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Not a great opening day for firearm deer season

Mark UrbManhattan sets out Friday standby permit from Heidecke. He is wearing distinctive fluorescent-orange bicycle flags required for safe hunting

Mark Urba of Manhattan sets out Friday on a standby permit from Heidecke. He is wearing the distinctive fluorescent-orange bicycle flags required for safe hunting in the prairies of Goose Lake Prairie. | Dale Bowman/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 25, 2013 6:16AM

Six wood ducks banked past as dawn came Friday, more a lessening of gray than a brightening.

It truly was a day more for ducks than bucks.

A few minutes later, a small buck broke from the grass field, too far out for a shot. I was sitting in a fence row overlooking a grass field and a sorghum field in eastern Will County.

Illinois’ first firearm deer season opened Friday. It runs through Sunday and is expected to draw more than 210,000 hunters.

The north wind had a northwesterly bent as I walked in before dawn, so I went up the east side of the small farm.

After the early buck, nothing. By the middle of the morning, the intermittent drizzle and light rain became more persistent.

It was time.

The wind had shifted more northeasterly, so I walked the west property line out.

Six does flushed in the old nursery section. Then on the cleared path behind old evergreens, five does ran across
in the opening, followed by a decent buck.

I held fire, though they were in range. A running shot for me isn’t automatic. And it was opening day, six days to go.

The decision to pull the trigger is similar to a decision to go for it on fourth down. It depends if it is the first quarter or the fourth.

Afterward, I checked Heidecke Lake, which has many standby options for Heidecke, Goose Lake Prairie and Morris Wetlands.

Mark Urba was able to hunt Goose Lake as a standby in the early afternoon. Earlier in the day, the Manhattan man had tried standby at Des Plaines State Fish and Wildlife Area and Starved Rock State Park without luck.

His deer-hunting season already was made this fall when his 13-year-old son arrowed a deer at Joliet Training Area.

I love the the fluorescent-orange bicycle flags hunters must wear at Heidecke/Goose Lake to be visible in the tall prairie.

After the morning permit holders and fill-ins, 15 hunters waited standby. All but one was out in the field by early afternoon. The lone one not out wanted a specific site and was waiting.

‘‘It’s slower with the wind,’’ Heidecke site tech Brian Hamende said.

By early afternoon, he said there had been one small buck reported from Section A.

The best deer I heard about was a Facebook posting by Bob Zettler of what looked like a massive 10-point, which was shot minutes after opening in southern Illinois.

In Franklin County, Tim Weszelits of Oswego, whom I did a column about Wednesday, opted to take a doe for strategic reasons.

‘‘Don’t ordinarily like to shoot a doe on opening morning, but there was a herd of doe, and one spotted me,’’ he posted on Facebook. ‘‘If I let ’em go, most certainly would not have seen ’em again all weekend.’’

Not all hunters were as enthralled as the rest of us with opening day for firearm deer season. I had a Twitter exchange with a bowhunter, who noted: ‘‘Deer season opened two months ago. It ended today.’’

He has a point. Deer don’t act the same after even the opening day of firearm season.

But Friday was truly a day for ducks more than bucks. Six boats went out Friday morning at Heidecke and came back with a solid 19 ducks.

Illinois’ second firearm season is Dec. 5-8. Over-the-counter sales of remaining firearm permits will continue until the second season ends.

To donate deer in the Illinois Sportsmen Against Hunger program, go to

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