A new youth hunting mecca?
Youngsters interested in special hunts at the Torstenson Family Youth Conservation Education Center are encouraged to contact the Illinois Conservation Foundation.
Plans call for youth doe-only deer hunts this fall.
To learn more, visit http://www.ilcf.org or call (217) 785-2003 or Mark Spangler at (217) 720-4389.
The ICF will also be selling deer and duck hunts in an effort to raise money for the new facility. Five-day archery packages are available.
For the first few hours shooting was slow.
Then a truck pulled up to the dove field where Dave and Joe Woodruff of Pekin were sitting. Out jumped Mark Spangler, director of the Illinois Conservation Foundation.
“He said, ‘It doesn’t sound like you’re getting much shooting. So load up and we’re taking you to another field,’” Dave Woodruff said.
Sure enough, doves were flying better in the next patch of sunflowers. By day’s end Joe, 13, was able to leave the field with seven doves. And a broad smile.
Similar hospitality is the aim of the state’s new Torstenson Family Youth Conservation Education Center near Pecatonica. The Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation recently donated the 750-acre property to the ICF, which hopes to use the northern Illinois site’s abundant wildlife habitat to promote youth hunting and conservation.
The property also includes a $3 million wood lodge building, wetlands, oxbows of the Pecatonica River, timber, hiking trials and fields.
“Our long-term vision is to never charge a kid to be on the property,” Spangler said. “Robert H. Torstenson had a vision for his Deer Yard Farm to become a place where young people could come and learn outdoor skills. The ICF is dedicated to making it a reality.”
For that to happen, the ICF will need considerable financial support — certainly more than it can count on the from the cash-strapped Department of Natural Resources.
That might be a tall order for the ICF, founded in 1994 to operate largely independent of the DNR. The idea was to keep money raised safe from meddling politicians.
And the ICF has generated more than $30 million for natural resources conservation and education.
But prior to Spangler’s appointment in March, the foundation was without a leader for more than a year during difficult economic times. Rumors started swirling about the possible demise of the ICF.
Those rumblings died off some after the arrival of Spangler, who has a 30-year career in the outdoors industry with Plano molding and various gun makers. The addition of the Torstenson property created a whole new buzz that Spangler hopes translates into money.
“We will be aggressively seeking corporate and individual sponsors and hope to be able to accommodate groups of up to 100 kids in the future,” Spangler said. “The possibilities for outdoor recreation are truly endless.”
Doves, raccoons, nesting sandhill cranes, migratory birds and deer are some of the many critters that visit the riverfront property.
“We hunted near some flooded timber and there were groups of 20 and 30 wood ducks circling us the whole morning,” Woodruff said. “And we saw quite a few geese.
It’s a beautiful property and we only saw a small part of it.”
In short, this is a rich man’s retreat that will now be open to kids. For free. That’s a great, though rare combination.
Count the Woodruffs among those who hope funding materializes to make the idea a reality. They headed north after reading about last weekend’s hunt on prairiestateoutdoors.com.
The Woodruffs normally participate in the youth hunt at Mackinaw River State Fish and Wildlife Area. But since Joe was unable to get a permit at Mackinaw, his only option was to make the three-hour drive to the Torstenson site.
Long trip? Worth the time?
“I’d definitely go back and I know Joe would,” Dave Woodruff said.
“It was a really nice day up there,” Joe said. “Real enjoyable. Real fun.”