Jeff Lampe: Wet weather may have hunters crying foul

Jeff Lampe

As fall approaches, hunters become more curious about how the species they pursue fared in the past year.

While there are still surveys to run and data to collect for some critters, here’s an early look at what we know about a few popular species.


A hot topic at next Sunday’s Illinois River duck blind drawings will be the new rule allowing Central and North zone hunters to shoot five giant Canada geese during the September season.

While not everyone likes the liberal bag limit — particularly clubs that don’t hunt the early season — biologists say the statewide goose flock can handle the extra harvest.

Illinois’ breeding population of giant Canada geese this year is 138,300 — one of the highest totals on record and up 33,300 from last year. The overall Mississippi Flyway estimated count of 1.7 million giant Canada geese is up 5 percent from 2007 and is close to the all-time high of 1.73 million honkers in 2006.

Despite wet weather, banding results show production of goslings was average in west-central Illinois and very good around the Canton area. Gosling counts were down 20 percent in the northeast.

Less promising is the MVP flock that nests in Canada, where late spring and late snowstorms are sure to hamper production.

For duck hunters, a 60-day season is all but certain thanks to solid mallard counts (7.7 million) and an overall estimate of 37.3 million ducks. There are concerns, though.

Drought hit the northern prairie and production is sure to be down. And canvasbacks and bluebills both showed declines, meaning bag limits and season dates for those divers will be impacted.

The count of 6.6 million blue-winged teal means we’ll again have a 16-day season (Sept. 6-21 in Illinois). But don’t expect action like last year, when hunters in the U.S. shot a whopping 2.91 immature bluewings for every adult.

Dry conditions and loss of grasslands in the Dakotas, southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan has hurt nesting success for teal and for most ducks.

Upland game

Last winter was hard on pheasants, according to biologist John Cole. Call counts were down markedly this spring, with declines of up to 30 percent in northern Illinois and 20 percent in central Illinois.

While wet weather is not ideal for pheasant nesting, Cole has some hope that rain this spring and summer could actually help pheasant nesting success in Illinois. That’s because wet ground has delayed mowing in many areas of the state that could provide much-needed nest cover.

“The fall population is 75 to 80 percent young of the year anyway, so really (pheasant numbers) are not so much dependent on the breeding populations as on how successful they are raising young,” Cole said.

Prospects are better for quail, whose numbers were up in west-central Illinois and were nearly double in Clark County and some other spots in eastern Illinois.

We’ll know more later this summer when biologists conduct brood counts.


Wet spring, dry spring, cold winter, it doesn’t seem to make much difference for the Illinois deer herd. Prairie State whitetails are blessed with plenty of food and enough areas to successfully raise fawns.

But this year will be different in some low-lying locales along the Mississippi River where deer numbers could certainly drop. Outside the hard-hit flood areas, biologist Paul Shelton said there’s no reason to expect anything other than another good breeding season for whitetails.

Of more significance in recent years have been outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease. EHD or blue tongue typically shows up in the summer and usually takes its worse toll in drought years. So a benefit of this wet spring is that there should be enough watering holes to keep deer spread out when EHD typically hits hardest.

Wild turkeys

Significant rainfall in June is not ideal for turkey nesting, so expectations are that turkey production in Illinois will be down this year.

But Shelton said the rainy June we went through shouldn’t turn out to be a crisis for gobblers and hens.

“Wetness in and of itself is not necessarily the killer so long as your temperatures don’t get real cool along with it,” he said. “There’s going to be places where our reproductive success is probably low, but I don’t know how widespread I’d anticipate that being.

“We’re due for a good (turkey hatch) at some point and time, but I don’t anticipate this will be it.”

Jeff Lampe is Journal Star outdoorscolumnist. He can be reached at or 686-3212.