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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

KenLake State Resort Park Opens New Archery Range

8:06 AM 0 Comments

I've recently had the very good fortune to spend some time at KenLake State Resort Park, in Aurora Kentucky. My first visit was during the Bowfishing Association of America's World Championship - although my schedule only allowed for an overnight stay, I was so taken with the many activities and photo opportunities   Ken Lake State Resort Park, It didn't take long for me to decide I had to plan a return visit. I knew I would be returning the great Kentucky Lakes area in September, but that wasn't soon enough to suit me.

During my initial visit, KenLake gave me a sneak peek and a preview of their soon to be opening 3D archery range. Although on that first visit it wasn't quite completed I could tell that it was going to be an outstanding range that would appeal to a wide range of archery enthusiasts.

On my return visit, the park was in a flurry of Grand Opening preparations and park staff again generously allowed us to preview the range and spend some time trying our hands at the interesting and challenging layout. My partner and fellow outdoor photographer Amy Pease and I knew that this would be a great side trip for our many outdoor media colleagues who will be descending on the Kentucky Lakes area for the 2014 Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Annual Conference in September.Not only is this range a must visit for outdoor media  when visiting the Kentucky Lakes area, it provides a great opportunity for any archery enthusiast visiting  the Kentucky Lakes Area.egardless of what takes you Kentucky Lakes area, be sure to pack your bow and give this challenging and interesting course a try! You won't be disappointed!

Kentucky Lakes area work that originally appeared in the AGLOW Horizons Magazine August 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Boaters: Don’t Let July 4th Be Your Undoing

11:13 AM 0 Comments
BoatUS: Nation’s Birthday Requires Special Caution

photo courtesy of BoatUS

ALEXANDRIA, Va., June 25, 2014 – A long day on the water exposed to the elements combined with crowded waterways and alcohol consumption could be a recreational boater’s ultimate undoing this July 4th holiday weekend. “It’s mayhem,” said BoatUS Foundation President Chris Edmonston, “So pull out all the stops and make safety priority #1 to ensure you have a wonderful time on the water.” BoatUS suggests these tips to enjoy America’s birthday on on a boat:

Everyone wants to see the show: Every boat owner becomes popular on July 4th because they’ve “got boat”. Whoa, that doesn’t mean everyone can safely come aboard. Overloading combined with intense wake action always spells trouble on recreational boating’s most highly-trafficked holiday. Keep to your boat’s capacity limit, ensure everyone has a seat inside the boat, and have a life jacket for everyone aboard. Wearing life jackets, especially after the fireworks end when the risk of a nighttime collision is the greatest, is a wise move.

Get all of the lights working: In the dark, the only way to determine a boat’s direction is by seeing its navigation lights. Fix any broken lights before you go – and ensure they are visible from 360 degrees. You may be surprised to learn that just because the light switch is turned on, it doesn’t mean your nav lights can be seen from every quarter.

Paddlers, resist the urge: Stand up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes are great – but not in the middle of a nighttime fireworks display. Wearing a headlamp or hanging glowsticks around your neck isn’t enough to be seen and may confuse other boaters. If you do insist on going out, stay very close to shore and away from any boating traffic, have USCG-approved nav lights, and keep clear of any channels, marinas or launch ramp areas. Assume that no one can see you.

Patience is a virtue: Wait a little bit after the fireworks show ends for boating traffic to thin out before you haul anchor. It’s also better to pass other boats astern to avoid anchor line entanglements – one of the top reasons why boaters will call for on water assistance from the TowBoatUS or Vessel Assist fleets. BoatUS reports their 24-hour dispatch call center switchboards (800-391-4869) light up like a Christmas tree after the fireworks shows end.

Check your dock: Before you invite everyone down to the lake house, ensure that any dock with electric service or a boat tied up to it isn’t leaking any stray current into the water. Minute amounts of alternating current in fresh water can be hazardous to swimmers and lead to Electric Shock Drowning. An easy way to check your dock is with a circuit tester and a clamp meter. If in doubt, just shut off all electricity to the dock, relax, and enjoy the fireworks.

Boat Sober: While it’s embarrassing to be arrested for boating while intoxicated, it also means the boat driver has forgotten his or her responsibility to keep everyone aboard safe. Wait until after you’ve tied up for the night before drinking, or one of the hundreds of law enforcement officers assigned to increased patrols may have to remind you in a very unpleasant, humiliating and costly way. Drunk driving on the water can cost you your car driver’s license, too.

Please keep these things in mind while planning your Forth of July outing and remember SAFETY FIRST!

About BoatUS:
Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) is the nation’s leading advocate for recreational boaters providing its over half-million members with government representation, services such as 24-hour dispatch, on water boat towing as well as roadside assistance for boat trailers and tow vehicles, feature-packed boat insurance programs, money-saving benefits including marina and service discounts, and vital information that improves recreational boating. Its member-funded BoatUS Foundation is a national leader promoting safe, clean and responsible boating and offers range of boating safety courses – including 33 free state courses – that can be found at


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Time to Speak Up; Time to Speak Out

7:48 AM 2 Comments

Unfortunately it seems I have ruffled a feather or two in the bowfishing community, and the issue has become so intense with some, that after consulting with a few trusted outdoor media colleagues and my legal advisors, the general consensus was that the best course of action was to simply speak up and speak out and then walk away from the fray.

On April 24th  of this year the following announcement was made by Ed DeVries, President of Bowfishing Association of Illinois:


Starting April 2015 bowfishers will be allowed to take a 6 fish limit of channel cat from the Illinois   River between the starved rock dam and Dresden dam.

Now bowfishers will be able to harvest another fish that are excellent on the table thanks to the IDNR and the efforts of your BAI! Currently channel cats are a commercial fish that can be caught on trot line, bank pole, hook and line and now by bowfishing. Very cool news!”

After reading the announcement I sent the following message to Mr. DeVries via Facebook’s messaging system:

Gretchen Steele

Truthfully Ed, I don't support the catfish. I see too many people that do not know the difference between a channel cat, a blue or flathead. If they can't tell the difference between them on a jug or trot line or pole and line, I doubt that they will be able to tell the difference in the water. The commercial fishermen in this area will likely fight it. They are struggling for decent catch numbers now. They aren't anti bowfishing by any means, they just are unlikely to support adding another method to take cats from a population that's already starting to dwindle down. I know this is just an area that we will have to agree to disagree, good luck with the pilot program - I hope that it proves my concerns wrong.

After researching the announced rule change and program with DNR I discovered that BAI had only sent the proposal to DNR and that no rule change had been made, nor had it been placed on the regulatory agenda for consideration.

I wrote about the proposal in my blog at Heartland Outdoors. You may read that blog entry HERE.

Following that post Mr. DeVries began, for lack a of a better term, a well documented  smear campaign that included calling for boycotts of publications that publish my work and their advertisers, calling for my immediate removal from the various pro staff positions I hold etc. As time went on the campaign became increasingly defamatory both personally and professionally.

I chose to simply ignore the situation, as that seemed to me to be the best and most professional choice.  As the old adage says, “Don’t feed the trolls.”  Thankfully the bulk of the incessant ranting and raving has been largely ignored and limited to primarily internet sites, social media and internet forums. More thankfully, my sponsors, publishers, editors and the companies I Pro Staff for simply laughed it off and continue to do so.

Then on Friday May 6th I received a request from Mr, DeVries for an e mail interview, with an attached list of questions that ranged from disingenuous at best to bordering on threatening demands at worst.

I respectfully declined his request based on several factors; the history of the defamatory campaign against me personally and professionally, there was no vetting or credentialing of Mr. DeVries as a journalist provided, and it’s truly a non issue at this point. The proposal is merely a proposal on a desk at DNR. It’s old news. It’s 15 minutes of fame has come and gone.  If and when it the proposal is placed on the regulatory agenda and sent to the rules committee I will revisit the issue as outdoor media; but until then I consider it a non issue.

However Mr. DeVries chose to follow up my denial of the request with an overtly adversarial and threatening email that compelled me to provide the whole mess to my legal advisor.

While I can’t imagine that anyone finds my opinion all that noteworthy, compelling, or influential. Contrary to Mr. DeVries claims that I am afraid to speak up; I am not afraid to share my opinion.I just saw no reason to engage in some childish internet based flaming war, nor provide an interview to someone who has repeatedly misquoted me, and made blatantly untrue claims about me. I fully expect to find cut and pasted excerpts of this post used in more of the ridiculous claims being made by BAI. So here we are – here’s how I feel regarding the BAI proposal to allow bowfishing for channel catfish with a daily creel limit of six between Starved Rock Dam and Dresden Dam.

I am not “100% against bowfishing for catfish” as has been reported. However, I do not and will not support the proposal as it is written. I feel that by making it specific to channel catfish this opens up the door for the possibility of accidental violations when bowfishers inadvertently arrow a different species of catfish. I see too many cases of people incorrectly identifying catfish, and feel it could be difficult for the average recreational bowfisher to always correctly identify the specific catfish species.

I also feel that limited area of the pilot program waters is insufficient to determine it’s effect on the catfish population statewide. Perhaps a better choice would be to also have pilot or test programs in several bodies of water throughout the entire state, along with creel surveys so that DNR can determine exactly how many catfish are being taken by bowfishers, along with all other anglers who take catfish.

By choosing only that body of water, it could give the appearance of favoring northern Illinois over southern, causing more feelings of abandonment by anglers and bowfishers who reside in southern Illinois. It creates more ill will and feelings of division between southern and northern Illinois, and frankly there’s enough of that already.

I think that this could well be a precedent setting rule change that could open up the door for further proposals to allow bowfishing for additional species that are currently considered game or sport fish.

I think that bowfishing for catfish could be feasible in specific waters at specific times, but this is a decision that should be made with input from all user groups including commercial fishermen, bowfishermen, pole and line anglers, netters, etc. after a careful study of the overall health of the catfish populations and input from regional fisheries biologists.

I think that all user groups must be willing to discuss the issue openly, constructively, civilly, and be willing to make good faith concessions in effort to find a solution palatable to all.

Lastly, I am not anti hunting, anti bowfishing, or anything of sort. I am however a conservationist first and bowfisher second.

I am saddened that this post even had to be made. In my gut I still feel that I shouldn't feed the trolls so to speak, but I realize that my silence only allows this to continue and could possibly be construed that the claims made are true.

It saddens me that any single person or organization that is supposed to represent the bowfishing community can create such a controversy and adversarial situation that it causes division among our ranks.

So there you have it – That’s how I feel about the bowfishing for catfish proposal, despite what you may hear, read, or see being put forth by any detractors.

With that said – Let’s all just go fishing (by whatever method you prefer) and forget about this proposal until such time it is placed on the regulatory agenda and sent to rules committee. It truly is much ado about nothing at this juncture.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Still "Chasin' Birds" !

9:05 AM 0 Comments

My beloved waterfowl are slowly but surely making their way out of the area and on to their winter homes, but that doesn’t mean that I am no longer chasing birds. It merely means that I have shifted my focus so to speak to the other migrants, the residents who are in full breeding colors and in some cases are beginning to nest, and of course the “boys of spring” the wild turkeys that seem to be everywhere in the spring woods right now.

 I’ve been wandering about the last few days – still in search of fine feathered friends. Hmmm seems like I am always “chasin’ birds” doesn’t it?

Although I spend an enormous amount of time looking for birds to photograph, I don’t consider myself a birder; bird watcher yes, bird photographer – of course, and bird hunter, again of course. Let’s be clear on the bird hunting part before some crazed anti-hunting birder jumps on the band wagon – I only use the phrase “bird” as a general description and only hunt legal species that are considered game birds. I am not out there picking off cardinals and nuthatches with an air rifle. Got that folks?

I have been pulling the trigger on the camera a good bit in recent days - I hope you all enjoy the photos as much as I have enjoyed sitting in the spring woods and traverse the recently open waters in search of these beautiful winged wonders!

An unusual find for southern Illinois –

I honestly stumbled into this group of common loons. While they are occasionally seen in southern Illinois during migration, I wouldn’t call them a common visitor. A quick check of the eBird sighting map confirmed that indeed the loons really are just occasional visitors here in my neck of the woods. I might as well admit, I wasn’t looking for them I was looking for a restroom. I knew that one of my favorite boat ramps had good bathrooms so I was headed to there when I noticed what I first thought was an odd looking cormorant (they are common here). Imagine my surprise when I realized I was looking at loons!

one of the loons that is not in "breeding color"

I absolutely spent way too much time planted right there in the little inlet, sitting at the boat ramp, watching these beautiful birds.

The quarry that I was after specifically, were the “boys of spring” – the wild turkey gobblers that are beginning their annual spring show…huffing, puffing, fluffing themselves up and showing of their beautiful tail fans all in hopes of snagging a hen turkey or two.

I was also treated to a show by the migrating white pelicans – evidently the word is out that the shad are running and this neighborhood is a good spot for mid migration snack.

Not to be outdone by the bigger birds, this lovely ringneck pheasant rooster came trotting through as I was waiting on the gobblers to get a little closer to me. I’m not sure who more surprised to see who; the pheasant or me!
I love our local migrant, resident, and occasional birds, and I love photographing them. I am really excited to announce that thanks to the generosity and assistance with planning a super trip by the Fond du Lac CVB I will be attending the world famous Horicon Marsh Birding Festival this year. I can’t even imagine the photo opportunities and sightings that await me in Wisconsin!

Until it’s time for my much anticipated trip to Fond du Lac, Lake Winnebago, and Horicon Marsh; I will keep myself content roaming the backwaters, the fields, and the forests chasing our southern Illinois birds!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Brain Fog Friday

11:08 AM 1 Comments's certainly been foggy around here the last few days, and I don't mean the kind that hangs low across a frosty field.

Brain FOG - one of the darnedest, most frustrating symptoms of living with Multiple Sclerosis. What is brain fog you ask? It's a bit hard to explain the weirdo feeling, suffice it to say I feel like my brain has turned to scrambled eggs and I have devil of a time making sense of things. In my case it usually comes along with it's pal horrible fatigue, and you can bet your last dollar that it will happen if I get too tired or have some kind of sensory assault.

Web MD defines it this way: 

4 Brain Fog Basics

Brain fog is a catchall term for all sorts of brain changes that can come with MS. Here are four things to know.
  1. It's common. About half the people with MS have these issues at some point, says Rosalind Kalb, PhD, a clinical psychologist and vice president of clinical care at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. For most, the cloudy thinking is mild and manageable. Only 5% to 10% of people with MS have issues with their thinking that seriously affect their day-to-day life or career.
  2. It can affect your short-term memory, attention, and concentration. It can muck up your ability to retain new information and plan.But it doesn't usually affect your intelligence, reading comprehension, or long-term memory.
  3. It may get worse over time, but it may not. Once you have episodes of brain fog, they usually don't go away completely. They are more likely to progress slowly.
  4. It can have many causes. Sometimes the fog is triggered by actual changes in the brain caused by MS. But it can also be brought on by other issues -- like depression, fatigue, and side effects from medication.

I define it as a pain in the ass. Especially when I have article deadlines due, customers waiting on photos, outdoor adventures to have.

Over the years I've figured out a few ways to work around it, some with good success, some only moderate. One thing I do rely on heavily is my smartphone with it's variety of calenders, reminders, bells, whistles, hey yous, maps etc. Now if some whiz kid could just develop an app  that would let me tap here, tap there, and have things suddenly make sense; well we'd be in business!

What I won't do is stay locked inside when the brain fog hits. I've said many times what I do best is wander, and hey brain fog can be really useful when wandering. I just sort of aimlessly traverse the fields, the forests, and see what turns up. That's the only way I can process things on a foggy day.

In our case, sometimes it's the human that's following dog instead of vice versa

Thankfully, Willie the Wonder Dog has a working brain, and does a great job of keeping me from getting into any real fixes. I have him mark the car, the parking area etc before we leave, just in case and thankfully when I tell him go to the car he usually leads me right back to where we started. (With of course the occasional side trip to chase a rabbit or a squirrel).

So today, instead of some thoughtful, insightful, well written post, you'll just have to be happy with some images from the recent wandering days. My foggy brain has reached it's limit for constructing intelligible sentences.  Enjoy the scenes from a recent "foggy" wander!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bald Eagle Numbers Soaring in Illinois

12:07 PM 0 Comments
SPRINGFIELD, IL – A record-setting number of American bald eagles was reported during the annual Illinois Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey coordinated by the Illinois Audubon Society.  Volunteers tallied 5,975 birds between the dates of January 1 and January 15, 2014.

Extremely cold temperatures in northern parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin caused a surge in the numbers of over-wintering birds along the Illinois waterways. Survey routes are located on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers with additional routes on the Ohio and Wabash Rivers, Crab Orchard Lake, Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area and Carlyle Lake.

According to Tom Clay, the Society’s Executive Director, “our 2014 survey surpassed 2013 (2,325 total) and topped the highest recorded count (since 1992) of 4,292 reported in 2008.”  The largest populations of the eagles spotted were counted along the Mississippi River (93.6% of the overall total), followed by 4.4% observed on the Illinois River and 2% sighted on the remaining routes.  The number of adults versus immature eagles reported on these surveys, an important indicator of recovery and survival, remains at 60% and 40%, respectively.

Nationally, this effort is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The goal of the survey is to maintain the long-term, national coordination of the surveys collected, analysis of that data, and reporting of the results.  Locally, survey data collected provides information on eagle trends, distribution and habitat and helps create public interest in bald eagles and their conservation.

Information regarding the 2014 survey and previous years’ data can be obtained by calling the Illinois Audubon Society at 217.544.2473.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Alliance Forms to Tackle Illinois Deer Management Issues

7:53 AM 0 Comments
A group of Illinois deer hunters formed the “Illinois Whitetail Alliance” to promote proactive deer management in Illinois. This group met with Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) officials and presented a plan for deer management changes on the heels of a record harvest drop during the 2013 deer season and eight consecutive years of decreased deer numbers. The proposed changes would help offset several years of over harvest from liberal seasons and bag limits, and loss of deer due to disease.

Alliance member Brent Manning, a past director of the IDNR, congratulates the current IDNR for their recent announcement of possible future regulation changes. However, Manning adds, “Many other recommendations have been made with the best interest of Illinois’ deer herd in mind. The entire Alliance proposal is well thought out, and deserves serious consideration. We look forward to future meetings with IDNR officials to continue the discussion that was started today.”
Kevin Chapman, a past president and legislative liaison for Illinois Bowhunters Society, said, “Many in the Alliance have been involved with Illinois deer management issues for over 20 years, and have witnessed the rise and fall of Illinois deer hunting. Most hunters are passionate about the future of one of the state’s greatest natural resources. That’s why some of the best deer management ideas in the past have come from the hunting public.”

Members of the Alliance hope to gain support by presenting their ideas at the upcoming Illinois Deer Classic in Springfield on February 22 and 23 (4:30pm and 11:00am, respectively), and the Elmwood All-Outdoors show on March 2 at 12:30pm. Hunters are encouraged to attend. Also, the Alliance requests that hunters call their local legislators in support of the following Alliance proposals to help restore Illinois’ deer herd back to acceptable levels:

1) Enact an immediate five year moratorium on any new legislation or administrative rule change that could result in the expansion of any deer hunting season, add any additional weapons, or increase the deer harvest in any way. After five years, an independent review of the deer management program would be performed by a qualified source.

2) Reduce the pressure on the overall deer harvest, particularly on female deer, by implementing the following:

a) Eliminate the current late winter deer season (LWS)

b) Move all future antlerless-only (A-O) seasons to mid-September

c) Implement a one-buck and one-doe limit in counties where an additional A-O season is not needed

d) Eliminate all over-the-counter (OTC) gun permit sales, and OTC archery sales after November 1st

3a) Implement a statewide one-buck limit, all seasons combined.

3b) As an alternative to 3a, keep the 2-buck limit, but implement a split buck season. The 2nd buck (all weapons combined) wouldn't be killed until AFTER the end of the first gun season.

4) Implement new regulations on non-resident (NR) permits including an immediate elimination of the OTC A-O permit, unless the NR purchased a regular combo permit prior. Also set a limit on NR permits at 10% of the previous year's total harvest, with an allocation of 2/3 of that amount to archery deer hunters and 1/3 to gun hunters.

5) Enact stricter penalties for deer hunting violations that involve “willful intent” which would result in a two-year suspension of hunting privileges for the first offense, five-year suspension for the second offense, and permanent loss upon the 3rd offense.

The Illinois Whitetail Alliance consists of Manning and Chapman listed above, along with Les Davenport, an avid outdoorsman who has hunted whitetails in IL for 51 years and has been a national outdoor writer for 25 years; Don Higgins, a whitetail habitat consultant with experience throughout the Midwest, nationally recognized outdoor writer, and past director of Illinois Bowhunters Society; and Lee Mitchell, a biologist/forester with twenty years of experience in wildlife and habitat management who has bowhunted for 30 years.

The Alliance is dedicated to proactive management ideas based in science; ones that are fair and equitable to all deer hunting stakeholders.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Get Geared Up For the Great Backyard Bird Count!

7:39 AM 0 Comments
New York, N.Y. and Ithaca, N.Y. —From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, bird watchers from more than 100 countries are expected to participate in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 14–17, 2014. Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.

 ©Gretchen Steele 2014 
“People who care about birds can change the world,” said Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham. “Technology has made it possible for people everywhere to unite around a shared love of birds and a commitment to protecting them.”
In North America, GBBC participants will add their data to help define the magnitude of a dramatic irruption of magnificent Snowy Owls. Bird watchers will also be on the lookout for the invasive Eurasian Collared-Dove to see if it has expanded its range again. GBBC observations may help show whether or not numbers of American Crows will continue to rebound after being hit hard by the West Nile virus and whether more insect-eating species are showing up in new areas, possibly because of changing climate.

© Gretchen Steele 2014
Last year’s Great Backyard Bird Count shattered records after going global for the first time, thanks to integration with the eBird online checklist program launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab and Audubon. Participants reported their bird sightings from all 7 continents, including 111 countries and independent territories. More than 34.5 million birds and 3,610 species were recorded—nearly one-third of the world’s total bird species documented in just four days.

©Gretchen Steele 2014

“This is a milestone for citizen science in so many respects—number of species, diversity of countries involved, total participants, and number of individual birds recorded. We hope this is just the start of something far larger, engaging the whole world in creating a detailed annual snapshot of how all our planet’s birds are faring as the years go by,” said Cornell Lab director Dr. John Fitzpatrick.

© Gretchen Steele 2014

“Canadian participation in the Great Backyard Bird Count has increased tremendously in recent years, and it’s wonderful to see this program growing globally,” said Bird Studies Canada President Dr. George Finney. “The count is introducing unprecedented numbers of people to the exciting field of bird watching.”
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with nature and make a difference for birds. It’s free and easy. To learn more about how to join the count visit and view the winning photos from the 2013 GBBC photo contest.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.