Dealing with the Illinois deer herd

September 07, 2008 at 01:57 AM

More meetings

Thursday’s meeting in Rushville was the third of six open meetings being held across Illinois.  Three more meetings are scheduled next week, each from 4-7 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Tuesday at Olney City Park Community Building,
  • Wednesday at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta,
  • Thursday at the Bethany Fire Station.

Don’t feel compelled to make a long drive, though. You can also comment online by clicking here. Through Thursday the DNR has received more than 300 comments online.

 

Chris Klitz arrived at Scripps Park Community Building Thursday with a story that’s becoming common in parts of Illinois.

“I had a friend on our ground who was hunting on opening day of muzzleloader season last fall and he counted 44 does walk past his stand and just one buck,” said Krick, one of 72 people in attendance at a public meeting on deer management put on by the Department of Natural Resources.

Seeing so many does is a problem on many levels, including ground level where Rushville farmer Klitz said he lost 32 rows of corn to deer damage.

Similar stories are being told across west-central Illinois and southern Illinois, where deer overpopulation is viewed as a problem by some. Actually, the count on Klitz’s farm falls short of the herds of 150 does that crowd some fields in Pike County.

Then again, not every hunter agrees there are too many deer. Some say the Farm Bureau and insurance industry are overstepping their bounds.

“I don’t see where farmers and insurance agents should be managing the deer herd,” said Jim Deppe of Ashland. “And I’m a farmer and a Farm Bureau member.”

Reconciling those views is the difficult goal of the Joint Task Force on Deer Population Control. The group of politicians, hunters, insurance agents and others met several times this year to come up with five proposals displayed during Thursday’s meeting.

  • 1. Make permits for the late winter antlerless-only firearm season available over-the-counter at license vendors. Currently permits are available only through a lottery drawing.
  • 2. Designate two categories of counties for the late-winter season: one in which hunters may purchase one permit, and another in which hunters may purchase multiple permits.
  • 3. Increase length of late-winter season from three days to seven or nine days. The current season begins the first Friday after Jan. 11. The new scenario proposes starting the first Monday after Jan. 7 or the first Saturday after Jan. 5.
  • 4. Implement a firearm antlerless-only season about the third weekend in October.
  • 5. Combine options 3 and 4. The longer January season could be adopted with the caveat that if a county did not make progress toward a goal after a few years, the October firearm season could be implemented.

Those who attended the meeting — a better crowd than the 24 who showed in Peru or the 34 who attended a meeting in Rockford — were encouraged to ask questions and fill out comment sheets.

Comments will be compiled before the task force meets again Oct. 6 at the DNR building in Springfield. Between that meeting and Jan. 1, 2009 the task force will make recommendations to the legislature.

I suspect they will call for implementing the first three options, or maybe options 1, 2 and 5. And that will help reduce doe numbers in some places.

But there’s a larger issue the task force has not effectively addressed. How can you reduce deer herds on land controlled by outfitters, landowners or hunters who won’t shoot does?

At present, the late-winter season is largely ineffective in those situations. The property Klitz talked about near Rushville is surrounded by ground controlled by an outfitter. And according to wildlife program manager John Buhnerkempe, outfitters average one-half of a doe each in the late season.

That’s no great surprise. What hunter will pay $2,000 for a few days of doe hunting (as they will for buck hunts)?

And outfitters are not the only folks to finger for deer population increases. More people are moving into the country, closing their land to hunters and then complaining when deer devour their hostas.

There are also more hunters who target mature bucks only under the misnomer of “quality deer management.” As deer biologist Paul Shelton said, “Simply going out and telling people they can’t shoot a buck unless it is such and such is not deer management.”

Many have wondered why the state doesn’t require hunters to shoot a doe before they can shoot a buck. But biologists say an earn-a-buck system can’t be enforced without check stations — an institution Illinois did away with years ago.

Reestablishing check stations is obviously not going to happen given the DNR’s dire budget woes. So basically, earn-a-buck hunting is not an option right now in Illinois.

Given that, I’m betting the real equalizer is a sixth management option the task force never mentioned.

Disease.

Talk to landowners in Adams County and they’ll tell you their deer overpopulation problems have largely disappeared following a widespread outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease last summer.

Sadly, it will likely take a similar outbreak of EHD or some other disease to reduce deer herds in those areas where hunters won’t or are not allowed to do the job.