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Is Illinois deer management working?

November 30, 2007 at 06:48 PM
This is a sample of the kind of writing you should look for in Kevin Chapman's Weblog (KC's Bowhunting Blog) on Prairie State Outdoors. Click here to see more entries.

As an accountant by trade, I’m always fascinated with numbers, statistics, and figures. And I know very well how numbers can be presented in ways that can be misleading. Just remember the old saying, “Figures lie and liars figure.”

For starters, let me say that I like the new check-in system for Illinois deer hunting. I believe that the data the Department of Natural Resources is getting is every bit as accurate as the old data that was still being compiled the following summer. I’m sure there are some deer that go unchecked, and some measurement data that is bogus, but overall I think the system is working well. That is evidenced by the timely harvest totals that the DNR has made available real-time throughout the 2007 season. But that’s where my satisfaction with the harvest data ends. It seems that we only hear about the Illinois deer harvest three to four times a year: after the first gun season, after the second gun season, and at least once more after archery season wraps up. What seems to be lacking is the analysis of what that data means, and how it’s used going into future seasons.

I’d heard the news that Illinois hunters had set records for gun season harvest for the first season. That was no surprise. More permits being sold is likely the main reason for that. More hunters in the woods carrying more permits is bound to result in more deer being killed. Opening up more late-season opportunities in a dozen new counties each year is going to increase our overall harvest. Giving out full-season antlerless tags in counties that haven’t had them in recent years will also increase our overall harvest.

And don’t forget, adding an additional half hour of hunting during peak deer movement times should also add significant increases. With all those factors in our favor, why did the harvest only increase, statewide, 38 deer over last year? Are we really focusing on the geographical areas that need the help? Are we getting the real story from the DNR, or just a cookie-cutter press release that’s probably copied and pasted from year to year that begins with a celebratory pat on the back from the most recent acting director du jour?

It’s no secret that the “Golden Triangle” of Illinois is the whitetail deer mecca of the world. It’s a big business now. Tourism, TV hunting shows, dozens of magazine articles, outfitting, land leasing, and photos that circle the globe via the internet show just how popular that area has become over the last two decades. With all the hype and glory comes management downfalls that we’ve all heard about over that same time frame. Lack of land to hunt without paying thousands of dollars a week has become an issue. The deer harvest focusing more on big bucks than a well-balanced ratio that we typically see in non-commercialized areas is also causing problems.

All this results in a population explosion because of a lack of doe harvest. It’s all a vicious circle. I’ve been to public hearings where the very people who are complaining about having too many deer are the very ones who are selling hunts on their land to the sector of the public that doesn’t want to shoot does, and they won’t allow access to the people who will. It’s no secret, and we’ve all heard the official comments from the state biologists who agree with the problem. But I won’t get off track here on those topics.

So exactly how are we faring in the commercialized areas where the DNR wants the herd reduced? While the DNR was touting the record harvest, perfect weather conditions, and early crop harvest, they failed to mention anything about management objectives in key areas. Are management goals being met? Are we taking enough does to control the herd? Are hunters seeing more/less deer than in previous years? There’s no excuses this year. We had the best conditions that anyone could hope for, in a first gun season that typically accounts for more than one-third of the total deer harvest for the year.

What have we learned from the data, and how does that change our objectives for the future? The deer herd in Illinois belongs to the people, so why can’t we have a look at what our DNR plans to do? Other states do a much better job of communicating with hunters on their management objectives. Why are we always forced to read between the lines and try to figure out what the computer models in Springfield are telling us to do?

Sorry, there I go getting off-topic again.

Here’s a look at the 1st season gun harvest data in the counties that are typically known for commercialized hunting and high deer numbers:

Adams - down 219 (-9.2%)
Brown - down 195 (-14.6%)
Calhoun - down 205 (-16.5%)
Pike - down 168 (-6.0%)
Schuyler - down 80 (-5.6%)

There’s your Golden Triangle, folks. Does anyone think we can accomplish management goals with double-digit harvest decreases during seasons with absolutely perfect hunting conditions? Whatever the reason for the decreases (and there are several), we need to get a handle on the situation and quit ignoring it. The top three counties for first season gun harvest all saw significant decreases from last year, in a year where the rest of the state was increasing due to more liberal harvest guidelines and perfect conditions. The biggest decreases came from areas with the highest deer populations where the DNR has been frantically trying to kill more deer each year. Does that make sense to anyone?

Also decreasing more than 10 percent were Kane, Jersey, Pope (the state’s largest decrease with 272 less deer, a 15.6 percent decline), Stark, Boone, Monroe, Lawrence, Kendall, Randolph, and Wabash counties. The total of all counties over 10 percent, plus the “Golden Triangle” counties (15 counties total) accounted for 1,851 fewer deer being killed.

So who were the big winners? A total of 19 counties recorded increases greater than 10 percent. Those counties include (in order of the amount of increase) Knox, JoDaviess, Iroquois, Carroll, Logan, Bureau, Winnebago, Livingston, Henry, Whiteside, Piatt, Grundy, Hardin, McHenry, LaSalle, Stephenson, Champaign, Kankakee, and Lake. Champaign and Lake counties both recorded over 25 percent increases. The total of all double digit increases accounted for a increase of 1,656 more deer being killed. More counties (19) with double digit increases couldn’t come close to the loss that came from fewer counties (15) with more than 10 percent losses.

This tells me that the overall increase came in the counties with the smallest totals to begin with, and the counties with the highest deer populations are losing ground. Again, are we accomplishing our management objectives?

I know that’s a lot of numbers to digest all at once. But I think it begs the question, “Are the harvest totals focusing on the areas that need more deer harvested?” Are we taking too many deer in areas that we shouldn’t be. We’ll probably never know the answer to questions like that because the DNR’s management objectives are about as top secret as our government’s Middle East intelligence. But I think the time has come to let us ask the questions that need asked. Hunters today are much more informed on management issues. Besides, we have a lot at stake with our resource, and we should have a voice in management issues and objectives. There’s a time and place for the computer-modeled deer herds, but there’s also a time and place for real hunters with real observations and ideas.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I too would like to see more detailed data released.  With the electronic check-in system, it should be just as easy to break the numbers down to how many bucks and does were reported as it is to report the total numbers.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/29 at 07:23 AM

If they would allow one antlerless tag to go along with the eithersex tag I’m sure you would see a large increase in the deer numbers harvested. Can you really blame them for spending the big bucks it cost to hunt Illinois only to take a doe? I know my group would love to have an extra antlerless tag to use to help control the doe numbers.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/29 at 08:49 AM

I would love to see, only based on management issues, for a hunter to have to take a doe first, then a buck.  Now, I would hate this more than the next hunter, and outfitters would have a fit, but it really is the only way to make sure that does are taken each year.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/30 at 05:30 PM

I can tell you most of the counties that where down in harvest numbers…are those that have experienced drought conditions. Could it be EHD?? We will probably never know, because the IDNR needs the money! Control Doe’s?? I have only seen 3 all season and I am located in WC-IL

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/30 at 08:18 PM

Glad to see this is at least stimulating some discussion. A few details I left out of the article. The DNR issued 43,000 more gun permits this year than last year. Sure would be nice to know where those permits were added. Their numbers state that they went from 335,000 to 378,000, almost a 13% increase in permits issued. We added 1/2 hour of hunting during prime deer movement times. And we have a total of 38 more deer killed thus far. Look for 2nd season numbers to be somewhat comparable to last year, since they are predicting more bad weather this weekend.

Posted by KC-IBS on 11/30 at 10:30 PM

It seems very odd that for a number of years now regardless of the number of hunters, permits, or length of day that the totals for the deer season(s) always seem to hover around the same figures or display a minor change one way or the other.

This year, according to Mr. Chapmans research the counties with some of the highest numbers of deer AND deer hunters returned significant decreases in the number of registered deer. 

The G-triangle is heavily outfitted catering primarily to the N/R hunters.  The overwhelming number N/R’s don’t come to Illinois to shoot does they come for trophy deer (understandably).

Unless the hunters in these areas just arn’t seeing trophy deer to shoot I can’t see how there could be a decrease in deer registrations other than maybe….the deer just arn’t being registerd?

Perhaps with more data from the state we could determine whether this decline in numbers might be a result of any of the following:

1.  Fewer trophy deer in the G-triangle.
2.  An access related problem derived from outfitting/leasing.
3.  A failure of the call-in (honor system) registration system.
4.  A combination of the above.

With the data the state asks for during registration it should be easy to provide the citizens of Illinois with not only number of deer taken in total but also brken down by sex and age. 
The citizens of Illinois would then know what is actually taking place and sportsmans groups could help the state manage on a county by county basis.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/01 at 11:56 AM

One of the major reason in this years figures decreasing is the drought of last year which caused lots of blue-tongue disease around southern Illinois. This year showed the effect of last year. Many button bucks were deceased after the first well as the second, but this shows natures way of trying to produce the males to strengthen the species. You wil prob see an increase in harvest totals next year in those counties who had lower numbers this fall.

I might also add..the drought of 07 affected vegetation growth as well. This year, 2008 was one of the 1st recovery years from the conditions of the 07 drought.

Be prepared to break harvest totals come 2009 as it can be anticipated there will be a spurt from this years breeding activity…with many does dropping multiple fawns…in many cases, broods of three.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/10 at 10:56 PM

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