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Tips on earning a free upland-game hunting permit



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Updated: August 5, 2014 10:41PM

I will take any edge I can get when it comes to Illinois’ coolest hunting program, the free upland-game permit program. It’s what I call ‘‘king for a day’’ hunting.

Successful applicants may hunt wild birds in restored landscapes for a day with their own groups (usually three others) at 41 sites this year. The odds of being successful are roughly 1-in-3, though you can improve your chances.

The application period is in August each year. To apply, go to, then to hunting/trapping, then to upland game and finally to free upland-game permit program.

Through the years, I have improved my odds by thinking and asking questions of Illinois Department of Natural Resources staff.

I learned something new last year, thanks to Otis Kirchhoefer. I drew the first opening-day permit in my life for Paul C. Burrus Habitat Area. I invited Kirchhoefer along, expecting a wildly wonderful hunt.

When we got there, though, much of the restored landscape was so overgrown that it was unhuntable. We did bag one pheasant on good shooting by Kirchhoefer.

Over lunch, he wondered if there was any way to check the success rates at sites before applying. I found the Illinois Public Hunting Area Report for 2012-13 (the 2013-14 report should be up soon) and discovered that Burrus HA had almost no reported upland game bagged in 2012.

Checking success rates at sites before applying is a new tool for me. My other tricks for improving the odds for a successful draw are straightforward.

Foremost is having each member of a loose-knit group apply, then inviting the others if someone is successful. These hunts should be communal affairs to be shared and savored.

Apply for lesser-known sites. All the same, I really want to hunt the Saybrook and Sibley Pheasant Habitat Areas once in my life and apply for both each year.

Apply for weekdays instead of weekends. Again, I can’t help myself and apply for opening day at each site.

If you are successful in drawing a permit, I have two suggestions. The first is to make sure at least one hunter has a good dog. These are smart birds being hunted, so a good dog is essential. The second is to make a day of it. Bring along good lunch or breakfast fixings or explore the eats in the nearby towns. These should be days to remember for the whole experience.

Wild things

The IDNR released 97 alligator snapping turtles last week in southern Illinois in a wonderful restoration effort for the largest turtle in North America.

Places and faces

Paul Porento of Highland, Indiana, won the co-angler side of the Walmart Bass Fishing League Michigan Division tournament on Lake St. Clair. His five bass weighed 19 pounds, 7 ounces and earned him $1,958. Klaus Kuester of Forest Park took fifth.

Stray cast

Martellus Bennett reminds me that coaches expect football players to act like piranhas with hearts of sated goldfish.

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