Jimmie Ridge Hunting Club is situated in the Crane Lake area of the Illinois River Valley.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a three-part series about the Illinois River Valley’s Jimmie Ridge Hunting Club.
I didn’t have to think twice to accept an invitation from veteran game call maker Dave Jackson to join him and Dr. Randy Rusky on a two-day waterfowl hunt at Jimmie Ridge Hunting Club located in the storied Crane Lake area of the Illinois River Valley.
“Bring along our buddy Don Jones; we’ll catch up on ol’ times, hunt some waterfowl, and talk duck and goose calls. We’ll have a good time,” was D.J.’s offer. Don approved of the opportunity without hesitation.
My association with Dave dates back to the early 1980s, when he managed the “Olt shop” in Pekin, Ill., home of P.S. Olt Game Calls, where they were hand-tuned, assembled and shipped to market. The D-2 duck and A-50 goose set the standard in the game call industry for two years shy of a century.
D.J. and I had waterfowl hunted together on many occasions, in many places, throughout our years of friendship but, strangely, I had never hunted the historic Central Illinois River Valley where Mid-America market hunting and private waterfowl clubs were born soon after the Civil War. Duck hunting of that era became so successful and popular that hunters traveled by steamboat and railroad to be further transported by horse-drawn wagons, finally arriving in the ’fowling mecca of the Illinois River Valley.
Market hunters slaughtered the birds for profit, guides made good wages as pushers and retrievers and private clubs entertained the rich and famous Americans. Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland later would come to hunt, relax and dine. Into the 1940s, St. Louis Cardinals baseball stars Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and other athletes of fame would be frequent guests at teammate Marty Marion’s duck club. Waterfowling seemed for sportsmen the popular thing to do and the economy of the area revolved around hunting and fishing.
Don and I arrived late afternoon at the Pekin headquarters of the Illinois River Valley Calls Co. After a warm welcome from Dave and his wife, Debbie, we were given a tour of the call manufacturing operation and shown the impressive guest quarters. Call-making has certainly come a long way since 1904 when Philip Olt began his endeavor. Computer-programmed lathes and laser engravers are common in game call manufacturing. The modern process allows D.J. and others to turn and design virtually any call imaginable for hunter consumption. He specializes in beautifully engraved wooden duck and goose calls that imitate the sound of the real thing.
Dave’s personal Olt collection of game calls and other ancient Olt products is unrivaled and his knowledge is often sought by collectors and outdoor scribes. Many of the significant calls found in the Reid collection can be attributed to his effort.
Dr. Rusky met us for an early breakfast the following morning and the four of us headed for Jimmie Ridge Hunting Club, where I would add a new chapter to my waterfowl travel log. During our trip, Dave explained that when the Olt family closed their business in April of 2002, he and Doc decided to form a partnership to continue a life driven by waterfowling and game calls. The rich tradition of the Illinois Valley in hunting, call making and decoy carving fueled their fire. From their Pekin location, Illinois River Valley Calls are manufactured, tuned and sold to hunters and collectors throughout America and Canada as well as to a world market that includes the United Kingdom, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.
Next time: Hunting club teaches history lesson.