THE WINKELERS For the South
Motorists using Route 3 will notice a dilapidated notice board when they reach the western edge of Olive Branch.
Although the sign falls off, its paint has cracked, the message is still readable – “Horseshoe Lake – The Goose Hunting Capital of the World”.
The sign was probably erected in the mid-1980s. The message is even more outdated.
There was a time when Canada geese were golden in Olive Branch and much of the rest of southern Illinois. Goose hunting clubs surrounded Horseshoe Lake and the town itself. Hunters flocked to Olive Branch from all over the country and paid a daily fee to harvest their limit of geese.
This has not happened for over a decade. The geese are gone. Southern Illinois would regularly attract 750,000 Canada geese in winter. Now 75,000 seems like a pipe dream.
Hunters, once a major source of income for the region, have long forgotten about Olive Branch, Ware, Marion and other hubs of the hunting industry.
So where have the geese gone?
Since the number of geese began to decline 15 to 20 years ago, residents of southern Illinois have learned that the change in migration was due to changing weather conditions. We no longer know the harsh winters and heavy snowfall that pushed the geese south.
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Changing agricultural patterns and practices have left less food in the field, making the area less hospitable for migrating birds. And, the emergence of lakes from water-cooled power plants in northern Illinois has created more open water for geese.
“Nothing we have found is a quick fix,” said Randy Smith, chief waterfowl biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “That’s one thing, we think all of these things are correct. That’s the death of 1,000 paper clippings, or 10 in this case. All of these things started to happen at the same time.
“And frankly, they are able to avoid a lot of hunting pressure by not migrating further south.”
Now the geese spend their winters in Collar counties near Chicago. A few studies of tracking birds with collars and a transmitter have shown that geese that wintered in Williamson, Jackson, Union and Alexander counties were content to stay in Lake, McHenry, Kane, Kendal, Grundy and Will counties. and DeWitt.
“The availability of food has to be the most important thing,” Smith said. “If there is no food, they won’t stay, but according to the work of these graduate students, they eat things that we consider to be of little nutritional value – cemeteries, athletic fields which. are not used. They feed on completely dry, brown grass, things we would consider to have no nutritional value. They will roost on the roofs of these large industrial buildings. We assume they go to rail yards and feed on the grain waste they find there. “
And this is not the first time that the Canada geese have rapidly changed their migration patterns. There was a time when geese bypassed southern Illinois for more attractive wintering grounds in Arkansas and Louisiana.
“The Chicago County Pass guys are living the high life now,” Smith said. “These geese may not come out of Wisconsin one day. “
One thing is certain, the decline in hunting in southern Illinois is not due to population decline. Smith said the number of Canada geese has declined somewhat in recent years, but is still near historical levels.
Meanwhile, southern Illinois sees an increase in the number of white-fronted geese every year. However, white fronts are less predictable, making them less profitable for commercial hunting companies.
“Partly it’s population growth,” Smith said. “This is far from the extreme level where snow geese have increased. Some just appear to be an eastward range expansion. They were once considered a bird of the central flyway. For some reason they seem to be moving east.
“They’re really all over the state of Illinois, except maybe northeastern Illinois. I’m not sure exactly what drives this, I think it’s the availability of food. There is a fair amount of white front research going on right now. “