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Commentary: Disease, not cold weather, is reducing deer harvests

January 28, 2014 at 02:24 AM

Peoria Journal Star

This commentary was originally published in the Peoria Journal Star.

I am very curious why the Illinois Department of Natural Resources seems so reluctant to admit to a very obvious and serious factor that has contributed to the overall decline of the number of harvested deer in this state.

In the Jan. 2 Journal Star, a short article on page B3 noted that the overall harvest for the Illinois shotgun deer season was down by more than 25,000. The only excuse listed was the cold weather during the second season.

I feel the truth is that there are significantly fewer deer throughout much of this state. Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) has taken a huge toll on our deer herd over the past two summers. I have talked to many hunters and have heard numerous, consistent stories about how few deer were seen during the shotgun and bow seasons. Furthermore, there are many stories floating about of landowners finding large numbers of dead deer on their properties this past fall.

I help manage a 240-acre hunting club in Knox County. We keep track of the number of deer harvested, the number of deer seen by our hunters, and then calculate the average number of deer seen each day. That number reached a high of 15.4 in 2005 and this year dropped to a low of 6.8. We also found eight deer carcasses after having walked only about 30 percent of the property. I haven't talked to a single hunter who stayed home the second season because it was too cold, but I have talked to people who closed hunting on their private property because so few deer were seen during the first season.

I suspect that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is aware of this problem, but for whatever reason has chosen not to admit its scope. Perhaps they are still gathering information. My own opinion is based on hearsay and my own observations, but I think that this is a significant problem that may influence deer hunting for years to come.

I hope that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is gathering as much information as possible. Once all the facts are known, these results should certainly be shared with the public. If the problem proves to be as devastating as many hunters believe, then let's hope that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources makes some sound decisions about how to best manage our dwindling deer herd in the years to come.

Steven Clark is a semi-retired physician. He lives in Pekin.

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