Shawnee National Forest Hunting
The Shawnee National Forest is the single largest publicly owned land in Illinois and is by far the most popular hunting destination in the entire state. With an astoundingly large size of over 280,000 acres over 200,000 football fields, this Southern Illinois forest sprawls across 13 sparsely-populated counties which are home to over 146 miles of rivers and more than 200 individual lakes. This count doesn’t include the massive Ohio River and Mississippi River that dominates the forest’s borders. It’s no wonder that this forest attracts hunters from all over the country who are looking for prize game harvests and getting face-to-face with the primal origins of man.
What Can Be Hunted in Southern IL?
With so much land available, there is no shortage of wildlife roaming the Shawnee Forest. Thousands of sporting enthusiasts are attracted to Southern IL every year to hunt everything from trophy bucks to upland game and waterfowl. Wildlife in this forest is exceptionally diverse; you will not find a forest that offers avid hunters such a variety of sporting opportunities including dove, furbearers, upland game, and waterfowl. Southern IL is especially known for deer and turkey hunting bringing game chasers across the nation to Southern Illinois each Winter in order to experience the large game hunting opportunities available in Southern Illinois.
Who Can Go Hunting in the Shawnee Forest?
Residents and non-residents alike are legally allowed to hunt the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, provided they meet the requirements set by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. All hunters that were born on or after January 1, 1980 must complete the Illinois hunter education certification course before they can purchase their hunting license. After hunting in Illinois, all harvests must be reported by calling the toll-free telephone check-in system at 866-IL-CHECK (866-452-4325) or online at one of the following websites:
Illinois Learn to Hunt provides potential and active hunters with a variety of information to make hunting successful not only for adult hunters but also for the environment at no cost to you. Free eLearning modules include topics such as: Hunting Ethics and Conservation, Equipment and Safety, Licensing and Laws, Game Ecology, and Hunting Techniques.
Trappers are required to take the Trapping Education Course provided by IDNR in order to establish and maintain safety and regulations for trapping furbearers in Illinois.
What Type of Hunting is Allowed in Southern Illinois?
A variety of gear can be used when hunting game in Illinois including shotguns, rifles, longbows, recurve bows, compound bows, traps, muzzle loaders, and firearms provided you carry the proper license and permits and adhere to the laws of the land. Each gear preference has its own unique season in which hunting is allowed for the safety of the animals and hunters alike. However, there are hunting seasons in every month of the calendar year in Illinois. Check out the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Hunting and Trapping Digest to see when your favorite type of hunting or trapping is in season in Illinois and which licenses and regulations may apply to you along with fee information for residents and non-residents.
Deer Season in Illinois
Looking for the mythical 30-point buck or as close to it as you can get? Massive corn-fed deer are scattered throughout Illinois and nowhere is deer hunting more accessible than in the Shawnee National Forest public lands. Big game hunting areas include: Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, Jackson Falls, Lake Tecumseh, Lake of Egypt, One Horse Gap Lake, Pennant Bar Openlands, Whoopie Cat Lake, Cedar Lake, Kinkaid Lake & Trail System, Oakwood Bottoms, Bald Knob Wilderness, and Panther Den Wilderness.
The state of Illinois allows deer hunting from early Fall to late Winter to keep populations in check and allow natural resources to flourish as overpopulation of deer can create a severe threat to many indigenous animal and plant species including the deer themselves. Hunters may take one deer per permit. Strictly enforced reporting of hunting harvests is necessary in maintaining a balanced deer population. Hunting is allowed from 30 minutes before dawn until 30 minutes after sunset. See specific dates below for the 2019 – 2020 Deer Hunting Season in Illinois.
Archery: October 1st – November 21st, November 25th – December 4th, December 9th – January 19th (in counties with a firearm season)
Firearm (shotgun, muzzleloader, handgun): November 22nd – 24th, December 5th – 8th
Muzzleloader Only: December 13th – 15th
Special CWD: December 26th – 29th, January 17th – 19th
Firearm (Antlerless Only): December 26th – 29th, January 17th – 19th
Youth Firearm: October 12th – 14th, November 22nd – 24th
(Max: 2 antlered deer per year)
Before setting off for your deer hunting adventure, review the list of rules and regulations that the IDNR has set in place for deer hunting with firearms or for archery deer hunting which can also be found on the front of your permit.
Is hunting turkey more of your calling? Southern Illinois offers prime locations for turkey hunting in the public lands of Shawnee National Forest. Flocks of wild turkey make the Shawnee their home and need to be weeded out so that overpopulation doesn’t devastate the forest. Although a bit more pricey for non residents, Illinois residents can expect to pay around $24 for Fall licensing fees and closer to $35 for Spring. Because Fall Turkey Season and Deer Season overlap, many hunters find it best to hunt Southern Illinois late in the year to take advantage of available game. See specific dates below for the 2019 – 2020 Turkey Hunting Seasons
Fall 2019 – 2020 (1 either sex turkey per permit; max: 2 Fall permits)
Shotgun: October 19th – 27th (30 minutes before sunrise until sunset)
Archery: October 1st – January 19th (30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset)
Spring 2020 (1 Tom, Jake, or bearded hen per permit; max: 3 Spring permits)
Shotgun & Archery: April 30th – May 14th (30 minutes before sunrise until 1:00 PM CST; dates specific to zones)
Youth: March 28th – 29th, April 4th – 5th (30 minutes before sunrise until 1:00 PM CST)
What Are The Safety Regulations in Illinois?
In Southern Illinois, blaze orange is your color. During firearm season, it is required by law for hunters to wear blaze orange hats or caps as well as an outer garment like a shirt or vest displaying at least 400 square inches of solid blaze orange. This rule applies to all hunters hunting during firearm season weather using firearms or not. It’s not a color found in nature unless hunters are there. Make sure you are easily identifiable for the safety and protection of all people visiting the Shawnee Forest. Camouflage blaze orange does not meet the solid blaze orange requirements.
Please be on the lookout for hikers, equestrians, and backpackers. It is highly suggested for anyone in the Shawnee Forest to wear blaze orange or other bright solid colors during hunting seasons as well, although not required.
Some recommended items for all hunters to carry are water, first aid kit, rain gear, game bag, flashlight, fire starter, and always have your licenses and permits handy. Remember to practice Leave No Trace Ethics while hunting in the Shawnee National forest: anything you bring in with you also take out with you to keep this area pristine for generations to come.
Where to Stay While Hunting
Southern Illinois offers many cabin and camping accommodations in and around Shawnee National Forest. Whether you want to get off the beaten path for a week and tent camp near your hunting site in the Shawnee National Forest or prefer a spacious cabin for your large hunting party, Southern Illinois has the perfect cabin for you. Some cabins offer private kitchen and living areas, even private washers and dryers for laundry while other log cabins have hot tubs to relax your muscles after a long trip into nature. No matter how you choose to make the most of your trip to Shawnee National Forest, you will find the perfect evening adventure is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Don’t let these incredible hunting opportunities pass you by. Help Illinois maintain it’s protected species while you relax and enjoy one of the few places in the Midwest where you can walk for an entire day without crossing a road. Come to the Shawnee National Forest and see everything you would expect out of nature at it’s finest.
Hunting Guides in Southern Illinois
Campbell Illinois Whitetails
Deer Hunting Guide
Skiller Fork Outfitters
Deer and Turkey Hunting Guide