Another month has come and gone, and it will soon be spring here in Central Illinois. As the temperatures rise, we will all be ready to hit the woods to look for some sheds. I have talked with several people who are starting to find a few so it won’t be long, and the rest will fall. It’s always nice to take a walk in the woods for the first time in the spring. It gets me thinking about mushroom and turkey hunting. Nothing I love more than finding them little tasty treats.
Over the last month I have had a few adventures. We had plenty of ice and it was time to spend some time on the hardwater. We decided our first trip would be to a nice strip pit in Fulton County. We fish here several times a year and we usually catch a few bluegills and a couple of crappie. The crappie are usually pretty nice size anywhere from ten to eleven inches. Unfortunately, we usually catch one or two per trip. This year however was different. We headed out at 5am one morning setting our sites on Farmington, IL. We were excited to just get on the ice. I am always skeptical about the ice the first time and it doesn’t matter how thick it is I am nervous.
As we arrive to our location, I didn’t think the ice looked very thick. Of course, my buddy Al has no fear of any ice. I told Al to get the auger and start drilling holes out on the lake. I wanted to see how thick it was before I put all of my gear on the ice. Al started drilling holes and it wasn’t taking very long to get through the ice. He looked at me and said “It is at least five inches.” “Really?” I replied. I walked out onto the ice and started measuring each hole. I was thinking it was more like four inches and to be honest I don’t like to even go until there is at least six inches. Of course, Al loaded his equipment and started to cross the strip mine lake. I was debating if I was even going to go onto the ice. I contemplated for a few minutes and decided to grab my ice spikes and begin the adventure to our honey hole.
By the time I was on the ice and starting my journey across the lake, Al was already drilling his holes. Tim Conover was with us, so we used one hut and Al had one to himself. It didn’t take long, and we started catching a couple of bluegill and then bang our first crappie. This crappie was not like in the past it was pushing 13 inches. Now, I know a lot of people catch slab crappie, but I really haven’t caught that many crappies over 13 inches. This had Tim and I excited for what we would catch. As the day went on, I started to catch a few crappies here and there, almost all of them were over 12 inches. Poor Tim was sitting right next to me and wasn’t having the same luck. We only caught a half dozen crappie that day, but man were they some slabs. Tim ended up catching one an hour or so before we left.
Another week went by, and we were ready to hit the hardwater once again. We have fished a lot of public areas over the last few years with limited success. We decided we would head to Lake Storey in Galesburg to try our luck. It’s about a 45 to 50-minute drive from home but we try to make this trip once or twice a year. We have had some extremely good days and then some that were not so good. It seems like when its good you can catch a ton of crappie, but they are seven to eight inches, not something to write home about. We usually try to go when its extremely cold. Last years adventure the wind chill was -25 degrees and it was one of the best ice fishing trips I have ever been on. We caught enough crappie to fill a couple of buckets. Of course, we didn’t keep that many, but we were able to keep enough that we both had a nice mess of fresh fish to fry. This year we arrived, and it was no where near as cold and as we pulled up to the parking lot and realized we wouldn’t be alone. There is always a couple of people, but the parking lot was full, and I counted fourteen huts that I could see. We almost turned around and left but we didn’t drive this far not to drill a couple of holes.
We walked out to our location and after looking around I realized that there were some open spots not far from where we caught most of our fish last year. We started drilling holes and set up the hut for the evening. Since we were going to be fishing into the night, we drilled a hole between the huts to drop our crappie light into. It didn’t take long, and we started catching a few fish. It wasn’t crazy good fishing. It seemed like the fish were moving around and every half an hour or so the school would come through and you would get a few bites. We started fishing around 6pm and by 11pm were ready to call it quits. The one nice thing this year was most of the fish were a little bigger. More of the crappie were between 8 ½ inches and 9 ½ inches. With three of us we ended up with around thirty fish. Not a block buster day but again fresh fish from the ice into the skillet is hard to beat.
After a couple of days, we were getting the itch to head back to the strip mine lake to see if we could use the light to draw more crappie in. We headed out early one morning before sunrise and started drilling holes by 6am. We decided to use the crappie light to see if that would help us catch a few more crappie. It worked. We usually catch a couple of crappies each time we go but this time we were able to catch a dozen crappie and they were all 11 to 13 inches. So, I am sold on a crappie light and I will use it whether is day or night. It attracts fish no matter what.
A few of my friends decided they were going to go on a hog hunt at the end of January. I was invited but with sport shows and everything else going on I decided to pass. They were headed to Stone Creek Hunting Ranch in Edgar Springs, MO. They have advertised with ASO Magazine for many years so I was excited to see how this hunting trip would play out.
They had a group of nine going on the hunt and everyone was full of excitement as the days grew closer. As they arrived around noon, they were ready to start hunting. The owner Justin Hoffman met the group as they arrived and introduced the cook Bob and the guide Sam. After introductions they started unloading their vehicle so they could hit the woods. Tim, Al and Zack finished unloading and were ready to hunt. Justin told them to head north into the wind and try to spot and stock a few hogs. The temperature was in the low thirties and the breeze was 10-15 mph. They all decided to separate by about 30 yards to begin their journey.
As they walked through the woods the open timber made it easy to look off into the distance. Al was in the middle, with Zack flanked to his left and Tim to his right. They walked quietly through the woods one step at a time. This was not the type of hunting they were used to so the excitement of this journey was high. After walking for a short time Tim located what at first, he thought was a rock or a pile of dirt. As he looked at Al and Zack and gave them a signal to stop in their tracks, he realized this wasn’t dirt or rocks it was a hog. Tim motioned to the others to walk up to him quietly. As they arrive at Tim’s location, they see what Tim was looking at. Al looks at Tim and says are you shooting one? Hell, yes Tim replied. As Tim takes aim on the hog, they soon realize the hog Tim was watching wasn’t the hog that Al and Zack were watching. There were multiple hogs roaming the hill. Tim at this point was laying in a pile of leaves waiting for the right broadside shot. As Tim was waiting for the shot the hogs began to move. There were more hogs than they realized. They now saw four large hogs and eight piglets. As the hog Tim was watching turned broadside Tim let the 30-30 bark. The hog dropped on the spot and the first hunter had completed his task in less than two hours of arriving at camp.
After calling Justin via radio to let him know they had their first hog down they decided to head back to camp and regroup and start the next stock. Tim was behold excited at this point and Al and Zach were ready to head back out to see if they could find another group of hogs. As they begin to walk through the woods once again Tim notices some movement in the distance. He signals to Al and Zack that there is four hogs eating acorns on a ridge next to them. As Tim stayed back Zack and Al moved quietly to close the distance. The hogs were a 100 yards away and they were going to attempt to get a little closer. They were able to close to within 50 yards of the hogs and began preparations to take shot. Al picked out a nice size hog as he leaned against a tree to stabilize his shot. As Al steadied his shot the crack of the Henry Rifle ensued. As soon as Al shoots here comes a big sow and her little ones run within 10 yards of them. After retrieving Al’s hog and getting it back to camp it was time to find a hog for Zack.
After hunting for a couple of more hours to no avail it was time to head back to camp to see what the Chef Bob has in store for them. They arrived to some sausage alfredo and filled there tummy’s to the max. All I heard was how good the food and experience was at camp.
After eating everyone sat around the beautiful lodge and played some cards and told stories. Now they all arrived around noon and by the time the sunset there was already six hogs down. There was only three more to go.
As Saturday morning rolled around it was time to get back into the woods to help the final three hunters connect on their hogs. Breakfast was going to be ready at 9:00am so the remaining hunters decided to hit the woods for an hour or two before coming back for breakfast. While walking in the woods they found a couple of hogs, saw some Fallow Deer but unfortunately couldn’t get a shot on the hogs before they disappeared. With no success early it was time for breakfast.
After breakfast they talked with Justin and decided they would head out to see if they could get the final three hunters in range of a nice hog. After a couple of misses the final three guys put their hogs on the ground. This group of nine had only been at camp a little over 24 hours and all nine have harvested their hog.
The one thing I heard from all of the guys was Justin and the team at Stone Creek Hunting Ranch were top notch. Great food, great company and great lodging. Stone Creek Hunting Ranch has a great group of guys that love the outdoors as much as we do and will make sure you will get your opportunities to harvest a hog. They not only offer some great hog hunts they also offer Fallow Deer, Trophy Whitetail Deer, Exotics and Trophy Elk. Give Justin a call to book your next adventure at 314-952-4346 or check out their website at www.stonecreekhunting.com.
Until next month. May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!