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Blast from the past a reminder of how things can change

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 11:39 p.m. CDT

It’s always interesting to take a step back and see where we have come from. Most of us are focused on the here-and-now and what is coming up tomorrow. Very seldom do we gaze into the past see what life was like.

A few weeks ago, a friend of my father dropped off something quite interesting for him to look at. It was a copy of the Game and Fish Code of Illinois. It was dated July, 1919.

For those that really love to hunt and fish, the issuance of the new hunting and fishing digests are important. It give us a chance to see what laws and regulations have changed, what the dates and bag limits for different species are and also it gives us a chance to brush up some of the laws we may have forgotten. I could hardly wait to crack open this piece of history and compare today with the regulations of yesterday.

At the turn of the last century, there were few, if any, game laws. Market hunting and unregulated taking of game and fish were the reasons for a sharp decline in many of the species that were native to the state of Illinois. If you were to take a step back in time, you would see black bear, elk and cougars in Illinois. These species have been eradicated from our lands. Wolves were exterminated. Even whitetail deer and turkeys were hard to come by.

A push towards conserving our resources helped spur the creation of game and fish laws throughout the nation. This 1919 copy of an Illinois digest reflects the need to take care of our natural resources. As I was reading through this copy there were a few paragraphs and examples that stood out. They really emphasize how far we have come in the last 100 years.

On page 10 of the 1919 digest, it says, “It is unlawful: (b) To hunt or kill, or attempt to hunt or kill, any wood duck or eider duck until the 16th day of September, A. D. 1925.”

Remember, this book was written in 1919. This is clear evidence that the wood duck population was so low, that government officials at this point in time recognized the population was too low to sustain taking any during the act of hunting. The current digest for Illinois states that a waterfowl hunter may shoot up to three wood ducks on a given outing. What a change.

The early 919 edition also mentions that whitetail deer and wild turkeys may not be taken until 1925.  This seems so hard for us to fathom. Everywhere we look we see deer. There are such an abundance of them that vehicle collisions with whitetails are unfortunately commonplace. This wasn’t always the case.

I remember my dad telling me when there were rumors of whitetail deer in Grundy County. It was a major incident when someone found deer tracks. Game laws and sustainable management practices make these stories seem almost too crazy to believe. I learned some other interesting things as I browsed this old digest as well.

At one point, pheasant season was only from Oct. 1-5. Five days! Can you imagine a season that lasts only five days? The current season for pheasants in the state of Illinois is from Nov. 3 through Jan. 8. I know that pheasant populations in the state are not as good as they were 40 years ago, but apparently they are still higher than they were in 1919.

I can’t help but wonder what the State of Illinois Hunting and Fishing digests will look like in the year 2113. Will someone find our current digest hiding away in some attic? Will they look at it and be shocked and amazed at what they learn? Or will they look back at our digest and be amazed that such wild creatures once lived in the state?

I feel confident in saying that in the last 100 years we have made some vast improvements in caring for wildlife to ensure they have a secure future. Will that trend continue? Will urban sprawl hinder that commitment to wildlife? I do hope that my great-great-grandchildren will have more and better opportunities to participate in the outdoors than we do.

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