November 1, 2021

The Illinois Learn to Hunt Program

By Dan Stephens

Photos courtesy of the author.

According to the 2019-2020 Illinois Hunter Harvest Report, total Illinois hunting license sales have been trending down since the 1970s. This decline has significant economic and ecological ramifications. Not only does hunting play an important role for conservation and natural resource funding, but also an active role in managing wildlife populations. 

A graph showing a decrease in resident hunting licenses sold between 1940 and 2015.

The Illinois Learn to Hunt program is a collaborative effort between the Illinois Natural History Survey and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources aimed at bolstering participation in hunting. The program provides comprehensive, hands-on, educational experiences for the public to learn why, how, and where to hunt wild game in Illinois. The program not only focuses on providing programs for new hunters but also providing educational opportunities for existing hunters as they continue to refine strategies and/or try a new type of hunting. 

This adult education program consists of free field-based workshops, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are held state-wide and open to anyone over 18 years of age. Field events provide participants a unique learning opportunity while engaging in activities aimed at fostering skill development. Some program field offerings include our basic Learn to Hunt workshops series (Deer, Turkey, Waterfowl, Small game, Upland game) that cover basic equipment, wildlife ecology, rules & regulations, field-dressing, and hunting strategies for an individual species. The program also hosts more specific field-events designed for hunters who are comfortable with the basics but are looking to refine their strategies or skillsets (e.g., Deer Scouting Strategies and Techniques, Deer Processing). The Learn to Hunt program is always looking at developing and offering new event types. For instance, the program is hosting its first Learn to Hunt: Raccoon workshop on December 11, 2021 in Montgomery County. This workshop will include a unique opportunity to learn the basics of raccoon hunting and will conclude with us joining a local group of raccoon hunters on a night trip with their highly trained hunting dogs.

As many people have time/location constraints to attending an in-person workshop, the program also offers webinars. These webinars are learning opportunities that focus on a singular topic and allow participants to attend and learn from the comfort of their own home. Webinars cover a wide range of topics (e.g., Deer Stand Placement, Waterfowl Identification, Calling Techniques) and are often accompanied by guest panelists aimed at providing additional commentary and a unique perspective on the topic at hand. Webinars are free to attend and can be viewed live or on-demand by all registrants. 

A group of people in a barn during a workshop learning how to remove meat from a harvested deer shoulder. 5 people line up in front of a table. On the table in front of each person is a harvested deer shoulder.

The program has recently launched a podcast, currently housed on YouTube, to continue to provide seasonal updates, interviews, and commentary on all things Illinois hunting. The primary recurring segment for this bi-weekly podcast will be the Hunting Report. These hunting reports will provide commentary and updates on things happening in the field and provide strategic ideas for listeners to implement into their hunt-planning processes. 

To learn more about the Illinois Learn to Hunt program, view upcoming events, or to register for an event, please visit the program website. Program staff is constantly planning and adding new events and other learning opportunities. 

Dan Stephens is a Hunter Recruitment Specialist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. The Illinois Learn to Hunt program is a statewide program designed to teach adults (18+) why, where and how to hunt a variety of species in Illinois. Visit Illinois Learn to Hunt for more information or to sign-up for an event near you.


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