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Illinois hunting and fishing

Wildlife biologists recorded information from a trapped deer prior to transporting it to a new area. Photo courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Day 1: Illinois’ deer and turkey populations are legacy of Jack Calhoun

December 11, 2012 at 02:46 PM

The State Journal-Register

When deer hunters spot a nice buck in a clearing, or see turkeys strut across a harvested field, they might do well to thank Jack Calhoun.

John C. “Jack” Calhoun of Virginia died March 2 at the age of 92, more than 30 years after he left the former Illinois Department of Conservation where he headed the state’s forest wildlife program.

For the first half of the 20th century, numbers of deer, turkeys and other game were so low in Illinois that hunting was not allowed.

Today, Illinois is one of the top deer-hunting states in the nation and turkeys can be found in every county, including Cook.

Calhoun — working with a team of fellow wildlife biologists — gets a lot of credit for restoring deer and turkey populations by trapping and relocating animals.

He also developed a framework to regulate deer hunting that is still in use today.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Jack Calhoun passes the time reading in a log cabin at Rexroat Prairie in Virginia in 1995. Photos by Chris Young.

After retirement, he was instrumental in developing the Rexroat Prairie and Cabins in Virginia, spending hours restoring the site and sharing his knowledge with visitors.

By all accounts, Calhoun was intense, passionate and principled.

His strongly held opinions sometimes angered his opponents.

He took his work personally.

“He thought of the Illinois deer herd as his child,” says Boone & Crockett scorer Tim Walmsley of Fowler. “And it was.”

Calhoun wasn’t the only one working on the restoration of wildlife, but he was clearly on the front lines. Illinois held its first modern firearm deer-hunting season in 1957.

“By the time I came to work as a game warden in 1962 he was already a leading deer authority in the nation,” says Don Hastings of Melbourne Beach, Fla.

Calhoun’s friends and former co-workers say he deserves a lot of the credit for Illinois’ success.

“He was certainly the No. 1 person responsible for deer restoration and turkey restoration,” says George Hubert, who worked with Calhoun as a “still wet behind the ears” college student and is now retired and living near DeKalb.

“He was among the first wave of wildlife biologists after World War II.”

Calhoun served as a first lieutenant with the U.S. Army Air Force.

Hubert says Calhoun hired him to analyze data collected during the first years after the resumption of deer-hunting seasons.

“The first year I worked for him was in 1967,” Hubert says. “The thing I found most amazing was the way they set up the data collection process. They had the county-by-county check stations and they collected tons of data.”

The data collection was complete and well thought out, he says.

“Usually you realize by year 10 you should have been collecting this and that, but these guys had it all.”
In those days, data was submitted on punch cards and analyzed by room-sized computers.

“Those efforts really led Illinois to where it is today, so we can model populations and guide management and quotas,” Hubert says.

Each county open for hunting had a check station where hunters had to bring their deer. Staffing those check stations gave a lot of college students “real world” experience, Hubert says.

“If you were working a check station and Jack came in, you would think he was a hunter, and he would talk to you and see what kind of job you were doing,” he says. “We actually went hunting a couple of mornings and then we
spent the rest of the time going from check station to check station talking to college students.”

Today, hunters check in their deer over the phone or online instead of physically taking it to a check station.

Turkey talk

Jerry Garver, who worked for the Department of Conservation (and later Natural Resources) from 1969-2002, says Calhoun brought the first turkeys back to Illinois from other states.

“(Between 1959 and 1967) Jack got our first wild-trapped turkeys — 65 birds from Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia and stocked them in Alexander, Jackson, Pope and Union counties,” Garver says.

In 1970, Illinois held its first wild turkey hunting season in 67 years in Alexander, Union and Jackson counties. As those populations grew, it was decided to trap and move some birds to other counties to start new populations.

But the job wasn’t as simple as catch-and-release.

The catching part took days of preparation and waiting, Garver says.

It helped when Garver moved to southern Illinois and took over the turkey program fulltime.

“You have to run a bait trail from the bait site — up to a quarter mile away,” Garver says. “It just takes a small amount of grain — just a handful of corn would cover 15 feet. If they hit that, they would follow it to the bait site.”

But the trail had to be maintained every day. Then Garver would set up a blind and use a net to try to capture turkeys.

“I’ve spent days sitting in a blind before daylight until dark and never saw a turkey,” he says. “It took a lot of hours.”
Eventually, the patience paid off.

“We transplanted 4,500-5,000 turkeys over the years (releasing 12-16 birds per release site),” he says. “Now we’ve got turkeys in every county of the state, including Cook County.”

Young deer and turkey hunters should know Calhoun developed a healthy respect for both animals, says retired wildlife biologist John Kube of Petersburg.

Illinois hunting and fishing

“He had a lot of respect for whitetails and turkeys and the elusiveness of both of them,” he says. “Jack would want (young hunters) to know (wildlife) is a cherished resource that should be respected, not just treated as trophy animals.”

Kube helped Calhoun move deer in those early days.

“Jack also had a lot of respect for landowners and farmers, even though they may not have thought they were managing specifically for deer, they were managing because they allowed hunting,” he says. “Without hunting we could not have effective management of our deer herd.”

Illinois hunting and fishing
Calhoun moves a doe from the woods in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Hubert says the biologists who worked together to bring back deer and turkeys fought hard — sometimes with each other — but always remained friends.

“One anecdotal thing I always like to express is I’ve never seen a group of individuals that could argue and almost come to fist fights to prove their points,” Hubert says. “And 15 minutes after the meeting they were out drinking a beer and patting each other on the back, planning their next project.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Great Article, and the booming turkey population today is a true testament compared to what it was back then!

Hmmm… I wonder what legacy the State of Illinois and IDNR will leave behind? My guess would be budget shortfalls, job losses, valuable park closures, and where they can construct the next playgorund in Chicago Area….! IMO,The Natural Resources of this Great State are in a current crisis.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/23 at 09:19 AM

I was fortunate enough to have several conversations with Jack when Conservation was on the upper floor of the Stratton Building.  He bucked the traditional thoughts of the time, moving deer into lightly forested areas and hunting does, bringing accusations from professionals and bar- stool biologists that he was destroying the herd that he was hired to enhance.  Jack stuck to his guns, and who ended up being right?
In answer to FULLDRAW, I imagine that Jack died broken hearted, seeing how the last two governors have cut the budgets and staffing of the IDNR (unfortunately not STILL Conservation).  Cutting beyond the bone, to the marrow, making DNR a candidate for inclusion on the Endangered Species List.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/24 at 10:59 AM

One of the things that we fail to mention when we talk IDNR and lack of money is the lack of money for good training for the folks who currently work for IDNR. Just because you have the bodies doesn’t mean you have the knowledge! Having annual refreshers or being able to attend scientific meetings is essential if you want to stay ahead of the curve.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/11 at 03:43 PM

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