April 2006 16 / OutdoorIllinois April 2006 OutdoorIllinois / 17
dard box traps. The development of the
rocket-fired net allowed biologists to
catch wild birds—in flocks—and transport
them into suitable habitats in Illinois.
“It wasn’t until the cannon net was
developed that we were able to success-fully
trap turkeys in numbers,” Garver said.
Today, many of us recognize this
technique biologists now use for captur-ing
wildlife. Garver would set out entic-ing
grain in a place where turkeys gath-ered,
hide himself, then remotely launch
a net across the feeding birds. Armed
with this new turkey-catching device,
Garver began to net and transport a mix
of hens and gobblers to selected new
habitat in Illinois.
At first, picking those sites was based
on the still-prevalent belief turkeys
required densely forested habitat. It
seemed to make sense since those
were the last places anyone saw wild
turkeys prior to 1903.
“We’d fly over a county and look for
the biggest blocks of potential turkey
habitat,” Garver recalled of the early
search process. In addition—still mindful
of earlier release failures—wildlife man-agers
would lavish turkeys with attention
after releasing them, installing food plots
to ensure the bird’s survival.
After several years on the job, Garv-er’s
results exceeded even his wildest
hopes. Not only was the range of turkeys
increased to several more southern Illi-nois
counties, releases were made in
western Illinois, and in the northwest. He
traveled the state’s backroads, often
alone, trapping and relocating birds
month after month, year after year, open-ing
the gates for one of the greatest
wildlife comebacks in Illinois history.
By 1980, a total of five counties were
open for turkey hunting, with 165 gob-blers
bagged that spring. By the mid-
80s, with nationwide interest in turkey
hunting increasing and the Illinois har-vest
topping 1,000 birds, the National
Wild Turkey Federation began offering
assistance to Garver for such things as
free boxes for transporting and equip-ment
for managing food plots.
Garver would eventually receive help
from fellow wildlife biologists as he
trapped and released birds in such
places as JoDaviess County. But for
many years the job was essentially a
“During the 70s and 80s, (Garver)
was pretty much a one-man show,”
acknowledged Paul Shelton, current
head of the state’s wild turkey program.
“It would be fair to say he’s done more
to bring back the wild turkey to Illinois
than anyone else.”
Now retired, this Johnny Appleseed
of Illinois wild turkeys enjoys the satis-factions
of his career accomplishments.
Still an avid turkey hunter, Garver often
bags a hefty turkey just after sunrise on
opening morning each April, with one
difference. More than 14,000 other
hunters get to share his success.
Story and Photos
By Joe McFarland
Supplying Illinois lakes
with threadfin shad
means getting up early
and crossing fingers.
nd then it dawned on Mike Hooe. It
was morning, which meant his work
here would be finished in a matter
Nothing happens before sunrise
at Baldwin Lake, and nothing hap-pens
much later. A fisheries biologist
might pull nets from the water hundreds of
times long after sunrise and never catch a
threadfin shad. Or maybe they will.
“You never know if it’s going to be a
good day,” the Department of Natural
Resources biologist said, peering into an
oxygen-packed tank on his state truck one
morning last April. “You just show up and
set the nets.”
The moment the glow of sunrise
replaces night at this southwestern Illinois
power-plant cooling lake on the Randolph-
Monroe county line, that’s the time to be at
the shore, pulling the net. The goal is 3,000
shad. Hooe, the district 19 fisheries biolo-gist
in southern Illinois, had caught about
1,000 so far. Whatever else he caught in
the next few minutes he’d drop off in Rend
Lake, and hope for a very good summer.
Like the sunrise itself, the moment to
catch schooling shad happens just once a
day. Miss it, and you’ve missed everything.
Threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense)
represent a tremendous forage for Illinois
game fish, feeding everything from catfish
to crappie to largemouth bass. They don’t
grow very large, about 5 inches tops, and
that makes them ideal food for all sorts of
Of course, pouring a few thousand
shad into the massive Rend Lake will feed
a few fish for just a little while. But the
biologist hoped for bigger returns.
“These fish alone won’t make a signifi-cant
difference in the forage base,” Hooe
said, explaining how the quick-maturing
species can multiply exponentially
throughout the summer. “Threadfin shad
become sexually mature in less than a
year, and if the offspring of these shad
manage to spawn before the end of sum-mer,
the resulting forage supply will be a
tremendous food resource for fish going
into the fall.”
All of the threadfin shad will die in
Rend Lake, eventually. The water is too
cold in this climate to sustain the southern
species. Baldwin’s power-plant waters
remain tepid enough during winter to allow
survival of the species. That’s why, for
more than 20 years, state fisheries biolo-gists
have risen in the middle of the night
and come to the shore of Baldwin in April
to harvest loads of threadfin and transport
them to other lakes.
When you purchase your fishing
license this spring, know that you’re paying
for more than just a piece of paper. If you
manage to catch a whopper bass, or lift a
magnificent crappie from a public lake,
remember those behind-the-scenes biolo-gists
somewhere who get up at 2 a.m. in
April, doing the job you support.
Virtually all of the eastern wild turkeys found
in Illinois today can be traced to the original birds
released by wildlife biologists assisting with the
wild turkey recovery program.
DNR Fisheries Biologist Mike Hooe uses
a lift net to catch threadfin shad at
Baldwin Lake. The shad provide forage
for other fish at state-managed lakes.
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