Facility Rules and Policies

All refuge land and water is open to public access in accordance with refuge regulations for approved public use activities. Refuge lands are open for public use activities from legal sunrise to sunset, with seasonal closures for waterfowl sanctuary and portions of the refuge closed during hunting season. On October 16 of each year, portions of the refuge close for waterfowl sanctuary and remained closed until January 31. Pets must be on a leash unless engaged in hunting.

Refuge Access

All refuge land is open to public access in accordance with these refuge regulations. 

October 16 to January 31: Portions of the refuge are closed for waterfowl sanctuary.

February 1 to October 15: The refuge is accessible by foot, bicycle and boat. No swimming allowed. Refuge lands are open for public use activities from sunrise to sunset, except as noted during hunting season.

  • Sport fishing is allowed on all refuge waters except during temporary seasonal closures for waterfowl sanctuary as posted.
  • Trotline and jug fishing is permitted.
  • All fishing equipment must be removed from the refuge daily.
  • The use of bow and crossbow for fishing is prohibited.
  • Public hunting areas are closed to fishing during the waterfowl hunting season.
  • Refuge and State of Illinois regulations apply.
  • Hunting of migratory game birds, upland birds, upland game, deer and turkey is allowed in three designated areas within the refuge boundary in accordance with refuge and State of Illinois regulations. 
  • Furbearer hunting and trapping is prohibited.
  • Access for hunting is allowed from one hour before legal shooting time, until one hour after sunset.
  • The construction and use of permanent blinds, ladders and stands are prohibited.
  • All hunting aids such as stands, blinds or decoys must be removed at the end of each day's hunt.
  • Approved, non-toxic shot must be used while hunting all species, except deer.
  • No hunting is allowed in Double Ditch Area, adjacent to Route 97/78.
  • We recommend 200-yard spacing between hunting parties.
  • All migratory bird hunting on the refuge closes in accordance with published state waterfowl seasons.
  • Refuge hunting is not open for the conservation order light goose season.
  • The staging of vehicles in parking lots or entrance roads prior to one hour before legal shooting time will NOT be allowed.
  • Hunters may only arrive at and enter the refuge one hour before legal shooting time.
  • Please coordinate with other hunters as you arrive to ensure a safe and quality hunt.

Specific hunt information by unit

The three public hunting units, Wilder, Oxbow and Forgotten Road, showcase three different habitat types with seasonal variations, depended upon the flood waters of the Illinois River.

The Wilder Unit is a seasonal wetland with open spaces and areas with sparse to thick woody vegetation. The Oxbow is seasonally flooded bottomland forest habitat that contains an open, frequently flooded oxbow. The Forgotten Road Unit is an upland wooded habitat that rarely gets visited by the public, hence the name Forgotten Road.

The Wilder Unit and the Oxbow Unit are seasonally flooded during periods of high water on the Illinois River. High water from the Illinois River overflows into the Oxbow Unit. As the river rises, the oxbow and forested area fills and the ditches along Highway 97/78 carry flood water through water control structures and into the Wilder Unit. These units are only flooded as opportunity presents itself, mimicking the historic flood cycle from centuries ago. The Wilder Unit has a gradient topography; the water levels within the unit are linked to the Illinois River levels. A map depicting this correlation may be found here. Although the Forgotten Road Unit consists of more upland, wooded areas, the access road to the unit is cutoff by seasonal flooding. 

Motorized Vehicle / Watercraft Access
  • Licensed motor vehicles are permitted in existing parking areas only.
  • Off-road vehicle use, including ATVs and UTVs, are prohibited.
  • The refuge permits canoes, kayaks, and motorized boats at no wake speed on all refuge waters except during temporary seasonal closures for waterfowl sanctuary as posted.
  • We prohibit leaving boats on refuge waters overnight.
  • The possession or consumption of alcohol is prohibited.
Wildlife Observation
  • Wildlife observation is permitted in all areas from February 1 to October 15.  Public hunting areas are closed to wildlife observation during hunt season.
Nut, Berry and Mushroom Picking
  • Nut, berry and mushroom picking is permitted for personal use only.
Camping / Fires

Camping, overnight use of the refuge, fires and fireworks are prohibited.