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Illinois hunting and fishing

Scott McTaggart and Chad Boarman talk strategy during their turkey hunt April 7. Photos by Chris Young.

Youth turkey hunters first to take advantage of new access program

April 19, 2012 at 09:14 PM

The State Journal-Register

If you think the woods are a peaceful and quiet place during turkey season, you would be wrong.

“It was noisy,” says Chad Boarman, a seventh-grader from Pawnee. “There were two toms in a tree, and they were gobbling like crazy.”

Along with talkative turkeys, add the usual complement of woodland songbirds and a whippoorwill that rarely paused for breath.

Chad was hunting on timbered property south of Carlinville with Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist Stan McTaggart, his mentor during the recent youth wild turkey season.

Chad was one of 50 kids under age 16 who were able to hunt on land leased through the Illinois Recreational Access Program (IRAP).

IRAP provides rental payments to landowners in exchange for allowing access for specific recreational activities. Property owners can specify the types of recreation allowed, and there are different payments depending on the acreage and the activities allowed.

Another 28 kids will have access to IRAP hunting grounds during the third and fourth seasons.

“Anytime you can get kids out, whether it is private land, public land or grandpa’s land, it’s a good thing,” McTaggart says. “The more opportunity the better.”

According to U.S. Census figures, about 80 percent of the population in the United States lives in urban areas.

In highly urban areas, like northeast Illinois, land for hunting, birding, hiking and fishing can be at a premium.

“(Hunting access) may not be the limiting factor for a lot of kids, but it is definitely the limiting factor for kids in certain areas of the state,” McTaggart says.

DNR rolled out IRAP last year, funded by a three-year, $1.5 million federal grant, and set its sights on a youth turkey hunt as the program’s first big event.

But before a single turkey could be called, DNR had to identify and sign up landowners.

“Our goal was to get 100 sites,” says IRAP program manager Tammy Miller. “I imagine we’ve got close to 8,000 acres now.”

Illinois hunting and fishing

Miller says central Illinois landowners were well represented, but more work needs to be done to add acreage in northern and southern Illinois.

“Overall, the response has been very positive,” she says. “Everyone (who participated in the youth hunt) wants to do it again, and they all said they would recommend the program to landowners and other

McTaggart says people are just starting to become aware of opportunities through IRAP.

“All these programs are important — they just need to market them and then help people learn where and how to get permits,” he says.

McTaggart says new hunters may need to be guided through the process to be sure they acquire the proper licenses and permits on time.

“You need someone who has done it before and is experienced to walk new hunters through it,” he says. “For example, you have a deadline to apply for spring turkey permits in the fall.”

‘Feel the gobbles’

This spring’s youth turkey season turned out to be a record-breaker, as young hunters strutted away with a record number of birds killed.

Youth season dates were March 31-April 1 in the South Zone and April 7-8 in the North Zone.

The preliminary total of 1,300 birds taken in both zone hunts is well above the previous record of 748 turkeys killed in 2011.

For this year’s youth season, more than 4,000 youth turkey permits were issued, compared to 3,700 last spring.

Chad had a jake almost within range (56 yards, to be specific), but not quite close enough to take the shot.

“It was a nice jake, too,” he says.

Earlier in the morning, a pair of hens landed so close they could have walked right into one of the blinds.

“Then two hens flew right over our decoys about 10 yards from our blind and landed about 30 yards away from us,” Chad says.

The hens eventually wandered off toward the toms gobbling just out of sight.

McTaggart says he wants the experience to give Chad a feeling for turkey hunting.

“I don’t care if he gets a bird, but I do want him to feel the gobbles. Not just hear them in the distance — feel them.”

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

IRAP offers habitat management plans

Illinois hunting and fishing
Stan McTaggart scouts for turkeys on the Friday before the youth hunt.

The Macoupin County property where Stan McTaggart and seventh-grader Chad Boarman hunted during youth turkey season is a rare parcel of relatively unspoiled Illinois woodland.

“It’s just a beautiful mix of white oak, red oak and it still has an intact understory,” says McTaggart, a wildlife biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “There were tons of wildflowers, but the striking thing was how few exotics were there.”

McTaggart should know. Before taking his current position with DNR, he worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Landowner Incentive Program.

Part of his job was to evaluate natural areas and suggest management practices that would preserve or enhance natural features.

The Macoupin County acreage was ideal for turkey hunting.

“It’s a great mix of small open fields and mature oak-hickory timber,” McTaggart says. “It is just beautiful. It’s a great layout on the property.”

Tammy Miller, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Illinois Recreational Access Program manager says habitat management advice and help securing funding for stewardship work can provide extra value
for landowners who enroll.

“We are writing wildlife management plans for the landowners,” she says. “The next step is to implement those plans and help landowners find funding.

“They get a very nominal lease fee,” Miller says. “But the bonus is getting that management plan and then following through with implementation.”

Get ready for fishing, birding and photography

While young turkey hunters will take to the woods again during the third and fourth seasons, Tammy Miller is already planning summer activities.

“We’re really going to concentrate on the pond fishing, river fishing and river access (non-motorized boat access on public waterways),” says Miller, Illinois Department of Natural Resources IRAP manager. “We also will offer sites for outdoor naturalists, birding and outdoor photography. We have 27 sites for that.”

In Knox County, 30 acres of pond fishing are lined up courtesy of a partnership with Pheasants Forever.
Miller is working on signing up landowners while a new online registration system is developed and brought online sometime next month.

“That’s our focus now that the first year of turkey hunting is almost behind us,” she says.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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