Winds of change help waterfowlers out on range

Jeff Lampe

The wind started from the south Monday, almost imperceptible at first.

Then the breeze shifted southwest. Then west.

With each change, intensity picked up until we were buffeted by 40 mph gusts out of the northwest that sent willow leaves whistling past.

Only then did the action start. We shot all but one of our ducks from 10 a.m. to noon at Soedler's Gun Club, a rustic 167-acre spread between Lake Senachwine and the Illinois River.

Such is a life as a waterfowler. While it's a misconception you need rain or dark skies to kill ducks, gusty wind can definitely up the odds in favor of a waterfowler.

The latest big blow could help duck chasers all over Illinois. Expectations are the recent strong northwest winds and cold front in the North Country should bring new mallards into the Prairie State.

That's welcome news in the North Zone, where a strong start has been replaced by a traditional slowdown.

'We're just in the lull period of the year when you're between the first ones and the next ones coming,' Mike Resetich said Monday during our hunt across the river from Swan Lake Club, the state's oldest. 'This happens every year. After you've had a few good years you forget about the lull.'

Forgetting the lull has so far been easy in the Central Zone, as hunters have been amazed at the ducks already using flooded cornfields — normally a hotspot in colder weather. During a recent afternoon tour of the Lockport Gun Club, I was surprised to see so many ducks in the corn and resting nearby.

All that fretting about birds blowing through the Illinois River Valley seems to so far have been misplaced.

'This is the most ducks I've ever seen in here,' said Tim Presley, a Lockport member.

Clubs aren't the only ones benefitting. Refuges at Rice Lake, Banner Marsh and elsewhere are also crowded. Some worry ducks will gobble the limited food supply fast. Maybe. A better bet is to make the most of the moment.

So that's what we did Monday, as a slow morning kept improving for our group: Donnelley-DePue site manager Resetich, Chicago Sun-Times scribe Dale Bowman and Southern Illinoisan scribe Les Winkeler. Visit www.prairiestateoutdoors.com to see a video of the hunt.

Witnessing an 180-degree turn in the wind in one day is cool enough. The fact it makes hunting better is a nice bonus.

And make no mistake, the wind helped. The hole we were hunting had been planted with millet that was flooded out in August — along with most of the rest of the food planted between Starved Rock and Grafton.

But the tree-lined, shallow-water pond was still a respite from the gale. And Resetich had wisely set us up on the north end with the wind off our shoulders. Any ducks seeking refuge from the wind did so by crossing in close range — a fortunate thing when outdoor writers are squeezing triggers.

By day's end we managed seven birds, including a bulky black duck. No new birds materialized, but shooting has improved most places since the mighty wind shift.

'The old-timers used to always say you won't hold ducks until the leaves are off the trees,' said Resetich, who has hunted waterfowl for 44 of his 57 years. 'This year might fool them, though.'

This year might fool all of us.

DNR CHANGES:

One change at the Department of Natural Resources is official. Steve Pallo, 56, is now acting fisheries division chief. Pallo had overseen Illinois reservoirs and rivers. He replaces Scott Stuewe, who took a job with a private engineering firm nine months ago.

Another possible change is still a rumor. When Joel Brunsvold resigned as DNR director in December of 2005, Sam Flood became acting director saying he had no desire to hold the job for long.

Two years later, with lacking leadership a clear problem in the DNR, Flood is still acting as director. But after months of speculation that Rep. Dan Reitz (D-Sparta) would take the job, a new name has emerged — Rep. Kurt Granberg (D-Centralia).

Currently the assistant majority leader, Granberg has announced he will not seek re-election next year. Granberg told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he expects to join Gov. Blagojevich's administration, focusing on downstate economic development.

Other sources say Granberg has expressed interest in becoming DNR director. Granberg was out of his district office Wednesday and did not return a call.

BBD REPORT:

After years of working on trophy bucks for other hunters, Yates City taxidermist Dave Emken can finally mount a monster of his own.

Hunting last Saturday in Knox County, Emken shot a 17-pointer that field dressed at 255 pounds and grossed 209 6/8 inches when green scored. The buck's rack had a 23-inch inside spread and netted 199 2/8 inches.

Emken said the buck was following a doe that was not ready to breed but that fortunately walked 30 yards past his stand. Incidentally, Emken was on a farm he purchased last year.

'The main reason I bought the ground is because I knew he was there,' said Emken, who has both sides of shed antlers from the buck for the past two years. Last year's sheds netted 199 6/8 inches and in 2005 they were 178 inches

Emken is hardly alone in having recent success. Jeff Neice of Alpha shot a huge 10-point buck last Friday that field dressed at 275 pounds and had several broken antlers.

'One guy said he probably broke those tines flipping a 180-pounder over his back,' said Al Hayden, owner of Al's Sporting Goods in Galesburg. 'That's the largest buck I've ever had on my scales.'

In other deer-related news, Illinois State Police ranges are open Saturday for hunters to sight in shotguns. Call ahead for a reservation. Macomb's range is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call (309) 833-4046, Ext. 242. The LaSalle range is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (815) 224-1171.

Et cetera:

Crappie fishing is good at Evergreen Lake, with 8-inchers biting well despite low-water conditions. .?.?. Dove season ends Sunday. .?.?. Fox season opens today statewide, as does trapping and raccoon season in the South Zone. .?.?. Goose season is closed in the Central Zone and resumes Nov. 21. .?.?. The youth waterfowl hunt is Saturday and Sunday in the South Zone.

JEFF LAMPE is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail jlampe@pjstar.com.