Are our Illinois whitetail deer really disappearing? The anecdotal evidence says that fewer deer are being seen in our woods. The factual evidence, that hunting harvest numbers are down, point to the same conclusion.
I talked to a pair of Northern Illinois’ most successful hunters, Dave Kranz, from Dave’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy in Crystal Lake and McHenry outdoorsman, Spence Petros.
Neither was convinced that the IDNR’s sharpshooting deer to reduce the impact of CWD had much impact on the numbers. They thought the numbers were low.
Both thought that the EWD disease was more critical. Kranz knew of many property owners who found dead deer but didn’t report them to the state. Petros figured hundreds of uncounted deer died but weren’t reported because the carcasses were eaten by coyotes before being found.
Kranz thought that many hunters did not tag deer because they were eaten, or at least partially eaten, by coyotes before the animals could be found, thus decreasing the harvest numbers.
The total number of deer harvested was down about 18.5 percent statewide. Shotgun deer was down a higher percentage while bow hunters took closer to last year’s number. Both Petros and Kranz blamed terrible weather for the shrinking harvest more than anything else. The bad weather fell more on the shotgun weekends than on any other seasons.
Petros believes that a high degree of hunting pressure has forced the animals to move and eat more in the dark than ever before. Kranz says that more deer were taken during mid-day this year, so go figure.
Both hunters think the late season antlerless hunts do no good except to pare down the herd numbers and wouldn’t miss that season if it were abolished.
The IDNR is planning to make changes to its deer population objectives for more than 40 counties beginning next whitetail season, following a two-year review of their efforts. They are asking deer hunters to provide their opinions through an online survey, on a proposal to end the practice of selling the remaining available firearm deer permits over-the-counter through the end of the firearm season, except for youth under age 16. The survey is available to hunters at www.dnr.illinois.gov.
“In these counties, our strategy is shifting from deer herd reduction to maintaining or increasing deer populations," IDNR Director Marc Miller. "I am committed to professional management of our wildlife, and as always, we want to hear from hunters, landowners, and all other stakeholders on our deer management program.”
Illinois isn’t the only state with questions about their deer herd. We were among a number of Midwestern states in which deer harvest declined in 2013-14, including Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.
All in all, both Petros and Kranz sincerely believe that deer hunting is still better than it was 20 years ago and will rebound on its own. A little boost from the efforts of the IDNR could prove to be a big bonus for us all.
Deer hunting – Illinois hunters took a preliminary total of 74,355 deer during the 2013 Illinois Firearm Deer Season (Nov. 22-24 and Dec. 5-8). Harvest totaled 3,546 deer during the 2013 Illinois Muzzleloader-Only Deer Season (Dec. 13-15), and 3,012 deer during the 2013 Illinois Youth Deer Season (Oct. 12-14).
During the 2013-14 Illinois Archery Deer Season (Oct. 1 - Jan. 19), hunters in Illinois took a preliminary total of 57,290 deer, compared with the archery deer harvest of 59,805 in the 2012-13 archery season.
The 2013-14 Late Winter Antlerless Only and Special CWD deer seasons (Dec. 26-29 and Jan. 17-19) had a combined preliminary harvest total for both seasons of 10,366 deer, compared with a harvest of 14,723 deer taken during those seasons in 2012-13.
Northern Illinois – Dave Kranz from Dave’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy in Crystal Lake reports: “In just over four weeks it will be spring! (We hope!) Last year’s ice went out about April 2. My records show that most years we have experienced ice out on March 17-22. Many small ponds will have some level of winter kill this year. We can only hope that it is not too bad. Take advantage of some of these warm days to get out on the ice. The next few weeks will be a great time to use smelt for pike. Crappies seem to be suspended or just under the ice in most lakes right now. Use small minnows or wigglers for the best action.“ Call 815-455-2040 for updated reports.