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Versatile Hunter

Gilles Family Continues to Give Back

Tue, January 15, 2019

Our Spoon River NAVHDA Chapter members had the privilege of guiding the 2018 hunting season at the annual Gilles Farm youth pheasant hunt.  We’ve been a part of so many youth and disabled upland hunting events, but this was one of the best funded and well-run events I’ve yet to see.  Not to mention the farm itself was something to behold. . .

The Gilles hunts are sponsored by the Illinois River Pheasants Forever Chapter as well as several private donors.  They have been holding these hunts for over 13 years and hit a peak of over 200 kids over the two-day event in 2015.  Weather-dependent, they average 100 kids.  Prizes and lunch are furnished for all involved and the dogs used are first class.  Groups of 4-5 kids at a time go out for the hunts.  Clay shooting is offered before each hunt to get the youngsters tuned up.  Lunch is served, and each hunt teaches lessons in gun safety, conservation, hunting etiquette, and cleaning and eating game birds. 

The Gilles family has owned farm ground in Peoria County since 1940. When CRP was offered back in 1992, the family began enrolling its’ highly erodible ground along the Spoon River.  Since then, over 500 acres of land now consists of wetlands, terraces, food plots, dry dams, CRP, CREP, tree plantings, bird houses, winter cover, and prairie grasses and forbs.  Not to mention the farm is a registered game preserve! The prairie has been an experiment over the years, starting with what the government thought was best (lots of grass like big bluestem), and evolving to what ecologists now know is most valuable to wildlife and most mimics the original prairies of Illinois (more forbs and less grass).  This allows for bird species to more easily make their way through the cover, especially quail.  It also provides the best overall habitat diversity so that multiple wildlife species can ultimately benefit. I’ve seen a lot of prairie restorations in my years as a Biologist and this property ranks right up there with the best I’ve yet to behold. After all, mimicking a native prairie is no small feat. 

Several events for local conservation and school groups have been held on the Gilles property over the years in order to educate young and old alike as to what species existed on the prairie and which ones should be used today in order to restore the land. Thousands have made the trip here to learn about the right way to conserve soil, be better stewards of the land, and create habitat for birds and bees alike. Along with these events, multiple Pheasants Forever trap shooting education and competition events have also been hosted here.

The family have received multiple awards including Illinois Conservation Farm Family of the Year, Wildlife Landowners of the Year, Pheasants Forever Dedication Awards, Clean Water Celebration’s Making Waves Award, Illinois Corn Growers Environmental Action Award, and perhaps one of their most esteemed awards—the Pheasants Forever No Child Left Indoors Volunteer of the Year Award.

People like the Gilles family that give back in such a profound way should be commended as should the organizations and people that donate their precious time to such a commendable effort in giving back to the next generation of wildlife conservation via hunting and fishing dollars.  Not only are the Gilles family starting new hunters, but they are educating even non-hunting folks to the importance of wildlife habitat and good land stewardship through the proper use of land. 

If you have a youngster ready to take the next step toward becoming a hunter, I highly suggest getting them enrolled in the Gilles hunt which normally takes place around Thanksgiving weekend every year.  Contact the Illinois River Valley Pheasants Forever Chapter for details.


An excellent article Shae.  I have had my son Kole on these youth hunts and he had a great time.  The next year almost all of his friends were in on the hunts. 

Each summer usually in July They work with the Peoria County Soil & Water Conservation District and host educational tours for the public.

Great job Shae, keep up the good work.

Posted by TMalone on January 17

Great article!

Posted by btb38 on January 28

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