Illinois’ free upland game permit is one of the best hopes for a memorable experience in Illinois hunting; plus the Stray Cast

I couldn’t help myself Sunday.

Filling out my application for the free upland game permit lottery, I put Sibley Pheasant Habitat Area and Saybrook PHA as my fifth and sixth choices.

I have little hope of drawing a permit for either.

“I don’t have any magical formula for applying,” emailed Wade Louis, acting agricultural and grassland program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Obviously, Sibley and Saybrook are the hardest to get. [Sibley and Saybrook are our most applied for sites but they are our best producers.] If you have flexibility and can go on a weekday; I’d put in for those days first.”

My first four choices were more obscure sites and, other than for opening weekend, I put in for Wednesday permits.

Applications for the lottery run through Aug. 31.

Free upland permits make a lucky hunter king or queen for a day. If fortunate enough to draw a permit, you have access to a site for a day and may bring three to five others, depending on the site. An application is for up to four dates at up to six sites.

Like many, I am part of a loosely connected group of about six. If anyone is lucky enough to draw a permit, other members of the group are usually invited along.

Special invites are given for those with bird dogs. Years ago, I drew Clifton PHA and hunted without any dogs. It was a lesson learned. We flushed dozens of bird, nearly all out of range.

Dogs, with an “s,” are essential for a successful hunt. Once I tagged along on a hunt at Sibley PHA, 640 acres in Ford County, with multiple dogs. The cover was so good we could have used several more dogs. One time I hunted there, we became part of an ongoing study. Saybrook is 646 acres of habitat/cover in McLean County.

“Nothing new due to the pandemic,” Louis emailed. “We were still able to get out and do some work.”

The last addition to the program was adding 160 acres to Perdueville PHA in Ford County in 2019. In 2018, Chatsworth PHA, 160 acres in Livingston County, was the last new site purchased.

The IDNR does the maintenance of the habitat areas, with some help in the northern PHAs with an agreement from Pheasants Forever. Farther Downstate, most sites are geared toward quail management. Louis is the habitat team program manager and oversees 12 sites within 50 miles of the Gibson City office.

The IDNR does prescribed burns as needed in the spring and fall, treats exotics, removes trees and works on converting brome to natives.

“We manage not just for pheasants but for the whole suite of grassland birds,” Louis said.








A pheasant rooster (left near sign) busts out of the cover/habitat on the corner of Chatsworth Pheasant Habitat Area, shortly before the Illinois Department of Natural Resources opened the site for the free upland game permit hunting. Credit: Dale Bowman
Dale Bowman



Quad County Hawg Hunters chapter of Muskies, Inc. holds a flea market and raffle, beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday at the Plano American Legion. Admission is $5 (seniors/students $4, 10 and younger free). Vendor tables are $20. Information at (815) 286-7170 or


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