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Illinois hunting and fishing

Deer hunters hope their trophy measures up to Boone & Crockett standards. Photos by Chris Young.

The best counties to bag a “Booner”

September 30, 2011 at 07:38 AM

The State Journal-Register

t’s all about the bragging rights.

When hunters settle into their tree stands Saturday morning for the opening day of archery deer season, nearly all will be hoping this is the year when a Boone & Crockett buck happens by.

A “Booner,” as they are known, is a white-tailed deer with antlers big enough to qualify for the North American big game record books kept by the Boone & Crockett Club.

It is a rare event, indeed.

Of all the deer to be killed this coming season, it is likely that fewer than one in 3,000 will qualify.

In 2005, the record year for deer hunters in Illinois, 71 Boone & Crockett-eligible deer were registered out of the 201,209 deer killed by hunters. That’s one out of every 2,834 deer killed.

And while it’s not a scientific look at the Illinois deer herd, perusing the Boone & Crockett database can offer a glimpse into where big deer have been found.

Not all hunters are trophy hunters, of course.

And it’s completely voluntary. Those who kill a large buck do not have to join the club or register their deer.

Other factors come into play, including the weather, and therefore the amount of time hunters spent in the field. And there is the possibility of a lag time between the moment a deer is shot, measured and the trophy is entered into the database.

Still, there’s a lot here to chew on here — and plenty of fuel for a bragging-rights argument.

Perennial Pike

Over the past 20 years, Pike County has reigned as the overall champ when it comes to putting record-setting deer in the book, but that may be changing.

Pike has racked up 41 Boone & Crockett trophies — just over two a year on average.

The “Golden Triangle” of Pike, Brown and Adams counties in west-central Illinois totaled 102 during that same time frame. On the map, the three counties, tucked between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, fit together to form a triangle.

The Golden Triangle has experienced trends similar to the rest of the state. Trophy numbers rose along with numbers of deer killed and declined when harvest numbers went down, although the drop in “Booners” was steeper.

Numbers for the Golden Triangle are broken into five-year increments.

1991-95: 21
1996-2000: 29
2001-05: 37
2006-10: 15

Crunching the numbers

Illinois’ top deer biologist, Paul Shelton, cautions that databases may not be completely up to date.

“At any point in time you step into the database, the peak is going to be sometime before due to the lag time,” says Shelton, forest wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Rules say the deer’s rack has to dry for a period of time before it is officially scored. Hunters routinely take their trophies to large outdoors shows in late winter and early spring to be measured. It can be more than a year before a deer finds its way into the database, Shelton says.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Trophy deer mounts draw a crowd at the Illinois Deer and Turkey Classic in Peoria last March.

Boone & Crockett scorer Tim Walmsley of Fowler, founder of the Illinois Deer and Turkey Classic, said the number of deer brought in for scoring at the Classic held in Peoria last March was down — roughly proportionate to the decline in trophy numbers.

“The numbers (in the database) mirror participation at the Classic,” he said.

Since the record year in 2005, the number of deer taken by hunters has declined from 201,209 to 182,270 in 2010. Trophy numbers went down accordingly.

From 2005 to 2010, hunters registered 71, 65, 48, 38, 47 and 22 “Booners.”
Overall, Illinois has stayed at or near the top of the Boone and Crockett standings over the past decade.

Wisconsin also is perennially in the top three with Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio not far behind.

As for scrutinizing the database, Walmsley says hunters would be wise to look at the number of “Booners” in relation to the number of hunters and permits.

States like Kentucky and Iowa rack up trophies, but have fewer hunters.

“Your best chance is in Iowa because nobody is there,” he says.

New kids on the block

In the past five years, some counties outside the Triangle have been making some noise.
Fulton County racked up nine “Booners” in the past five years to take the top spot.
Hancock, Iroquois and Randolph had eight apiece. Adams, Bureau, Morgan and Schuyler each claimed seven.

Walmsley said scorers are looking at new, up-and-coming trophy-producing areas of the state, such as Jasper and Knox counties.

“We’re watching where they are coming from now,” he said. “We as measurers know the new hot spots are Jasper and Knox, and those counties are now the place to be.”
Farther down the list, Pike County had five. Brown County had three.

The good news, Shelton says, is that big bucks can occur just about anywhere in Illinois.

“Most any county with good habitat has the potential,” he says.

Only the very southern part of the Shawnee Hills in southern Illinois is less than optimal — partly because nutritional levels are not as good as the rest of the state.

“But they do produce and hold up their end,” he says.

That’s because deer numbers have been historically high enough that the odds remain in favor of some deer growing to trophy size, Shelton says.

Population management

For the past few years, Illinois has been striving to reduce the size of its overall deer herd in an effort to cut down on the rate of deer/vehicle accidents per miles driven.

In west-central Illinois, a top destination for deer hunters, accidents involving deer were out of proportion to the rest of the state, Shelton says.

Efforts to kill more deer and bring down the deer/vehicle accident rate in that part of the state could have an effect on the number of trophy animals taken, he says.

Overall, he says, the efforts have been paying off in fewer accidents and a more manageable deer population.

“We’ve still got places where we have our work to do,” Shelton says of efforts to reduce accidents. “Our accident rates have been going down, and we seem to be getting the job done.”

Walmsley says he would like to see the late-winter antlerless seasons moved up to avoid the killing of young “button” bucks and bucks that already have shed their antlers.

“Every time they extend the seasons, it whittles on them more and more,” he says.

Chris Young can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 788-1528.

Big bucks = big bucks

Deer and deer hunting have become big business in Illinois.

To get an idea of how far and how fast deer hunting has grown, one has to look back only about 25 years.

Here’s a passage from the “Bowhunter’s Encyclopedia,” by Dwight R. Schuh, published in 1987:

“Deer inhabit all 102 counties in Illinois, and the population is estimated at 150,000. Illinois sells about 40,000 resident and 100 or so nonresident archery permits each year. In 1983, one of the highest years on record, bowhunters killed 3,500 deer (2,310 bucks and 1,190 does).”

The most recent estimate of the Illinois deer population ranges from 750,000 to 800,000 — at least a five-fold increase. In the record year of 2005, hunters killed more than 201,200 deer in Illinois. Last year, 182,270 deer were killed, with 63,570 of those killed by archery hunters.

Nonresident archery hunters number at least 20,000 with their permits costing north of $400 each for one either-sex and one antlerless deer.

Hunters, and the revenue they generate by the purchase of licenses, permits and stamps, contribute millions of dollars to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to pay for biologists, support staff, habitat improvement and maintenance of public sites.

Deer hunting also has become economically important in west-central Illinois, for example, where tourism supplements an economy based primarily on agriculture.

Big game clubs

Boone & Crockett accepts trophies taken by legal means, including firearms.

For a white-tailed deer with “typical” antlers to be accepted into the all-time record book, it must score a minimum of 170 inches. “Non-typical” deer must score a minimum of 195 inches.

Antlers are scored by adding length of the points, circumference of the antlers at various points, and two measurements of the rack’s width.

Boone & Crockett recognizes white-tailed deer with symmetrical antlers (typical) and those with non-typical racks.

Another big game club, Pope & Young, accepts trophy animals killed with a bow. Minimum scores for acceptance are 125 for white-tailed deer with typical antlers and 155 for those judged non-typical.

Top Illinois counties for Boone & Crockett bucks 1991-2010:

1. Pike: 41
2. Adams: 38
3. Fulton: 37
4. Jo Daviess: 31
5. Macoupin and Schuyler: 26
6. Brown and Greene: 23
7. Randolph: 22
8. Peoria: 21
9. McHenry and Sangamon: 20
10. Clark: 19
11. Morgan: 16
Top counties, 2006-10

1. Fulton: 9
2. Hancock, Iroquois and Randolph: 8
3. Adams, Bureau, Morgan and Schuyler: 7
4. Knox 6
5. Clark, Pike and White: 5
Several counties had four, and Sangamon County tallied three.

Boone & Crockett deer registered from Illinois by year:

2000 — 48
2001 — 60
2002 — 71
2003 — 60
2004 — 72
2005 — 71
2006 — 65
2007 — 48
2008 — 38
2009 — 47
2010 — 22

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

I bet more B&C Bucks hit the ground in Will County every fall, than any other County in the state.  The fact that there havent even been 16 B&Cs; reported in Will Co. in the past 20 years supports what I already know.

I wonder if people are still proud of the “trophy” deer that they poach??

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/30 at 09:02 AM

i have another theory on why record bucks are not being reported.  Why would you advertise you tagged a booner buck only to allow the outfitters to lease your hunting ground. i hunt in a county were 8 booners were taken between 2006-2010….i believe that number to be maybe a 1/3 of actual booners taken. you here about booner bucks in the golden triangle because a greater % of that land is operated by outfitters and they need to sell hunts. i hope every takes this advice and do not share were you shot your buck of a lifetime…you may just end up not having a place to hunt in the future.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/30 at 09:32 AM

Will County: 1991 - 2010: six typical and three non-typical - nine total.

Thanks for the perspective.

Posted by Chris Young on 09/30 at 10:16 AM

The number of B&C bucks is significantly under reported, for a number of reasons.  The first, as stated is because lawful hunters want to keep their honeyholes out of outfitters hands, or from having guys stacked up around them.
In Will Co. you also have a different motivation.  With a population of nearly 700,000 accompanied by 10’s of thousands of acres of private refuge (forest preserves, corporations, etc) you have a recipe for a lot of illegal hunting pressure. 

I understand getting a case of buck fever, but it still amazes me that so many people set their morals aside, and put so much at risk, just for some horns.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/03 at 10:32 AM

I guarantee with 100% certainty that these numbers are not even close to accurate. I know of at least 20 booners over the last 6 seasons in Adams county alone.

What about the large outfitters like Hadley and IL Connection that advertise 70-120 Booners in the last 10 seasons?  I know most of it is BS but come on man. There is no way the numbers in the article are even close.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/12 at 10:20 AM

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