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Guest Blog

In support of supplemental feeding

Thu, May 17, 2018


When State Senator Chapin Rose introduced SB-2493 which would make supplemental feeding of deer legal outside of hunting season in Illinois, I fully expected the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to oppose it. I expected the bill to have less than a 25 percent chance of passing. I also expected some opponents to the legislation.

What I didn’t expect was the vocal minority from within the hunting community voicing opposition based on false claims and untrue assumptions. Maybe it is time to shed some light on why the majority of Illinois deer hunters support this legislation by first exposing some myths that are currently being promoted by those opposing it.

Myth 1 –

This legislation is a step towards eventually allowing baiting during hunting season in Illinois.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I am one of the most outspoken proponents of SB-2493 for reasons that I will discuss later in this article. However, I would be the most adamantly opposed citizen in the entire state against any legislation at any point in the future that would allow baiting during hunting season in Illinois and most who support SB-2493 feel the same way. This false narrative is simply a ploy by those opposing this legislation to stir up others including legislators, hoping they will take the same position. Don’t believe it for a second! I am not aware of any group in the state that would support baiting during hunting season. That is a completely different issue with almost zero support.

Myth 2 –

Supplemental feeding spreads disease and science proves it.

Really? The only research that anyone has been able to direct me to are merely opinions promoted via pseudo-scientific literature, not factual research backed up with real data. I have searched diligently for any research that details an actual study done by a recognized university or research group and proves “X number of animals contracted X-disease at a supplemental feeding site.” Show me the research that shows “at X location X number of supplemental feeding sites were maintained and at the end of X number of years it was shown that X number of animals contracted X disease.” This idea is nothing more than opinion that has never been proven.

Let’s take this one step further and consider the fact that since 2002, when CWD was first found east of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, many wildlife biologists and scientists have shifted their opinion on the disease and how it should be dealt with. CWD is proving to not be the death sentence to wild deer herds that many first feared.

Without a doubt EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) kills hundreds if not thousands of times more deer annually than CWD. Many Illinois deer hunters remember the devastating EHD outbreak the state experienced in 2012. Modern nutrition may be able to help land managers save deer from EHD and possibly also help with CWD. Research is showing a correlation between nutrient deficiencies and CWD incident rates. There is the potential for supplemental feeding to improve a deers ability to address health and disease issues including both CWD and EHD.

Let’s also consider the social habits of whitetail deer as it relates to the spread of disease. Even the most novice of deer hunters realize that whitetails live in family groups, feed in close proximity to each other often browsing the very same plants, routinely groom each other, all lick and chew the same licking branches, urinate in and stick their noses in the same scrapes, etc etc etc. Is it really going to make any difference if some of them also visit the same supplemental feeding site?

Finally, have you ever looked in the sporting goods section of one of the numerous farm stores in Illinois? They all contain a large section dedicated to various deer attractants, minerals, feeds, etc. These are already being used in Illinois by the tons. It is not like legalizing supplemental feeding is going to introduce something new to the Illinois deer herd. It is already happening! What passage of the bill would do is make it legal so that all Illinois citizens could do what is already being done by many.

Myth 3 –

Supplemental feeding would endanger the well-being of the Illinois deer herd.

Many other states currently allow supplemental feeding and their deer herds are doing just fine. In fact, all of the states bordering Illinois allow supplemental feeding in some capacity. No evidence exists that the deer herds in these states are suffering because of it. For those crying that supplemental feeding puts the Illinois deer herd at risk, there is simply nothing more powerful than the map below. If supplemental feeding is such a bad thing, why are all these states allowing it, and how are their deer herds suffering because of it?

supplemental deer feed map

Let’s look at the Positives

When CWD was first discovered in Illinois, IDNR made the right decision to act and err on the side of caution. At that time little was known about CWD and how it might affect the states deer herd. That was almost 20 years ago and we have learned a lot about this disease in that time.

CWD has proven to not be the devastating plague that many biologists once feared it would become. In fact many of the nation’s top whitetail biologists have shifted their thinking regarding CWD over the past two decades. Those who once supported radical sharp-shooting campaigns and bans on supplemental feeding have shifted their opinions on both topics. The problem is a small minority of vocal deer hunters who largely bought into the same line of thinking when CWD first appeared east of the Mississippi River are not nearly as informed on modern science and thus are slow to change their opinions.

Modern nutrition has the ability to have a positive effect on the immune system and thus an animal’s ability to address disease and health challenges. This applies to ALL animals including humans. Supplemental feeding of deer is the only means to give our valued deer herd this advantage.

As I acknowledged earlier, IDNR probably made the right decision with its approach to dealing with CWD when it first hit the state in 2003. At that time their approach may have even been the model other states looked to but since that time a lot more has been learned and states like Wisconsin have moved on from that antiquated approach. SB-2493 actually gives IDNR an opportunity be the leader in CWD management once again by taking a new approach based on new science. One idea is to divide the state into zones where different approaches are implemented and studied.

Here is one example of how this issue could be addressed; the area of Illinois north of I-80 where CWD is most prevalent could continue to be managed as is with a ban on supplemental feeding. The area between I-80 and I-74 could be a “test area” where supplemental feeding is allowed but CWD monitoring is heightened to gauge its rate of spread versus the region north of I-80. This middle region of the state does have a couple of counties with confirmed CWD. This leaves the region south of I-74 where supplemental feeding could be allowed with an equal monitoring for CWD within every county in that region.

I think it is clear that everyone wants what is best for the Illinois deer herd. SB-2493 affords IDNR an opportunity to step to the forefront of CWD research. They should embrace the chance to work with legislators and constituents in a good faith effort from all parties to address the issue of CWD and supplemental feeding. The final details of SB-2493 have not yet been negotiated so the door is wide open for a well-crafted final version that takes the Illinois deer herd a giant step forward.

If there is any doubt that Illinois deer hunters support this bill, all one has to do is visit any farm store in the state and consider who is buying all the deer mineral and feed products now. I don’t think any of us are crazy enough to believe or suggest that non-residents are coming into the state to buy these products and haul them back home. Supplemental feeding is already happening on a fairly significant scale in Illinois. That is a fact that can’t be denied.



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.


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