Illinois Outdoors at
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Jeff Lampe
Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

Illinois Outdoors


A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Illinois hunting and fishing

Rick Windham of North Platte, Neb. readies a decoy for a morning hunt near Pingree, N.D.

Bird watching/hunting in North Dakota

October 26, 2008 at 02:46 AM

Fewer hunters

North Dakota is not seeing as many out-of-state duck hunters as last year. The state Game and Fish Department reports slightly more than 16,000 nonresident waterfowl licenses, down about 23 percent from last year. Game and Fish chief of administration Paul Schadewald said dry weather, the economy and gasoline prices all seem to be factors. He said the western and central parts of the state have been dry for a number of years. Waterfowl season started in late September for residents and on Oct. 4 for nonresidents. It runs through early December.

Even in the dark we knew ducks and geese were massed nearby.

First from the incessant quacking and honking. Then from the whistling of thousands of wings lifting into the air as we waded through the shallow lake.

In Illinois the sound of duck wings almost always elicits gunfire, or at least a feeling of excitement.

That’s not always true in North Dakota. Understand, whistling winds are still exciting. But they’re expected on the prairie. That’s why even after we set up, nobody was in a rush to shoot. It was enough for awhile to sit and to watch all those ducks circling overhead.

That’s a luxury waterfowl hunters seldom enjoy in Illinois without later regretting. The same is apparently true elsewhere in the Mississippi Flyway.

“I’ve just seen more ducks in my first 30 minutes of hunting than I’ve seen in all my years of hunting in Tennessee,” said Tony Dolle, a Nashville resident who leads the communication department for Ducks Unlimited.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Slightly exaggerated? Sure. But his point is not. One of the beauties of North Dakota is the abundance. Abundance of ducks. Abundance of grass. Abundance of water (even in a dry year like this). And just an overall abundance of wild areas and wild critters.

That’s why I’ve learned to love the Peace Garden State. Given the chance to select one spot for 24 hours of hunting, I’d pick the prairie pothole region of North Dakota. Last Wednesday illustrated why.

After Dolle, Bob Whitehead of Outdoor Guide magazine and I enjoyed our morning of admiring and shooting ducks and Canada geese, we spent the afternoon touring rolling countryside of North Dakota’s Prairie Coteau.

The coteau is a hilly escarpment that ranks among the country’s last great shortgrass prairies, owing partly to poor, rocky soil dumped by the last glacier in that area.

And we saw plenty of grass while driving.

But we also saw an alarming number of sad-looking soybeans and plowed fields once enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. Conversion of grass to crops is a real threat to the so-called Duck Factory, where a mix of water and grass provides ideal waterfowl nesting conditions.

Read about plans to Rescue the Duck Factory next Sunday. Actually, that’s a slight misnomer since the rescue plan will benefit more than ducks.

We saw tundra swans everywhere. Harrier hawks were also common. One morning I heard sandhill cranes in the distance. Another time I flushed a short-eared owl from a grassy roost.

And while the area around Pingree is not noted for pheasants, I still saw more ringneck roosters in two hours than I have over the past nine months in Illinois. Best of all, as we drove on our tour, sharptail grouse flushed frequently from the gravel roads.

All that birdwatching primed the pump for a bird hunt late Wednesday afternoon. We shot three sharptails out of standing sunflowers and saw many more of the big grouse flush well out of range.

At one point, a flock of sharptails boiled out of an alfalfa field. All we could do was watch and admire those birds sail into the horizon. What struck me then was how often opportunities to pause and enjoy nature arise in the grasslands of North Dakota.

Illinois hunting and fishing


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