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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005 01:41 am

Taking aim

Fall is great time to, um, shoot critters

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PHOTO COURTESY OF CAROL FREEMAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Just as the cool autumn day begins to fade, the quarry suddenly appears. You’ve been waiting in the damp brush for hours to capture this moment.

Heart rate down . . . don’t move . . . don’t make a sound . . . don’t breathe. . .

Your heart is pounding like a cornered animal’s.

Steady. Aim. Fire!

Now you’ve got either a really nice photograph or a trophy to place above the mantel.

Autumn marks the start of the season when whitetail deer begin their annual mating ritual, arboreal rodents bury their nuts, and birds head toward southern climes — ideal conditions for wildlife photographers and hunters alike.

“Anywhere a tree is changing colors is a place to go take pictures of wildlife,” says Illinois nature photographer Carol Freeman.

She says that shutterbugs need not travel long distances for wonderful fall photos; Illinois has many appealing locales in which to get good wildlife pictures.

Novices, Freeman says, can start out by snapping pictures of chipmunks or mallards in their own yards and local parks.

For the more adventurous photographer, however, she says that the thousands of American white pelicans in Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, near Havana, are certainly worth taking a shot at.

In October, she suggests slithering down to southern Illinois to catch a glimpse of the migrating snakes. (In the spring and fall, the U.S. Forest Service closes a section of a gravel lane in the Shawnee National Forest, south of Chester, to allow rattlers, water moccasins and copperheads to move between the LaRue Swamps and nearby bluffs.)

Freeman also recommends checking out the habitat of sandhill cranes, which live around Jasper, Ind., right on the Illinois border.

“There are so many birds,” Freeman says, that for photographers, “it’s sort of like hunting fish in a barrel.”

Ironic, considering that fall is the start of Illinois’ other shooting season as well.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources issues more than 20 types of licenses for residents and nonresidents, adults and children, to hunt deer with and without antlers, fur-bearing creatures, turkey, and waterfowl. The number of permits DNR hands out is limited for each county.

The first deer season is Nov. 18-20, the second Dec. 1-4. According to Illinois Game & Fish Magazine, the top counties for buck (antlered male deer) hunting are LaSalle, Sangamon, Fulton, Knox, Randolph, Bureau, Peoria, and Adams.

Some hunting events are designed just for youngsters. DNR will hold a youth deer hunt at Baldwin Lake, near the Kaskaskia River State Fish and Wildlife Area, Oct. 8 and 9. Participants must apply by Sept. 12.

Oct. 7-9, the Duck Creek Station, in Fulton County, hosts a deer hunt and safety-training class for physically disabled children.

Beginning Thanksgiving Day, for 60 days this fall and winter, duck hunters will able to bag as many as six birds a day, with no more than four mallards (two hens), two scaup, two wood ducks, two redheads, a pintail, and one black duck.

Of course, what’s good for the gander is good for the goose — so hunters of Canada geese will have an 86-day season in Illinois’ north and central zones and a 57-day season in the south.

Sure, Illinois is big, but photographer Freeman offers a caveat to all the shooters who share wildlife in the Land of Lincoln. Photographers, she says, must be aware of hunting seasons and “certainly don’t want to go anywhere near where that’s going to be an issue,” and vice versa.

For more information about hunting and wildlife photography, visit the DNR’s Web site, dnr.state.il.us.

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