It’s a deer time of year for hunters
- Legal hunting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
- The first weekend of firearm deer-hunting season begins this morning and closes a half-hour after sunset Sunday.
- The second weekend of firearm deer-hunting season will be Dec. 4-7.
- Archery deer season began Oct. 1 and continues through Jan. 15, although archery hunters have to stay on the sidelines during firearm season or hunt with a shotgun, muzzle-loading rifle or handgun.
- Hunting with muzzleloading rifles only will be Dec. 12-14.
- The antlerless-only season for firearms will be Jan. 16-18, after the close of archery season.
The car heading north on U.S. 67 toward Macomb on Saturday stopped dead in the middle of the road. The driver’s head craned in the direction of a harvested cornfield to his left.
Standing tall, less than 100 yards off the highway, in the company of three does, was a nice buck. His antlers — at least a dozen points — stretched skyward.
The cornfield buck could focus on his courting rituals Saturday. But that changed Friday when about 200,000 hunters clad in bright orange hats and vests swarmed into Illinois woods and fields for the first weekend of firearm deer-hunting season.
Some hunters are looking for a trophy, the deer that looks great mounted above the fireplace. Others are hunting to fill the freezer with lean meat.
David Jostes of Rochester is one of the latter.
He said he hunts 30 to 40 times throughout the state’s various deer seasons to feed his family with five girls from age 3 to 16.
“That’s my first priority,” Jostes said. “I try to fill up our freezer. I’ve got five girls, and that’s all they eat.
“And I’ve got several friends and family members that I get deer for if I can.”
Jostes said he had a hunting location picked out for today where he had spotted a nice buck, but the wind is forecast to be out of the wrong direction.
“That may affect where I end up,” he said. “I’ve shot three small ones so far (during bow season), and I’ll be out bright and early (today).”
Jordan Snyder, 14, of Virginia already has tasted success this season, bagging a trophy-sized, 14-point buck with a bow last weekend. He can afford to be picky this weekend.
“I only plan on shooting a buck if it’s a nice-size deer,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to beat the one I killed on Nov. 16.”
Some hunters complain that firearm season is starting later this year and the peak of deer breeding activity may be past.
“It’s a bit later than usual, and some hunters fear they will miss the peak of the rut,” said Paul Shelton, forest wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Archery season always opens on Oct. 1, so it is a set date. But firearm deer-hunting season always is the weekend prior to Thanksgiving.
“So it moves forward or backward depending on how it hits those calendar dates,” Shelton said. “Nov. 16 was the opener last year, and that’s as early as it can get. So this year it is five days later.”
Still, for Snyder — who got his bow just a few weeks ago — having a big buck wander into range was an exciting experience.
“When I saw this deer, my heart started racing, and when it started making its way to me, I told myself I was going to have to calm down,” Snyder said. “I didn’t realize it was that big until I saw it up close.
“Then we made a lot of calls and photos, and everyone’s told me it was a once-in-a-lifetime deer, and I may never get a chance at something like that again.”