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Guest Blog

Thoughts on trapping

Wed, August 24, 2016

As hunters, we see wildlife that God created differently than those that don’t hunt. We respect and cherish the wildlife we see. It means much more to us because we understand the animals we pursue.  We see nature as it really is and understand the life and death process as it was intended to be. By trapping you can take another step into the wild. By being a trapper, you can immerse yourself even deeper into a relationship with the land and the animals that live there.

As a young man, I had great interest in the outdoors. I wanted to know everything I could about the wild places and the animals that lived there. I not only wanted to observe nature, but I wanted to be a part of it. A classmate of mine, Mike, who lived nearby shared my same interests. Mike and I became good friends. His dad, Martin, was a fisherman and also did some hunting, but my dad was not an outdoorsman.  So Martin took Mike and I fishing and squirrel hunting. Their family had a few subscriptions to outdoor magazines, and one of those that I really enjoyed and learned from was Fur-Fish-Game. The magazine is still published today, and I am a subscriber like I was forty years ago.

Since my folks weren’t outdoor-oriented, the magazine was my teacher. Mike and I would try the things we read about, and with the help of his dad, we had some success. We hunted squirrels, ran lines for turtles, and began our trapping adventures. Muskrats were our first targets because we had seen them swimming in Bull Run Creek within walking distance of where we lived at the edge of town. I don’t recall how many we caught our first year, but each season we increased our catch. The land owners were always happy to let us trap because the muskrats did damage to the creek banks. If the muskrats inhabited their pond, they could do extensive damage to the pond levee.

Back in the early days of our trapping, fur was in style and there were many fur buyers that purchased the animal skins. The buyers would also buy the whole, un-skinned animals which is referred to as buying in the round or buying on the carcass. Since our knowledge of fur handling was limited, we sold our animals in the round. My mom would let us keep the muskrats in the deep freeze in the garage until it was time to sell them. Mom would then drive Mike and I to Perardi Fur & Wool Company in Farmington, Illinois, to sell our catch.

We would usually make a couple of selling trips each season. On one of those trips, a man that worked there showed us how to skin a raccoon. We had seen raccoon tracks down along the creek bank so it was a matter of learning how to catch one. In the mean time, as luck would have it for us, a farmer just outside of town was finding his chickens being killed by raccoons; not so lucky for the chickens. The farmer was a trapper himself in his younger days and invited us to his farm to trap. After a little trial and error, we caught our first raccoon. It was time to try out the skinning methods we had learned.

Mom sure did love me because that raccoon was skinned in our garage by a couple of fourteen-year-old boys. Now I’m pretty sure that coon skin had a few holes in it, but after a lifetime of skinning, I have gotten better at it. Mom and Dad always encouraged me to pursue my passion for the outdoors. Even though it was not something that was important to them, they knew it was important to me. They also knew trapping provided healthy exercise for me and taught me good work ethic.

People trap for a variety of reasons. When fur prices are high, many trap for extra income. But when fur prices are low, damage caused by animals is more prevalent. Trapping is done to control the populations of certain species that become a nuisance. Trapping is a great wildlife management tool. Without regulated harvest, animal population dynamics have highs and lows. The casual observer will not even see the animals’ populations peaking and then collapsing. Animal numbers climb until the land can no longer sustain that population. Then diseases like distemper, tularemia and mange will spread quickly killing hundreds of animals in the affected area. All furbearing animals that are permitted to be trapped in Illinois have sustainable populations. The hunting and trapping season dates and limits are set to insure the animals will be here for future generations.

If trapping sounds like something you would be interested in, you must pass a mandatory Trapper Safety Education Course that is taught by volunteer instructors for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).When I started trapping back in the early 1970’s, trappers didn’t share much information about their tips and techniques, and it made learning the skills difficult. Today things are different, and the volunteer instructors want new trappers to learn the proper techniques for the humane harvest of our abundant furbearing animals.

If you are interested in taking a Trapper Safety Education Course, one is scheduled for Saturday, August 27th, at the Wilmor Sportsman Club east of Morton, Illinois, from 8:00am until 5:00pm. For more information on the class, call Dave Scifres at (309) 264-7133. Another class is also scheduled for September 10th in Fairbury, Illinois, call Bill Gullquist at (815) 216-7417 for information. The IDNR furbearer biologist, Bob Bluett, also has some excellent educational videos on YouTube.
To sign up for classes in other area of the state, call (800) 832-2599


Humor in life of a waterfowler’s wife

Thu, September 17, 2015


I’ve been living the life of a duck hunter’s wife for about ten years now. Turns out, I didn’t just marry my husband, I also married his Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and his decoy collection. Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. But I have learned how to find humor in just about every corner of this life. And I’ve discovered just a few ways in which a hunter’s household is, as Bill Engvall once put it, “a couple of degrees off plumb.” Here’s my latest top 10 list of ways to tell if you, too, are a hunter’s spouse.

• When introducing your dog to strangers, you can tell immediately if you’ve met a kindred soul based on whether or not you have to explain why your dog’s name is Benelli.

• You describe the boat blind as your “vacation home.”

• The furnace repairman once did a double-take in your basement, thinking you were raising geese down there. Admittedly, in the dim basement light, the flocked-head big-foot geese did look pretty realistic behind that line of wire fence you had installed to serve as a puppy pen.

• There is no question that one of your family vehicles will always be a full-size Chevy truck. SUVs are out, obviously, because where would you put the dead animals and the mud-covered waders?

• You go Christmas shopping in your deep freezer. “Does your sister rate the loin steaks or just some elk burger?”

• Your property is on the other side of a fifty-foot-high berm from a working gravel quarry. You viewed this as a major bonus when you bought the house: perfect shooting backstop! You are the envy of many of your friends.

• At least one of the windows in your house has the screen off because Elmer Fudd was hunting those wily wabbits again.

• You’ve started referring to your family as your “pack” and describe your household hierarchy as a human alpha male, a wife, and a hunting dog whose aim in life is to move up the ranking.

• You let a few people know (tongue in cheek!) where to look in case you ever go missing, after you realized that the garbagemen in your neighborhood don’t bat an eye at the stinky, bloody garbage cans that show up at the end of your driveway during hunting season.

• You wonder if other people have a line item in their budgets for ammo and taxidermy. And, oh yeah, don’t forget those hearing aids that you’re going to need. (“What?”)

Val Walker grew up on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area outside Ely, Minnesota, and presently lives outside Elburn, Illinois, with her husband, Bob, and their Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Benelli.


Teal and shorebird census

Thu, September 03, 2015


The first teal flight for fall 2015 is in the books, and so we begin our 67th year of waterfowl surveys on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.  Frank Bellrose started flying the waterfowl survey back in 1948 when pilots, aircraft, and fuel became available after WWII.  Aaron Yetter on plane

Since 1948, we have only missed one fall of data collection.  The 2001 survey was not flown due to funding issues and pilot availability.  This aerial inventory has a longer history than even the aerial breeding waterfowl population survey of the prairies which originated in 1955.  We are proud of this accomplishment and usually note that our long-term database has only had 4 biologist observers over the years.  I give kudos to my predecessors Frank Bellrose, Tud Crompton, and Michelle Horath as this fall marks my 11th year in the airplane.

Click here to learn more about past inventories.

Duck numbers this week for the Illinois River were comparable to the weekly 10-yr average and totaled 31,900 total ducks.  Blue-winged and American green-winged teal abundance (23,895) was 7.2% above the 10-yr average (21,975).  Total ducks on the Mississippi River were well above the 10-yr average; however, early season duck abundance (8,055 ducks) along the Mississippi River is typically lower than the Illinois River. 

Teal comprised 92% of the ducks observed this week on the Mississippi River.  Other early season migrants noted along both rivers included northern shoveler and northern pintail.  The weather forecast from North Dakota predicts above normal temperatures for the first week of September so I doubt we get a wave of migrating teal out of the prairies anytime soon.   

My early September estimate of wetland habitat conditions for waterfowl this fall ranked well below average for both the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.  It was a wet June-July and consequently our rivers were elevated for most of the growing season.  The last rise in water levels in late August destroyed any chance for waterfowl foods in the unprotected wetlands of the Illinois Valley. 

Most of the refuges and duck clubs along the Mississippi River had below average moist-soil plant growth as well.  Some notable exceptions include Ted Shanks, Delair, Keithsburg, and Port Louisa refuges.  Along the Illinois River; Hennepin & Hopper lakes, Banner Marsh, and Emiquon were the only places with significant amounts of duck food.  For more information about the waterfowl survey, check out our webpage at  .

Good luck teal and Canada goose hunting and stay tuned for more updates next week.

Here are the complete aerial counts.




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