Roots: The Land of Lincoln | S1

Dive deep inside the mind of a whitetail mad-man as he peels back the layers on a new piece of ground in Illinois. It’s designing dirt unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

Illinois | S1

Its been a long timing coming but, we are finally back in the great state of Illinois. The mission is simple, build a top 5 whitetail property in the country. Its a blank slate, we like getting dirty, and we enjoy telling the story along the way. Lets go.

Casey Keefer

Arron Bleise

The Land of Lincoln: Illinois is the OG

Illinois…it’s the Land of Lincoln. Or Eddie Vedder. Or Robin Williams. Or Bill Murray. Or Indy…I mean Harrison Ford. Or Miles Davis. Or Bernie Mac. Or gigantic whitetails…and lots of them. If you didn’t buy into this article after reading the first few names I threw out there, then maybe you’ll read on based on the whole gigantic whitetail thing – and rest easy, because that’s my focus here.

When it comes to classic big whitetail states, Illinois is certainly at the top of my list…see I have a soft spot for it. I’ve arrowed some of my best whitetails there…I’ve had some of my most memorable moments in a tree there. It’s not nearly as windy as Kansas or Iowa and it’s a friendly state to us non-resident folk…two big check marks there!  In my opinion, Illinois is the OG – it was Iowa before Iowa and Kansas before Kansas. Growing up in western PA, all I ever heard about was Illinois. At the time, it seemed as though the last few classified pages of every deer hunting magazine on earth, and believe me I had them all, was just chock-full of ads for giant corn fed Illinois whitetails.

The state itself is a beautiful concoction of black dirt rich in minerals, timber and prairie grasses, and in areas not called Chicago, friendly small farm towns that are the lifeblood of this great country we call home. The kinds of places where the waitress asks your name and the good ol’ boys that have been churning this dirt for 60 years will give you some insight into where the big fellas roam.

If you’re curious about the deer, well the books speak for themselves. If you’re into that kind of thing – personally I am not. I go with what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced – and for me Illinois checks all the boxes. But if you must look at the books, try this on for size:

  • Illinois is home to two of the biggest non-typ whitetails ever taken
  • Home to Mel Johnson’s P&Y World Record Typical Whitetail (for 50+ years)
  • Sits at #2 on B&C’s list of top producing whitetail states of all-time

Just about any die hard whitetail hunter has probably heard of the golden triangle within the golden triangle – and if not, then surely just the name Pike County should rekindle the kind of dream chasing thoughts we all had as youngsters. But, the fact of the matter is that many areas of the state are known, maybe not as well known, but known nonetheless to produce old, trophy sized whitetails. Look to the southern portion of the state and you find awesome terrain changes and unique landscapes. Look to the West and you’ll find many counties that have made an archery hunters dreams come true. If the deer are there and the dirt is there…why aren’t you?

Habitat + Habitat + A little More Habitat x Some Habitat = Good Ground

Buying Land? Habitat Matters

The search for land can be a long and drawn out process. For me, it’s been years. I’ve been fortunate enough to step foot on some ground that a lot of people would consider sacred in terms of what it offers a whitetail hunter. Unfortunately, it’s just not around every corner. Finding land takes work – and above and beyond all else, you need a north star. Mine is habitat.

Each and every fall as people begin to fill up their social media pages, which I don’t pay attention to by the way, with images of big bucks, I get reminded of one simple truth in whitetail hunting: To kill big bucks you have to have big bucks. I didn’t quite understand this as a kid from ‘da burgh. I could not figure out why big deer were killed every year, just not by me. And then one day the light went on. The more I travelled the more I understood that everything is relative. So when my search for a piece of dirt began, that’s where I started – what makes good ground? The answer I found then is the same answer I have now, so here’s the formula: Habitat + Habitat + A little More Habitat x Some Habitat = Good Ground. Write that down. To keep this article simple, let’s look at this in two simple ways:

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Buying Land : You own it, now what?

First thing is first, if you are the proud new owner of a piece of whitetail dirt let me offer up my congratulations! You’ve probably worked long and hard to get to this point, so soak it all in. Your land is now your oyster and the only restraints from here on out will be determined by you and your resourcefulness. Speaking of restraint, that’s exactly where I want to start.

It’s so easy to go into a new piece of ground and want to move mountains – but if you take one thing away from this entire article let it be this – DO NOT TRY TO BOIL THE OCEAN. Managing a piece of land for hunting is a long-term play and believe me when I say this, small bites can make big differences. Your anticipation of finally owning your own piece of land has finally come to an end and you’re in charge, but knowing what you can change is very different from knowing what you should change…especially on Day 1.

So rather than charging onto the property and leaving a you-sized hole through the wall let’s practice some restraint. Here’s a few things I have learned that may help:

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Droptine Podcast

Casey Keefer, the Illinois Project and Pure Edu-tainment

Jason sits down with Casey Keefer and AB Bleise to introduce the Illinois Project that they recently kicked off. They discuss why they believe the property, and their unique goals & objectives of regenerative ecology and food plotting in Nature’s image, will make this deer dirt a top 5 whitetail property in the country.

What exactly is Regenerative Wildlife Agriculture?

Welcome to article one of what will become a whole boatload of articles I write on Regenerative Wildlife Agriculture. Like anything in this world, I’m sure there’s a lot of different opinions on what exactly Regenerative Agriculture is in general, what it means and what the benefits of it are…add in that word wildlife and I bet there’s a million more. Come to think of it, the majority of you may very well have never even heard of it before. Since I’m only me, and I can only speak for myself I’m going to give you what I consider to be the basics of regenerative wildlife ag and why I think it matters to us as whitetail hunters.

While there really is no one-size fits all definition of regenerative ag that I can find, I consider it to be inclusive of the following elements:

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