Rethinking the antlerless season
A growing number of Illinois deer hunters have been screaming for deer hunting regulations which help promote a healthy and well-balanced whitetail herd. At times hunters have been left feeling like their reasonable pleas have fallen on deaf ears within the Department of Natural Resources.
Admittedly, hunters cannot fully appreciate the political hurdles that our DNR must clear each time they try to do the right thing. And I am not sure that concerned hunters have always done the best job expressing their desires to the DNR. I say this because I recently listened to a DNR employee on an outdoor radio show and his interpretation of the views expressed to DNR by hunters looking for a well managed deer herd were simply “off-base” from any views that I or anyone that I am aware of have expressed.
This person seemed to believe that there is an outspoken group who “wants to protect every button buck in the state until it wears Boone & Crocket class antlers” and that this same group wants a deer population significantly higher than it is today. Both assumptions are totally wrong.
Along with a small army of other concerned Illinois hunters, I have been involved for many years in efforts to get our DNR to manage our deer herd for better quality. Other than a limit on the number of bucks which can be shot, I know of no efforts to force any sort of restrictions on bucks which can be shot or which are off limits.
There has been occasional banter by a very few individuals concerning regulations such as antler point restrictions or spread limits. These ideas were never embraced by a large group and are frankly not the kind of regulation changes that are needed. In fact these ideas are not supported by the majority of those hunters who have actively lobbied our DNR for positive regulation changes.
Instead we have asked for some simple tweaking of the current regulations so that the results are a deer herd that is more balanced in terms of sex ratios and age structure. In the past DNR admitted to managing Illinois deer herd simply by numbers, without regards to other herd dynamics. This is what many of us oppose.
Simple issues such as the timing of seasons can go a long way towards improving our whitetail herd and the enjoyment that all Illinois citizens get from it. A perfect example is the timing of our Illinois antlerless season.
Our current approach of harvesting surplus antlerless deer at the end of the hunting season can be greatly improved by moving it to the other end of the hunting season; in September. In fact many other states are already doing it. The benefits are so overwhelming that they cannot be ignored.
1. Participation: In September hunters are itching to get to the woods, weather is good and does are easier to pattern. Inlate December and January many hunters have had their fill of hunting, have their freezers full of venison and the weather can be brutal. We saw that last weekend during a frigid first segment of the late-winter hunt that saw reduced hunter participation.
A September hunt is also much more appealing to youth, women and older hunters. With hunter numbers declining and DNR looking for ways to “increase recreation opportunity”, a September antlerless season makes perfect sense.
2. Harvesting target animals: The whole reason for the antlerless season is to harvest female deer to control or decrease population growth. During the January season many bucks that have shed their antlers get shot as do button bucks which are hard to distinguish from their mothers at this time. A September alternative completely eliminates any shed bucks from being shot and at this time it is far easier to distinguish mature does from button buck fawns.
Furthermore, any deer that survives through 3+ months of hunting season is a pretty tough challenge come January. A September season is far superior for harvesting the target animals (does)
3.Timing: One major negative of any whitetail herd is the deer-vehicle accidents that are inevitable. Having an antlerless season before the period of highest deer-vehicle crashes should help decrease the number of these accidents and makes far more sense than having it after the peak time for these accidents.
4. Benefits to the herd:- Research and surveys have proven that most hunters want to harvest about two deer per season as this is about what they will utilize during a year. With the January antlerless season, many hunters have already filled all the tags they care to and often with two bucks. The September alternative allows hunters a chance to get some venison in the freezer before they even start hunting for bucks.
Admittedly, a September antlerless season may or may not have much effect on the buck harvest during later seasons. But it will surely decrease the number of bucks shot during it. Furthermore, our current late antlerless season coincides with the regular archery season where both bucks and does are legal game.
It is easy to imagine bucks getting shot with firearms during the late antlerless season and then tagged with archery tags and called in as archery harvests. This is just another reason to move the antlerless season to September.
In summary, an antlerless season can and should do much more than just kill some more deer. A well thought out antlerless campaign can address the issue of population control while also having the benefit of getting the sex ratio of a herd in line. I don’t think anyone could successfully argue the merits of a January antlerless season over the September alternative. This is but one example of how tweaking our current deer hunting regulations can result in a healthier and more balanced deer herd while also offering other benefits such as population control and hunter opportunity.
In closing I want to express my opinion that the best way to address any concerns we have with the management of our deer herd is through the DNR, not through legislators. It seems in recent years too many special interest groups have begun taking their plights to legislators and trying to legislate their desires. This is the wrong approach.
Think about it: the vast majority of legislators have probably never even been hunting and yet some are asking these folks to vote on hunting and wildlife management issues. We may not always agree with the DNR or even question the motives of some individuals within DNR but that is still the group ultimately responsible for the management of our deer herd and the group we should be taking our concerns to. As we strive to improve Illinois whitetail herd, moving the antlerless season to September would seem to be without negative consequences and a no-brainer.
It is these kinds of changes that benefit both the herd and the hunter that most of us wish for. Having the DNR working with concerned hunters to make this happen is a positive step in the right direction. Hopefully it is only the first step.