LAKE FOREST – Spend enough time around Halas Hall, and you’re bound to see some wildlife.
Peer toward the east, toward the woods that divide the Bears practice fields from the train tracks, and you quickly can forget that you’re standing at the edge of a suburban office park. It’s not uncommon to see deer grazing on grass, walking between trees or blending into a nearby prairie.
“They’re all over,” said Karl Walldorf, the city’s deputy police chief. “It’s a good parcel out there in terms of deer. Especially when the guys work midnights, you can see them. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, opossums – they all come out.”
In that case, Jared Allen should feel right at home.
Allen, who turns 32 on Thursday, is the Bears’ biggest free agent prize of the offseason. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end has tallied 128 ½ sacks in 10 NFL seasons with Kansas City and Minnesota, and he’ll be expected to continue that success after signing a four-year deal with the Bears last week.
But Allen’s sporting passions are not limited to football. He’s an avid hunter and outdoorsman, and his boldest kills have included an elk (with a spear) and a wild boar (with a hunting knife).
“I eat what I kill,” Allen told The Sporting News during a bear hunt in Idaho in 2008. “So, for me, it’s kind of primitive. I’ve got to get something for dinner.”
At minimum, it seems, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who carry a spear into the mountains, and those who carry a debit card into Panera. It’s clear as to which group Allen belongs.
And, well, let’s just say the Paneras outnumber the mountains around these parts.
“I’m not a big fan of cities,” Allen said Monday at his introductory news conference at Halas Hall, where he wore tan boots, blue jeans and a sports coat over his button-down shirt. “I grew up on a horse ranch. But I’ve always liked Chicago. For some reason, it makes sense. Everything’s kind of sectioned. I can spend more than a couple days here.”
How about more than a couple years?
It was natural, then, to worry whether Allen would be able to fully enjoy his new surroundings. Because it’s against the law to shoot the deer that roam the Bears’ property – “Hypothetically,” Walldorf said, “he can’t fire a firearm inside Lake Forest for the purposes of hunting” – and it’s pretty tough to find spacious, serene places to hunt in a region packed with more than 8 million people.
Pretty tough, but not impossible.
Take Moraine Hills State Park, for example. The 2,500-acre property east of McHenry is a terrific spot for firearm and archery deer hunting during the late fall as long as one has the proper permits.
Besides, it’s not as if Allen will have a busy schedule in late October or Novemb–… Oh.
“The hunting season is probably not going to work out real well for him,” said Greg Kelly, the site superintendent at Moraine Hills State Park. “Because it’s right in the middle of football season.
“But if he wants to come out here and train prior to football season, by all means, this would be a great place to come and bring his bicycle. We have over 10 miles of dedicated bike trails. Or he could run. We have all kinds of trails for running, walking.
“It’s a perfect spot to get ready for that Bear weather.”
If Allen doesn’t mind racking up some mileage on his pickup truck – at least, I assume that he drives a pickup truck, something like a Ford F-Ten Thousand – then he could head west toward DeKalb or south toward Kankakee for more prime hunting ground. Or he could put the hunting on hold for a weekend and enjoy the underrated biodiversity that exists in and around Chicago.
“A lot of it has to do with Lake Michigan,” said Chris Young, the public information officer with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Northeast Illinois is really a great resource.”
So enjoy your new home, Mr. Allen. Admire the wildlife around Halas Hall, even if you can’t eat it.
Oh, and one more thing. Feel free to hunt opposing quarterbacks this fall at Soldier Field.
It’s perfectly legal, according to the police. In fact, it’s expected.
“For $16 million,” Walldorf said, “I would hope so.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @tcmusick.