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Recent entries


Versatile Hunter

The Importance of Vultures

Tue, April 24, 2018

I remember seeing turkey vultures in southern Missouri on our annual trip to Bull Shoals Lake as a boy but I just don’t recall them ever being this far north until I was much older.  From what I can research, they’ve only been noted north of Marion, IL the past 100 years and north of Peoria the past 50 years.  My family and I love seeing them soar along the bluff behind our house and sitting in dead trees with their wings out early in the morning which is apparently their way of warming themselves up. We have two species of vultures in Illinois—the turkey vulture (most common) and the black vulture.  The turkey vulture is often seen either soaring or sitting along the road picking on some carrion (dead animals).  They are called turkey vultures because when they’re sitting on the ground they sure look like a turkey, especially from a distance.  What I’ve learned about them over the years is fascinating and I recently read a good reminder of their interesting lives which I’ll republish here from the Swamp School’s e-newsletter:

Vultures, many things may come to mind upon hearing this word. You may think of someone particularly unpleasant, someone who takes but never gives. Perhaps an image of a particularly ugly looking bird sitting on the side of the road, towering over roadkill comes to mind. Whatever the image, when you hear the term “vultures,” you might want to hold it in higher regard than you used to.

What is a vulture? Most people recognize this bird from while driving, seeing them on roadsides feasting on the carcasses of dead animals, but there is much more to a vulture. “Vulture” is actually a pretty general term, referring to a great many species of birds of prey that eat decomposing animals. Turkey vultures, black vultures, and California condors are just a few species of vultures that may be seen throughout the United States. Additionally, vultures have somewhat of a bad reputation. Not only do they eat dead, rotting animals, but they also have some pretty strange personal habits you may not be aware of. One of these habits is to vomit when feeling threatened and another is to urinate on themselves in order to clean themselves. Due to this bad reputation, vultures tend to be coined “vermin” or “pests.” Just type the word “vulture” into Google, and numerous sites will pop up concerned with how to get rid of vultures. Now, vultures may nest in inconvenient areas and cause damage, but the small amount of harm they may cause is more than offset by the greater good they bring to local environments.Vultures recycle many important nutrients into the environment. An ecosystem without vultures would be like a city without waste removal services. (Picture this in your mind.) Vultures do their work for the ecosystem very efficiently. They consume the meat of dead animals very quickly, which reduces the risk of large colonies of insects gathering around dead bodies. Give them a niche and they’ll take a mile! In doing so, vultures limit the risk of disease in ecosystems by keeping insect populations in check. Not only is this beneficial to us as humans, but also to the agricultural industry, since vultures also help prevent livestock from getting sick.

Although, this is not how everyone sees vultures. In Kenya, vultures are threatened due to livestock farmers poisoning the dead carcasses of the animals that predators have killed. When vultures feast on these carcasses, they also consume the poison, and this has led to the elimination of the Cinereous vulture in Africa, as well as the endangerment of more than seven other species of native African vultures. As noted above, the lack of carrion elimination has caused problems for ecosystems all over Africa. Darcy Ogada, assistant director of Africa programs at the Peregrine Fund, says African vultures “are the most threatened avian functional group in the world.” Species such as Egyptian vultures are nearly extinct.

When most people think of some of the important, endangered animals struggling to survive, they don’t often think of vultures. But vultures play a crucial role in our world and, in many places, are in danger of being eliminated. It is more important than ever to recognize not only how fascinating these birds are, from their strange behaviors to their monogamous mating patterns, but also how important they are to our world. Atticus Finch argued that it was a sin to kill a mockingbird, but perhaps it is an even greater sin to kill a vulture.

Royte, Elizabeth. “Vultures are Revolting. Here’s Why We Need to Save Them.” National Geographic. National Geographic. January 2016. Web. March 27, 2018.



McLean County Sportsmen’s Association

Tue, April 24, 2018

On April 14, 2018 my two boys and I made the trip out to Comlara Park north of Bloomington, IL for a shed antler hunt that was being put on by the McLean County Sportsmen’s Association.  I’d heard about this event for the past 3 or so years and finally made it happen for our family.  Over 100 people showed up despite some drizzle and overcast conditions and over 150 antlers were distributed in the tallgrass prairies.  Each little one went home with at least one antler to add to their collections.  We met some buddies with their little ones and I was able to talk with some of the many volunteers there regarding what the Sportsmen’s Association was all about.  All I can say is that an organization like this is exactly what I’d like to see in the Peoria area—a combination of organizations coming together to get kids outdoors and giving back to their local community through well planned events and fun for all.  I was impressed.

Mike Steffa, Director of Comlara Park and a member of the Sportsmen’s Association, also provided some background that I’ve included below. 

The McLean County Sportsmen’s Association began in November of 1991 as the idea of a business man, Ron Hamilton - then owner of Guns & Game; to promote the positive image of sportsmen.  It began as an association comprising of local hunting & fishing groups such as:

• The Whitetail Bow Hunters
• Mackinaw Valley Bow Hunters
• Central Illinois Bass Club
• Bloomington-Normal Bass Club
• Mackinaw Valley Bassmasters
• Kickapoo Muzzle Loaders
• McLean County Pheasants Forever; and the
• McLean County Chapter of Ducks Unlimited

In three short months these groups completed plans to hold a Wild Game Banquet, the first of a 26 year run.  The purpose of the banquet was to raise money and to help McLean County charities; especially those involved in assisting young children & the great outdoors.  The first banquet raised over $20,000 for local charities, and in the years since over a half a million dollars has been raised to continue helping children in McLean County.

These individuals and organizations are some of those that have been supported by the McLean County Sportsmen’s Association throughout the years:

• American Jr. Baseball Inc.
• Big Brothers & Big Sisters
• Bloomington / Normal Bass Club
• Bloomington DARE Program
• Bloomington Firefighters Food Baskets
• Boating Safety Education Classes
• Boys and Girls Club
• Children’s Discovery Museum
• Children’s Health Care Council
• Comlara Park/Evergreen Lake
• “Custer” Club Unit 5
• DU Green Wing Program
• Easter Seals Camp at Lake Bloomington
• Fishing Has No Boundaries
• Friends of EverBloom
• Good Fellow Fund
• Heyworth Christian Youth Group
• High School Bass Fishing Teams
• High School Wingshooting Teams
• H.O.O.A.H. – Helping Out Our American Heroes
• Hunter Safety Education Classes
• ISU - Metcalf Lab School
• ISU Trap & Skeet Club/Quail Unlimited Chapter
• ISU Bass Fishing Team
• Kids Fishing Derby (Large Derby Held At Miller Park – Bloomington)
• Kiwanis Club
• Legion Baseball
• LeRoy Rifle and Pistol Club’s Youth Program
• Lexington Cops & Kids Program
• Marc Center
• McLean Co. Archery Workshop
• McLean Co. DARE Program
• Metcalf Special Ed.
• Miller Park Fishing Derby
• Muscular Dystrophy Association
• Normal DARE Program
• Panola Prairie Sportsmen’s Club
• Parkside Jr. High Special Ed.
• Pheasants Forever
• Providing Deer meat to the needy
• Special Olympics
• St. Jude Telethon
• Stanford’s Sportsmen’s Club
• Troop 57 Boy Scouts
• Unit 5 Special Olympics
• W.D. Boyce Boy Scout Council
• Well Child Association
• Whitetails Unlimited
• Wingshooting Clinics
• Youth Antler Hunt
• Youth Pheasant Hunts

In addition to these, McLean County Sportsmen’s Association has also provided/funded internship opportunities to college students at the McLean County Department of Parks & Recreation, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the ISU Biology Department, and the Illinois Conservation Police.



The Old Man and the Boy

Sun, April 08, 2018

I read a lot of books; have since I was a kid.  I always have a few outdoors magazines laying around and at least one book I’m reading.  Once one book is read, I get another one.  My time to read is either during travel or just before bed.  Rarely does a book make my “must read multiple times and let others know about it” list, but my most recent read was a top 5 for me. 

My favorite book is still “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold.  It reads like a series of stories but in each story comes an education on the outdoors.  You’re learning without even knowing it essentially.  “The Old Man and The Boy” by Robert Ruark reads much the same way.  It’s written in near the same game-rich era of the 1930’s-1950’s, and much like “Sand County” it is still as important today as ever; if not more so. . ..

Ruark’s story is one of growing up in rural North Carolina and palling around with his granddad.  My grandpa also helped educate and teach me lessons about the outdoors when I was growing up.  He too was a hard-nosed man raised poor and self-educated on all things including the outdoors.  His lessons were learned through trial and error over many, many experiences.  The lessons taught in this book are not only where to find quail, gun safety, camping, and how to lead a duck but also why being polite is important and how even those that aren’t like us are deserving of respect.  I’ll give you an example of his writing/education in a short quote on training hunting dogs (one of my favorites): “A bird dog. . . is trained in the back yard.  There ain’t no way in the world you can teach him to smell. .. . or teach him bird sense. . . all you can teach this dog is a little discipline. Like they’re trying to teach you a little discipline in school.  Whether you got brains enough to take advantage of it is strictly up to you.”

If you have any interest in well told outdoors stories and even want to learn a little more about the hunting of many species of midwestern game we seek here in Illinois, give this book a whirl—you won’t be disappointed.


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