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YEAR-END PUBLIC HUNTING ACCESS
By Don Gasaway
 
With so many hunters on private land there often is not a lot of public land hunting available.  Such is not true in southern Illinois where much of the prairie state's public hunting is located.  Unfortunately, many of us do not take advantage of this opportunity and continue to complain that there is no good public hunting.
 
In southern Illinois, numerous public lands are available for hunting.  In fact, within one hour drive of Marion, Illinois there are approximately 500,000 acres of public hunting land.  Much of it is accessible via interstate roads.
 
One problem with hunting in public areas is the perception that early season hunting has ruined the possibility of good hunting later.  However many public lands are actually overlooked or just plain not hunted at all.  Areas near roads and parking lots get the bulk of hunting pressure.
 
Late in the upland game seasons, agricultural practices can batter much of the prime habitat.  Sometimes land owners clear the land from roadway to roadway.  The result is that game birds such as pheasants and quail seek out the better habitat situations in public hunting areas.  This happens at a time when the human use of the same land is decreasing.  The same applies to deer.
 
It is wise to hunt during the week when hunting pressure is usually less.  Public land is a good possibility following a snowstorm as the game move from open grain fields to the security of more hospitable habitat.
 
On public hunting ground, there are usually site-specific regulations the hunter should check them before taking to the field.  Hunter orange is a wise investment for the public land hunter.  In some areas, it is required.  It is a good idea even if not required.  It helps keep someone for mistaking you for a game animal. It is also useful in keeping track of the people in your party as they move through tall grass and brush.
 
A copy of the regulations is usually available from the site superintendents or from the offices of whichever governmental agency is responsible is responsible for the management of the area.
 
There are maps of the most public hunting areas available either on site or from the offices of wildlife officials.  In some areas, the local county highway department may have maps available. It pays to use a map to find areas not readily accessible from roads and trials.  Mark the map and scout the area.  Look for protected areas with good cover and food sources.  Keep notes from year to year as to where the game is located.  Keep the maps and they will save valuable hunting time next year.
 
A wise hunter scouts through the poor prospects to the good areas beyond them.  Get to know the land intimately.
 
Regardless of where one lives there is usually public land hunting available.  All one needs to do is find it.  With a little advance work and some common sense, one can have a great late season hunt on public land.
 
Do not give up after an unsuccessful hunt in one particular area.  The nice thing about public land is that others will come through and move the game around.  The game that was not present one day may well be present the next time you visit.