legislation or Administrative Rules. The timing of legislation and Administrative Rules becoming effective is also a consideration of what will be in the Digest each year and they work with the agency’s attorneys to ensure legal accuracy. They also work with District Wildlife Biologists and Managers to ensure that the Public Hunting Site tables are up-to-date and accurate. Considerable time is spent tracking draft documents through multiple reviews involving everyone in the Wildlife Resources Division as well as dozens of staff from throughout the agency.
“By February each year the development process becomes intense, but at that time we’re also in the stage where staff have the opportunity to be involved in the most creative aspects of the Digest,” said Arterberry, referring to the selection of the cover photograph, color scheme and images scattered throughout the Digest.
By early summer, once the document is pulled together in a final draft and double, and triple, checked, it’s off to the printer where additional steps occur to ensure color and image quality and proper formatting. Printing is handled by locally owned and operated KK Stevens Publishing of Astoria where their massive machines fire up and crank out thousands of copies the Hunting and Trapping Digest per hour. The heavy lifting for the Illinois outdoor community that has occurred for the last 12 years at KK Stevens is lesser known, but greatly appreciated. Not only is the Hunting and Trapping Digest printed there, but the Illinois Fishing Digest as well. Other fish and wildlife agencies have discovered their knack for printing digests and KK Stevens now prints hunting and fishing regulations for multiple states.
In recent years, Arterberry and others have taken on new challenges as the annual production cycle involves coordinating translation of the Digest into Spanish and Polish, and development of a pocket-sized Quick Reference Card that is available in English, Spanish and Polish. The format of the Digest has also changed and will continue to evolve to make it more user friendly and easy to read. The current format, with color coded sections to easily find specific sections, such as deer or waterfowl hunting, began in 2018.
IDNR previously printed 250,000 copies for distribution. However, based on recent assessments of remaining copies, likely due to many folks turning to digital versions, that number has been reduced to 200,000 physical copies.
As the 2022-2023 Illinois hunting and trapping seasons peak each fall, with sportsmen and women routinely accessing their copy of the Digest to verify regulations, work is well under way on the next edition of the Digest. Behind the scenes, IDNR staff are at work on the never-ending cycle of providing the hunting and trapping public with a timely and accurate summation of wildlife Illinois rules and regulations.
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 Journal.