The man behind Kankakee Marsh Hunt Club
September 20, 2013 3:04PM
Jeff Dunifon | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media
For more information about Kankakee Marsh Hunt Club, call (219) 851-7964 or simply Google “Kankakee Marsh Hunt Club.”
Updated: October 23, 2013 6:35AM
“It was the best hunting for all kinds of game birds in the United States. This fact I know, as I have hunted as far north as I could and yet be in the United States, and as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, and west as far as the Rockies and I have never yet found a place that equaled the Kankakee swamps... .”
— J. Lorenzo Werich
While traveling about six miles east of the town of LaCrosse on Indiana 8, I came upon nearly 600 acres of tall field corn surrounding the Kankakee Marsh Hunt Club. It was within the clubhouse that I recently interviewed owner-operator Jeff Dunifon. Come October, all that corn will be picked and the those fields will be flooded three feet deep.
Ducks like water.
The rustic clubhouse or lodge includes a great room with a stone fireplace, a commercial kitchen, locker room and dining hall with Amish-made table and chairs. The glass construction of the south side of the clubhouse makes for quite a view. The bunkhouse includes six bedrooms and can sleep up to 20.
Dunifon, 57, was born and raised in LaPorte and currently lives with wife, Dawn, on Pine Lake in LaPorte. They have raised two adult daughters.
What do you do for a living?
“I’m retired,” he said. “I worked construction for 35 years — heavy civil construction. We worked on bridges, highways, treatment plants....”
Any particular outfit?
“Walsh Construction Co. out of Chicago. We were the second largest heavy civil contractor in the United States. I was vice president when I retired.”.
What did your dad do for a living?
“He was a bricklayer for 40 years.”
I’ve interviewed a few bricklayers. Most of them had hands like hams.
“Those guys were tough — tougher than me.”
Did you play sports for LaPorte High School?
“I played hockey. We played our games at Notre Dame. We won the tournament one year, beating out the South Bend schools.”
What position did you play?
“Defense. I did a lot of skating backwards.”
“About three years ago, I bought the land off of Kevin Gumz who moved to Kentucky. His dad still farms across the street.”
How many members of the hunt club?
“There are 35 of us.”
“There’s a waiting list.”
From where do some of the members hail?
“Logansport, Indianapolis, Lafayette, Chicago, Munster ... there’s a half dozen members from North Judson. It’s an interesting group of guys. There are doctors, retired guys, blue-collar craftsmen. ... They’re from all walks of life — heart surgeons to mechanics.”
“Oct. 19. The season closes Dec. 29. We only hunt five days a week; we’re closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And we don’t hunt at daybreak. We go out about 7 a.m. until noon. That way the ducks can be left alone the rest of the day and night.”
There wasn’t much rain in 2011 and 2012. Did that affect duck hunting?
“Last year was a little off because of the drought. The Kankakee River was the lowest it had been in 50 years according to some of the farmers around here.”
What is the most common duck harvested?
“Early in the season, you’ll shoot more teal and wood ducks. Later, more mallards and pintails.”
“We get few black ducks and an occasional canvasback.”
Why do hunters turn their noses up when it comes to shooting a coot? Are they not good to eat?
“I guess not. You’re allowed 15 of them. They’re slow flyers and they’re dumb.”
How many blinds will you set up?
“There will be 10 pit blinds on this particular property. I recently bought another 300 acres of land a couple miles east and a mile north of here that includes about five miles of riverfront property.
“When I walk along that old river bottom I can only imagine what it used to look like. You can see where the original river was just as clear as day — 60 feet wide.”
That had to be something 120 years ago.
“I plan on putting it into (Wetlands Reserve Program). We’ve working with the government and Ducks Unlimited. I don’t really care that much about the hunting and the shooting anymore.
“See that box on the wall? That’s what we call a hen box. Legally, in Indiana, you’re allowed to shoot two hen mallards per day. If you shoot two hens here, you get fined $20. We’re into their preservation. We donate the money to D.U. at the end of the year.”
Are you a member of Ducks Unlimited?
“I’m co-chairman of the Kankakee Valley chapter. People think whenever you do projects like this you’re doing it for the money. The government will pay me about $3,800 an acre to put this in WRP. I can pick up the phone and sell this land for $8,000 to $10,000 per acre. I’m not in it for the money.
“We spend 10 months a year working on this property and the environment. We only hunt two months. Like I said, hunting really has become secondary.”
Traveled afar to duck hunt?
“Oh, sure. I’ve been to South Dakota in the early season and down in Arkansas in January.”
If I came back here in a couple months and looked out this glass wall just before sundown, what would see?
“By mid afternoon, toward the end of October, you’d see literally thousands of ducks coming into the picked corn to spend the night.”
And nobody on this property would be shooting at them at that time of day or evening?
“That’s the way we want it.”
Back in J. Lorenzo Werich’s day, the waterfowl literally blackened the sky in the Grand Kankakee Marsh.
Ducks might not blacken the sky today there, but it’s good to know they can be seen by the thousands, thanks to folks like Jeff Dunifon who believe in restoration and abiding by hunting rules and regulations.