Jeff Lampe's weekly outdoors column.
Clint, Hawkeye and Cinnamon needed work.
So did I.
With upland season rapidly approaching, there was no better place for a tune-up than Gobbler's Knob Hunting Preserve.
Actually, Hawk was the only one for whom a tune-up sufficed. Cinnamon, an English pointer, was a complete unknown. Clint, an 11-month-old golden retriever belonging to Phil Cline of Peoria, was there for his hunting introduction.
But in all three canine cases, spending time at a preserve was a good idea. Say what you will about pen-raised birds, they serve a valuable purpose for dog training. In one morning we learned Hawk is ready for another fall afield, Cinnamon is not interested in hunting for anyone but herself, and Clint shows potential.
Sadly, there's another reason to visit hunting preserves: wild bird numbers show no sign of rebounding in Illinois. Declining fortunes of quail, pheasants and rabbits also factor in declining participation.
Last season saw all-time lows in the number of Prairie State hunters pursuing pheasants, rabbits and quail.
For those who still enjoy working grassy fields and hedgerows – people like Cline, Mace Reardon of Peoria and Gobbler's Knob owner Don Deuel - Saturday's upland opener is something to savor. So was our gathering last week.
Partway into the first field, Hawk pointed a pheasant that we flushed, shot and watched Clint retrieve. It was a text-book situation - one of the few encountered during a day that highlighted my lack of shooting practice.
Then again, that's another reason for a preserve visit. Missing a pen-raised pheasant is embarrassing. Missing a wild bird is unforgivable.
For all those reasons, Deuel has steadily built his business. He offers hunting seven days per week on 320 acres and also trains pointing dogs. Visit www.gobblersknobhuntingpreserve.com or call (309) 647-3641.
Now through March is prime season for hunt preserves, and weekends are busy. With that in mind, Deuel said weekdays work to the advantage of hunters.
"After a busy weekend there's always leftover birds out there," Deuel said.
During our romp through dense foxtail, prairie grass and milo, we flushed one rooster pheasant that had not been released that morning. As the bird cackled away untouched, Reardon paused.
"They've got great cover here," he said. "You won't find this cover at every game preserve."
No argument here. We hunted thick stuff best suited for flushing dogs and thin stuff best suited for pointers. For most pointing dogs, that is. My experiment with Cinnamon, a pretty 1-year-old pup with no formal training, did not pan out.
In comparison, the future looks more promising for Clint. This is Cline's seventh golden, and the others have served him well as hunting companions. A retired hospital executive, the 68-year-old Cline was lured to central Illinois by his wife, Noel, a Peoria native.
Unfortunately, Cline won't find pheasant hunting around here like he remembers from his boyhood in Iowa City, Iowa. The "good-old days" of upland hunting are gone in Illinois, except for in scattered locations where habitat proves "if you plant it they will come." In those isolated grassy places, you can find birds.
And if you have access to a few of those spots, count your blessings this season. Otherwise, your best option is probably a preserve.
Jeff Lampe is the Peoria Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail email@example.com.
Preserving a chance to hunt
In addition to Gobbler's Knob, there are other hunting preserves within an hour of Peoria. Most offer hunting for quail and pheasants, and some provide hunting for chukar. Prices, regulations and layout of fields vary.
- Autumn Flight Game Fields, Toluca, (815) 452-2004
- Big Oak Hunting Paradise, Lincoln, open seven days a week, www.big-oak.com, (217) 732-2176 or (217) 732-4238
- Dewey's Hunt Club, Heyworth, www.deweyshuntclub.com, (309) 473-3114
- Hickory Grove Hunt Club, Wyanet, (815) 699-2603
- Lick Creek Game Preserve, Pekin, www.lickcreek.com, (309) 347-7191
- Lick Skillet Hunt Club, Hopedale, www.lickskillethuntclub.com, (309) 275-3668
- Oak Ridge Sportsman's Club, Mackinaw, sporting clays also, (309) 359-8588
- Panola Prairie Sportsmans Club, Minonk, sporting clays also, (309) 432-2448
- Rogers' Hunting Club, Ohio, (815) 379-2427
- Sand Prairie Farms, Ohio, (815) 376-6641