EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series about the Jimmie Ridge Hunting Club.
As we neared our destination, our hosts gave Don and me a brief description of the 13-member hunting club they call Jimmie Ridge, so named to honor a dedicated caretaker of years ago.
All private hunting clubs are unique and theirs is no exception. The 550-acre farm is located in Mason County, lying between the Illinois River towns of Bath and Chandlerville. Jimmie Ridge borders the massive Crane Lake Game Refuge and is actually surrounded on three sides by the waters of Crane Lake, an 800-acre backwater body formed by the Illinois River. Owner and manager Jim Roskelley oversees the entire operation and guides club members daily during the season. Roskelley’s hands-on approach results in hunter enjoyment, opportunity and a high degree of success. The club’s bottomland waterfowl hunting area is a patchwork of flooded timber and cornfields with numerous willow-covered blinds, some of which can accommodate as many as eight hunters. For communication, blinds are equipped with two-way radios and each is heated with propane for comfort. Don and I were excited to be part of the Jimmie Ridge adventure.
A cold, overcast day and north winds greeted us as we dressed for the hunt, exchanged introductions and received blind assignments. Soon a parade of ATVs transported the hunting parties through the dark morning to a forest of hardwoods bordered by tall pines overlooking the water-covered bottomland. We were skillfully delivered through the knee-deep water of a partially harvested cornfield to a large U-shaped blind built around a large willow tree.
D.J. was given the honor of headmaster of our willow-covered hide. That meant he would designate first shots on single birds and make the calls on pairs and bunches. Decoys were arranged, calls tuned, guns loaded and concealment adjusted; now it was up to the birds.
During the early morning we were entertained by large flocks of mallards and Canada geese returning to the safety of Crane Lake Refuge. Unfortunately, those birds paid no attention to our decoy set or beckoning calls. However, several “lost” single mallards and two pairs fell victim to our come-join-us routine and young Dr. Rusky displayed his shooting skill on a mallard drake that drew a “no way” acclaim from his hunting pals. He accepted the accolades by merely commenting “luck shot.”
Our big thrill of the morning occurred around ten o’clock when a bunch of high-flying mallards responded to a come-back call, set-up and made several passes before Dave’s command of “take ’em” resulted in six of the 10 being added to our kill.
As noon approached, it was evident that the birds were on break, so the decision for the hunters to head for lunch was met with full approval. The tiny river town of Bath would be our destination. Steeped in waterfowl history due to its geographic relationship to Grand Island (the largest island on the Illinois River), Bath has another claim to fame. A young surveyor by the name of Abe Lincoln helped lay out the town long before his days as a lawyer and eventual U.S. president.
Our history lesson continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening as we talked of long-ago decoy carvers and callmakers native to the Illinois River Valley. Lifelike wooden decoys, hand-carved and meticulously painted by masters, made their appearance soon after the Civil War. They sold anywhere from less than $1 to $3 each and were used for gunning until waterlogged or broken and then unwisely discarded.
Robert Ellison, Charles Walker, Bert Graves and Charles Perdew became the most prolific Illinois decoy carvers. Their work as craftsmen and artists became legendary and to this day are highly prized, as evidenced by the thousands of dollars paid by collectors and antique dealers for a single decoy created by their hands.
Likewise, the list of Illinois callmakers is significant. Fred Allen, in the 1860s, is credited with being the first commercial duck callmaker, selling his calls for $1 each. Illinois hunters, Grubbs, Glodo, Ditto and Olt also became callmakers of importance prior to 1900. Others would follow in the early 20th century, including Charles Perdew, whose game calls command huge amounts of money in today’s collectible market. Of course, when Philip S. Olt began mass-producing his calls in the early 1900s, the company soon dominated the waterfowl call industry, selling thousands and reaching an unbelievable record sale of 50,000 in one year. Perhaps every serious waterfowler on the continent has put an Olt call to his lips.
Next time: Capone tale captivates hunting party.