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A biologist’s view on deer management

February 02, 2009 at 09:10 PM

Paul Shelton is a man on a hot seat.

As Illinois deer biologist, he faces a juggling act that is virtually impossible to pull off.

Some trophy buck hunters are angry the state is not managing more for trophy bucks.

Some gun hunters are angry that bowhunters seem to have so much say in management, not to mention such a long season.

Some bowhunters are worried that gun hunters may soon be infringing on their season.

Outfitters demand more permits.

Some resident hunters demand the outfitters should have fewer permits.

Meanwhile, politicians are tired of hearing complaints from constituents about damage to crops by deer or damage to vehicles by collisions with deer. And insurance agents are tired of paying out claims for the same problems.

Dealing with these various different social interests means Shelton’s job is not based strictly on science and requires him to try to find a middle ground in deer management that will satisfy all parties. As is often the case, though, compromise winds up making all sides unhappy.

With that in mind, here are some of Shelton’s comments on a variety of deer-management topics during a recent interview with Jeff Lampe of

Harvest was down 5.3 percent this year. Any comments?

“Our harvests since 2004 have been pretty much on a plane. Our peak was in 2005 and since then our harvests have all ranged with 5-6 percent of each other. So harvest has been relatively steady for the past several years.

“We had about a 50-50 buck-doe ration this year. Actually, this year our doe harvest was up 1,200 (less than 1 percent) but our buck harvest was down about 12,000. And a lot of the Midwestern states saw harvest patterns similar to ours.”

Recently, writer Don Higgins quoted you as saying ‘The fact is the health of the Illinois deer herd is great — exceptional. We’re nowhere near carrying capacity.’ So why do we need to reduce the deer population?

“There’s a number of factors that come into play besides where the deer herd is compared to carrying capacity. There’s a lot of people in this state and they have a lot of interests other than deer. And so what constitutes acceptable deer levels becomes more of an issue of social acceptance than it does of where the deer herd is in relation to biological carrying capacity.

“The problem is that the sheer number of deer that could be supported by our landscape in Illinois is huge. And so we can’t simply base how many deer should be out there on that figure. We have to look at are farmers able to grow crops reasonably? Is damage to farm crops excessive? Are deer-vehicle accidents of concern to a number of public groups? Like it or not, they are.”

Didn’t deer-vehicle collisions peak in 2003?

“Nobody is arguing that.”

What’s next for recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Deer Population Control?

“Official decisions obviously will be made during the internal review process of the ad rules. How they come out at the end of that process will essentially determine whether or not something is going to be changed. I would like to think sometime during the next several weeks that a determination will be made (regarding which recommendations are drafted as ad rule changes). The ad rule timeline is such that for firearm and muzzleloader seasons in particular, with early drawing periods you need to have your ad rules well into the process.”

Some have questioned whether there are any days left for firearm hunting, since the state is limited by statute to 14 days of firearm hunting.

“The way legal staff have interpreted the language on days is that you have a set number of days of firearm hunting and that applies to a geographic area, or a county or a site. It does not necessarily extend to the rest of the county.”

In other words, anywhere you are hunting has 14 days for firearm deer hunting. Just because a nearby site may use days for a handicapped hunt would not preclude the state from adding a fourth day to the first firearm season.

So adding a Monday to the first season is still a possibility?

“There is nothing in statute that would prohibit that. And the late-winter rules are in excess of that (14-day limitation) so there’s not a limit on adding days in the surplus deer season.”

Why not go to a September antlerless-only season instead of adding days to the late-winter hunt or creating an October season, as has been mentioned?

“I wouldn’t say I rule out the possibility of a September season. I’ve heard the arguments about good weather. I’m not sure that everybody would agree 80 degrees is prime deer hunting weather. But at the same time I wouldn’t say that’s something that’s inconceivable.

“At the same time, I didn’t see anything that was all that bad about an October season, other than the fact bowhunters didn’t want to give up that time. I do see some negatives around an October season if those places that need antlerless harvest the most are not going to participate in it. If they would opt to not to participate in those areas, I would agree that’s not a good thing. But I’m not sure having it earlier would get us around that. I’m not sure they would want hunters in the woods in late September prior to paying customers coming in to bowhunt.”

What about the thought that extending the late-winter season will lead to more mature bucks being shot because they have already shed their antlers?

“The expectation when you have an antlerless season is that you can expect to harvest somewhere between 20-25 percent bucks. That just happens. If you look at the (October) youth hunt for comparison, when it was antlerless only the buck harvest was 20-25 percent. And that’s what it is during our January season.

“The thing is, how many mature bucks are getting killed? It’s one thing to say there’s tons of bucks out there getting killed. It’s difficult to argue that. People say that without data and everybody buys off on it. But what are you basing it on? If we look, for instance, at a survey done by (Southern Illinois University), they looked at when antlers are shed. Prior to Jan. 15 it was a very, very small percentage.”

Is it feasible that Illinois can sell over-the-counter permits for firearm seasons this fall and for next winter’s late-winter season?

“We’ve had several discussions with the folks that handle our (point of sale) system and harvest reporting and they have done similar things in other states. They seem to think that is doable. But you have to look at the limitations on the system and how friendly it’s going to be. It would be much easier if all our vendors were selling permits through a computer screen process where they had a big screen and it was more interactive. Most of them have a two-line readout and the amount of information is very limited. We have to look at how friendly we can make this logistically. I think it is doable.”

Shelton added that selling permits may involve a hunter, “Running through the application process on their home computer and then printing a confirmation number that the vendor can use to print them a permit.”

Have there been many new cases of chronic wasting disease so far this season?

“At last count we were up to 18 for this season since July 1. All of those so far have been in the four primary counties. I think we’re probably very similar to where we were last year. We peaked at 51 total for a couple of years and last year I believe we had 38 (cases of CWD) when all was said and done.”






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

The problem that I can see with the selling of permits in the fall is this. Our great state has our permit money sitting in an account that draws interest for about a month before they draw the tags. This money as I understand it goes into the general fund to be used were ever they want it, most of the time not for conservation use. I really do not see the fatcats giving up this money for all their pet projects. Here is some numbers to think about. If 300,000 hunters apply for deer tags at $ 15.00 per tag that is 4,500,000 dollars. Then take that by just 2% . You then get a total of 90,000. I know that that is not a lot in the grand total of things but you can get the idea. I am sure that there are more than 300,000 tags applied for and the interest rate is more than 2%!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/02 at 10:47 PM

I should have stated in my last posting that the money that goes into the general fund is the interest money taken off of the deer tag fee, not the deer tag money itself. Sorry about that.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/02 at 10:51 PM

A little over 2 years ago, the IDNR asked IBS ( IL bowhunters society) to help promote new legislation, to allow the youth firearm season to be changed to either-sex. We were told then that it could only be changed with legislation, because the wildlife code limits the days of open gun season & all those days are already being used.
NOW, we are being told that they CAN, add more gun day without legislation ??????
So who figured that out now ? The Farm Bureau’s lawyers ???
So how many more guns days can be added now ???
How does a task force, set up to control herd levels only, have any business recommending more buck hunting anyway ????? That is not good herd management , especially in light of this years kill being 12,000 buck less already.
Lets just forget this underhanded business of trying to sneak in another day to first gunseason. Most all of us in the know, know full well that this is just Senator John Sullivains ( AKA the FB’s boy ) work. It was a last meeting add on, that was NEVER NEVER discussed with the public.
Lets play by the rules here & forget the parlor trick. Lets worry about the herd only & forget trying to line some peoples pockets with more $$$$$, at the expense of our IL deerherd !!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/02 at 11:13 PM

I thought we were getting questions answered, not having a dance contest!

What was interesting in the question about September doe harvest…in the last sentence of his answer I quote, “I’m not sure they would want hunters in the woods in late September prior to paying customers coming in to bowhunt.” - so you are basing your answers around outfitters…right?  So we can have an antlerless season….just not if it affects outfitters. 

Opening bow season up for a earn a buck from Sept 15 - Sept 30th would get you what you are looking for, it gets outfitters another chance to sell permits, it gets doe harvests up, it makes insurance companies happy….what is the problem?

YOu also mentioned most bucks don’t drop until Jan 15…well, it doesn’t matter when you are still recording 20 - 25% buck harvests with the late season hunt.  That dog doesn’t hunt!

All I have to say is meet MR Pat Quinn!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/03 at 01:04 PM

and in my opinion those responses are why he is on the hot seat.  He doesnt care about hunters.  Notice he didnt take the avg residents side on one single issue.  He backed the outfitters… he backed the farmers. But at no time was he going to do anything to help hunters other than help them kill off their herd but help the outfitters make no changes.

1. Sounds like most government management systems dropped the ball by being retroactive on late summer diseases huh? 

2. i will agree there are other factors included in herd management other than capacity.  But you have to manage it fairly and not looking out for the pay industry and saying screw the IL resident he has to pull all the weight by killing all the deer on land in resident control.  I would love to see how many deer are involved in DVA that originate 1. within half a mile of outfitted land 2. Within half a mile of huge tracks of government controlled land ie siue campus.  I feel these likely make up a significant percent of DVA accidents. And crop damage IS NOT common if hunting is allowed on most properties in the area.  Just a smoke screen to make farmers happy.

3.  His response to 3 makes it seem that he doesnt really car that the population peaked 5 years ago.

The discussion about how to empliment the changes basically says bend over and get ready to take it. 

4.  He really helps his image when he feels that late season harvest would be better than september harvest when all someone has to do is sit on a lawn chair near a bean field to get a doe.  WHen deer are using a tremendous amount of habitat and not pushed onto select land like they are late season.  If people can squirrel hunt in august… they can deer hunt in mid sept mornings.

5 and not his quote from shedding bucks comes from SIU which is in the very bottom end of the state where the last shedding in the state occurs.  Anyone who actually wants to know about shedding times need only go to north american shed hunters club page where they document when the first sheds are found.  I think Northern IL started somewhere around 12-20-08.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/03 at 01:16 PM

I’m sure there are hunters in the southern states that would love to be hunting in our late September weather… They seem to be able to kill deer in warmer weather than that.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/03 at 02:23 PM

“There is no one in that “Task force” who has the best interest of the deer herd or future deer hunters in mind.”

That is flat out wrong.

There were two guys on the task force who were very vocal in their support of the best interests of resident hunters and maintaining a quality herd. Jerry Beverlin and Jim McFarlane did everything they could, but the fact they were outnumbered and frequently shot down.

Andy I saw this with my own eyes at the meetings I attended, and I don’t think you should be so quick to slam everyone. It kinda sucks to volunteer your time and stand up for what you believe in….and then get stabbed in the back for your efforts.

Posted by Henry Holt on 02/03 at 08:27 PM

Jeff, you pretty well summed this interview up when you stated: “As is often the case, though, compromise winds up making all sides unhappy.” It reminds me of the old joke about how the two humped camel came about by the compromises made during the design of the horse by a committee. Am I the only deer hunter with a problem with the head deer biologist in Illinois making a statement like: “There?s a lot of people in this state and they have a lot of interests other than deer. And so what constitutes acceptable deer levels becomes more of an issue of social acceptance than it does of where the deer herd is in relation to biological carrying capacity.”  Scientific deer herd management based upon ‘social acceptance’ rather than biological carrying capacity, sounds a lot like let’s manage the deer herd in Illinois on political correctness issues rather than sound biological principals.  If we’re going to do that then we don’t need biologists to make the management decisions, we need “social engineers” and bean counters, legislators and lobbyists, Deer Task Force Committees and insurance salesmen.  Oh well, I forgot, that’s the way its done now.  What’s new?  My two questions for Mr. Shelton are these.  Why did they go to all the trouble of creating the public comment forms, setting up the public comment website, conduct public meetings at five different locations statewide during this past Fall to get public comments for the Deer Task Force Committee input, and then, not even consider any of the public comments or input?  Do any of the biologist at the IDNR know why the deer-vehicle collisions peaked in 2003 and have been going steadily down from then?
Could it be simply because the deer herd numbers in Illinois have been steadily declining since 2003?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/03 at 08:45 PM

Illinois deer herd is clearly being managed and destroyed by politics and an accountant. Biology was thrown out the window more than a decade ago.
In no way should the herd be managed for “carrying capacity” but the “social issues” needed kicked out the window as well. We need to manage by biology for a well balanced herd in terms of age structure and sex ratio. If we dont have a whitetail biologist in place with the guts to stand up to special interest groups and politicians then we need to find another one. The average deer hunter in Illinois could do a better job of managing our deer herd than what our current biologists are doing.

Loomis and Calhoun created their legacy by the whitetail herd they left the next generation, it looks like Shelton and Buhnerkempe are gonna do the same. Your grandkids will be proud fellas.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/03 at 08:45 PM

I think Shelton is flat out wrong about the gun days.

“(520 ILCS 5/2.25) (from Ch. 61, par. 2.25)
  Sec. 2.25. It shall be unlawful for any person to take deer except (i) with a shotgun, handgun, or muzzleloading rifle or (ii) as provided by administrative rule, with a bow and arrow, or crossbow device for handicapped persons, as defined in Section 2.33, and persons age 62 or older during the open season of not more than 14 days which will be set annually by the Director between the dates of November 1st and December 31st, both inclusive, or a special 2?day, youth?only season between the dates of September 1 and October 31.”

OPEN SEASON OF NOT MORE THAN 14 DAYS.  Where does it say that you can get around it by having more days at certain sites within a county?

As for the late-winter season, here’s the section that grants DNR permission outside of this section:

“The Department is authorized to establish a separate harvest period at specific sites within the State for the purpose of harvesting surplus deer that cannot be taken during the regular season provided for the taking of deer. This season shall be restricted to gun or bow and arrow hunting only and shall be established during the period of September 1st to February 15th, both inclusive.”

If the DNR is going to use this “excuse” for these extra days, then I’d like to know why they allow the taking of antlered deer on these “surplus hunts” (which is supposed to be for controlling the deer herd)... and why these animals can’t be “taken during the regular season”... as is required by the law??????

Posted by KC-IBS on 02/03 at 08:53 PM

And shouldn’t the head deer biologist of the State of Illinois know why we’re down 12,000 bucks from last year?  Isn’t it his job to know these things?  The fact that harvest is down thoughout the Midwest is not an answer to the question asked.  Why is it down?  Should be the question.  Because the population of deer and especially bucks is way down is the answer.  But we ask again, Why are they down?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/03 at 09:25 PM

One more thing… the simple fact that Shelton even had a “legal” answer to the gun season days implies that they are thinking about adding the extra day of E/S gun hunting.  That right there should tell you where DNR’s priorities are.  They care more about pandering to Senator Sullivan and his outfitting buddies than they do about looking for REAL solutions to their perceived doe population problems.  For crying out loud… how many DOES are going to get shot on that day that couldn’t be shot in the other 7 gun seaosn days?

Posted by KC-IBS on 02/03 at 09:46 PM

Yeah… to be honest looking at this stuff as someone who teaches college level research… its a joke.  If you believe them that DVA is an accurate depiction on the herd population… which they claim… and that it peaked in 2003 which he doesnt dispute, and you notice the kill has increased around 30 percent since 2003… then that would lead someone which any ounce of intelligence to say that the herd is getting much much smaller and a higher percent of the herd is being killed off each year.  But if you simply listen to his reasoning you can see the man is unqualified for rational thought and just attempts to smart people with unscientific charts that are full of obvious tricks to support an agenda.  I would love to know more about mr sheltons qualifications

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/03 at 10:03 PM

Shelton should of considered being a defense lawyer based on his answers.  Sounds to me like a bunch of smoke and mirrors.  I agree with BigD, why are we down 12,000 bucks?  More selective trophy hunting???  I don’t see that.  I am running a ton of cameras on my hunting grounds and the bucks aren’t there.  I know we have a very liberal bow season and I don’t want to rock that boat but why not a earlier opener like many surrounding states do?  I am all for a early antlerless only season but Mr Shelton’s comments show where his heart lies and thats with the outfitters. Hey Mr Shelton, how about giving the kids a few more days afield instead of the whoppin big two days you give them now since we really aren’t numbered on days we can hunt with a firearm, according to you.  Deer herd in great health, maybe in your computer generated world, I think its time you get out of your leather chair and get back in the field.  Thats where real biology takes place.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/03 at 10:20 PM

We know that the IDNR can’t add another day of either-sex gunhunting, with out new legislation. The IDNR already told some of us that 2 years ago. But now the IDNR, Senator Sullivan Inc, the Farm Bureau & some slick lawyers have been watching Blago circumvent the legislature process for years now & they are now going to try to do the same thing.
You would think after millions & millions of dollars in sportsmen’s funds were swept/stolen and now being taken away by the Federal Government. That the people in Springfield would start playing by the rules again.
Looks like nothing is going to change in Springfield & hunters will continue to get screwed over the people who are suppose to be looking out for us.
Sad !

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/04 at 06:17 AM

Flip flop

The additional day will require a legislative change regardless of what Mr. Shelton says. If they add it without the change, a resulting lawsuit would have the judge look at the law that is pretty clear with a total of 14 days. The DNR could present it’s arguements which when then be shown to NOT have credibility given their past track record and interpretation of needing legislative change to add days. The final item of evidence will be the legislative record of the section that will show a history of legislative change to add any days, plus the testimony of the DNR in the past when adding days. This is called legislative intent and can also be considered by the judge.

Finding for the plaintiff, request for injunctive relief granted ordering a halt to the additional day of firearm season by the DNR and state is hereby ordered to pay all reasonable expenses of the plaintiff in bringing this cause before the court.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/04 at 08:04 AM

A couple of notes-

Lee Mitchell is the biologist for Lake Shelbyville and is employed by the Army Corps of Engineers, not DNR. As Andy stated, he is a great guy and would be one heck of a lot better than what we have had for over a decade. AND .... DNR does not even need to hire a new person, they already employ Ron Wilmore who is a biologist and headed up the Clinton Lake project before DNR saw his great work, ripped it away from him and then destroyed it. All that needs to happen is for Shelton and Wilmore to switch jobs! It is really that simple to get us on the right track.

Fewer deer - There is absolutely NO DOUBT that we have fewer deer in many areas of the state right now than we have had in many many years. Properties where I used wo see 15-20 deer, I now see 4 or 5; proeprties where I used to see 5-10 deer, I now see none. I run a minimum of 8 trail cameras from July 1 until the bucks shed antlers and have them out over numerous properties in at least 3 counties and the deer are not there and mature bucks are getting rarer and rarer. THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT WE HAVE FEWER DEER!!!!

Apparently DNR cares about following the law as much as they do about our deer herd- NOT AT ALL! But lets not make any mistake about it, these actions are very likely being dictated by the Farm Bureau and the politicians they have bought off instead of by DNR employees hell bent on destroying our deer herd. The problem is that the DNR employees fear for their jobs and have to choose between supporting their families or doing the right thing for the deer. For this reason, the persom managing the deer herd should be one that is not dependent on the state for their income. I volunteer for the job! I will manage the herd without pay! Think I will take any grief from the Farm Bureau? Ha Ha ha!!! JUST KIDDING! I AM NOT CAMPAIGNING FOR THE JOB! JUST LET WILMORE HAVE IT!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/04 at 08:55 AM

Don, I agree, Ron Wilmore is the man for this job! Ron has it all, the education as a degreed biologist, he’s already employed by the state, he’s an excellent hunter, he’s an excellent wildlife manager and he’s ethical! He understands all aspects of this field.

Posted by Marc Anthony on 02/04 at 09:05 AM

Don and Andy, I am glad someone agrees on the fact that the deer just aren’t there. I am pretty outraged by this late season antlerless only season.  Most of the deer around me being shot are button bucks. We had a bunch 2 1/2 year old bucks, not there anymore in numbers.  A neighbor down the road filled two tags on the late season, both bucks 1 1/2 old that had shed. He is a typical kill monger who has to fill his tags no matter what but then again says he practices TDM. It is a horrible management practice and Shelton has “NO” B—ls when it comes to changing this poor mangement practice. We do need somebody else it that position that looks at it from a biological point of view instead of a number counter.  My nine year old is a mathmatical wizard and he could do that job.  It is smoke and mirrors, and once again he shows where his heart lies based on his comments.  As for Mr Sullivan, I advise his constituants to think twice about electing this guy for another term.  There are a couple of reasons for getting into politics and obviuosly his is not to represent the people of his state.  Whats another day afield gonna do for doe management, especially in areas that are heavily outfitted. I wonder how much revenue that brings in for that area?  Just another dirtbag politician looking out to line his pockets.  I would love to know how many nuisance permits are allocated in these areas due to crop damage.  Seems like in my area if you cry enough your gonna get one.  Land owners call the FB and they direct them to local private lands biologist.  Damage I have personally seen amounts to “normal” crop loss yet the biologist issues a permit.  Pressured by FB politics. I accept what crop loss I have, it come with living in deer country.  Our deer herd isn’t in great health Mr Shelton, get out there.  We got Blagojevich thrown out of his job, now lets work on dead wood that is just there collecting dust.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/04 at 09:49 AM

I just have difficulty understanding it.  There is a 160 acre preserve next to town that causes 4 or 5 DVA’a a year.  If they really wanted to lower DVA dont you think they would open up some of this land to hunting instead of encourage us to slay them on land thats already over hunted?  Mr shelton is CLUELESS

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/04 at 11:54 AM

Shelton is a tool. He has no bussiness opening his mouth when he doesn’t give a flying crap about the lue coller hunter that really brings the herd numbers down and fillthe pockets of the state politicians. What a joke of a man you are Mr. Shelton.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/05 at 10:57 AM

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