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BOWMAN: Hunters in northeast Illinois struggled during waterfowl season



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What hunters saw of ducks and geese around Chicago during the recent
waterfowl seasons offer a blurred snapshot of the effect of the drought and heat of 2012.

On one hand, the three daily-draw sites in northeast Illinois — Braidwood Lake, Heidecke Lake near Morris and Williams W. Powers State Recreation Area (Wolf Lake) — had historically poor harvests.

Part of the reason was a very late push of mallards, a favorite of Illinois hunters, after duck season was over.

Braidwood, sometimes the top public site in Illinois for waterfowl hunters, had its poorest season, with 1,895 hunter visits producing 1,376 ducks and 66 Canada geese. That seasonal goose total is often what a good week in January is like in other years.

‘‘The weather — everything was weather-orientated,’’ veteran Braidwood site superintendent Mark Meents said. ‘‘Farmers were in the field early, and some of the farmers even double-disked.’’

That meant little waste grain was available. And Braidwood, a cooling lake in southwest Will County, becomes a hot spot for waterfowlers when nearby waters are frozen. That didn’t happen this year, except sporadically in the final days of Canada-goose season in January.

The lack of geese at Braidwood meant there wasn’t much going on at the private clubs that have sprung up on neighboring farms, either.

William Powers (583 visits, 36 mallards, 19 coots, 56 Canada geese, 45 other ducks) had its poorest season. Heidecke Lake had a fair season at best (920 hunter visits, 360 mallards, 13 Canada geese, 468 other ducks).

Numbers are being compiled from other public sites in northeast Illinois that have season blind draws. But wildlife biologist Joe Rogus, who handles Des Plaines State Fish and Wildlife Area near Wilmington, did a preliminary scan of the reports from hunters.

‘‘We had some duck harvest early, from the opening through mid-November,’’ he said. ‘‘Goose numbers were steady throughout. There were geese everywhere.’’

Resident Canada geese and the migrators they pulled appear to have saved the year for waterfowlers.

Until Tuesday, there wasn’t enough of a major weather event to push geese south. That holding of Canada geese by the thousands in the winter is one of the great natural changes of the last 15 years or so.

Northeast Illinois might have been an anomaly for the state.

‘‘Harvest at 26 state-managed areas across the state was up,’’ new wetland-program manager Randy Smith said. ‘‘It was several thousand birds over the five-year average, but not consistent across sites or regions.’’

A better feel for overall public and private sites for the season will be known as waterfowl hunter surveys are completed and totaled in the next couple of weeks.

Strike plans

Top staff for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources updated the strike contingency plan in recent months. Line staff potentially could strike by next week (five days of notice must be given). Gov. Pat Quinn has battled with the state’s unions for years, and the breaking point is here. The question is whether the rank-and-file will back a strike.

Places and faces

Cliff Pace of Mississippi led the Bassmaster Classic all three days on Grand Lake near Tulsa, Okla., and earned $500,000 on Sunday for winning the 43rd world championship of bass fishing with 54 pounds, 12 ounces. . . . Crow hunting ends Thursday in Illinois.

Wild things

Sandhill cranes, now the most noted migration in Chicago outdoors, were on the move Monday. I expect the storm will halt that a bit.

Stray cast

Is Manti Te’o-ed the mirror or mismatch for Louie Spray-ed?

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