One of the bright spots in hunting today is the proliferation of state-sponsored landowner programs that encourage landowners to manage their lands for wildlife and then open them to hunters. I've told you about a number of these programs in recent months, most of them out West. Now, I have come across a landowner program in the midwestern state of Illinois. It's called Access Illinois Outdoors/Two Rivers Program (AIO) and it opens more than 100,000 acres of land to hunters, some of it for as little as $75 a day. The lands in question are in five contiguous counties on the Western edge of central Illinois between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers (see map). The major attraction here are bragging-size deer. I say bragging-size because many of the 206 landowners enrolled in this program manage their lands for trophy deer. I have that directly from Allen Kendricks, AIO field coordinator. "They not only plant food plots specifically for their deer but they limit hunters to bucks with at least a 15-inch antler spread and eight points," he told me at press time. Many of the landowners also shoot does in an effort to keep the herds under control, he added.
So, how do you set up a hunt on these private lands? The first step is to contact Access Illinois Outdoor/Two Rivers and fill out an application to enroll in the program - $25 for an individual and $50 for a family (immediate family living in the same household). AIO will share your application with landowners and arrange introductions with the people best able to meet your needs, depending upon the hunting preferences you indicate on the application. AIO will also point you toward lodging, restaurants, license agents and other local facilities. At the same time, they will share with you a list of access fees charged by the landowners they think you might want to hunt with. Fees vary widely depending on the kind of hunting or fishing that is available and whether or not the landowner provides lodging, meals or camping space. Judy Smith, office manager at AIO, said it is difficult........(continued)