Illinois Outdoors

Illinois deer hunting Q & A

September 16, 2007 at 04:00 PM

Soon enough talk will give way to the real thing. But until the Oct. 1 archery deer opener and the Nov. 16 firearm opener, here are questions and answers to ponder.

Q: Is the state doing anything special for the 50th anniversary of firearm deer hunting in Illinois?

A: Well, even though the actual anniversary came last year, the Department of Natural Resources will distribute a special (harvest) pin this year to commemorate 50 years of hunting. The first season of gun hunting was 1957 and lasted three days in 33 counties. Hunters shot 1,735 deer. Bowhunters took another 220 whitetails that year.

This year pins will only be available through license vendors or at the following Department of Natural Resources offices: Springfield, Sterling, Bartlett, Clinton, Alton, Benton and Chicago.

Q: Any new deer hunting legislation?

A: Plenty. For starters, Oct. 6-7 is the first statewide youth deer hunt. Youngsters 16 and under will be able to hunt for bucks and does in every county except Cook, DuPage, Lake and eastern Kane. The last day to apply for permits in random daily drawings is Sept. 19. Visit http://www.wildlifelicense.com/il/start.php to apply.

Another significant change is that firearm hunters will gain an additional half-hour of hunting time. Thanks to House Bill 320, gun hunters can hunt until one-half hour after sunset — the same hours allowed for bowhunters.

“We have a huge problem with the deer population and this is one of the most effective times to take deer,” said bill sponsor Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria. “This just seemed to make a lot of common sense to me and to my friends who are deer hunters. It seems long overdue.”

Finally, pending the signature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, hunters age 62 and older will be able to legally use a crossbow during archery season without obtaining a special permit. In the past, crossbow use was limited to people with physical impairments.

Q: What about legislation seeking more stringent protection for white deer?

A: Two bills stalled in the legislature. So only all-white deer are protected under statute. If you see a buck with brown around his tarsal glands, you can legally fire away. Judging by recent events, though, you’d better be ready to defend yourself once folks find out you shot their albino buddy.

Q: Do bowhunters have to wear blaze orange during the youth deer hunt?

A: Yes. They also have to wear blaze orange during the Dec. 7-9 muzzleloader season. And camouflage blaze orange material does not meet the requirement.

Q: How many deer did hunters kill last season?

A: Right at 200,000, which was down slightly from the 2005-06 record of 202,492. The bulk of last year’s harvest went to shotgun hunters (115,279) and archers (65,170), which was second highest ever.  Up markedly were kill totals for other seasons including muzzleloader (5,939), late-winter antlerless-only (9,075), youth (1,099) and the special chronic wasting disease hunt (625).

“We had a pretty good harvest, but I also felt like we underachieved what we should have gotten simply because we could have done better if the weather had been a little more cooperative,” deer biologist Paul Shelton said. “During the firearm season we had some weather that was not very accommodating and then we had that again in the late-winter season.”

Q: How is this year’s acorn crop?

A: Poor, thanks to a late frost through most of the state. Timber with acorns could be popular with deer later in the season.

Q: I hear differing comments from friends. Some aren’t seeing as many deer. Others claim they are seeing more. Who is right?

A: Both are possibly correct. Local populations can fluctuate widely based on disease, food availablity and hunting pressure. But the overall trend in the state is toward increases in deer numbers.

Although DNR has not made an official population estimate for a few years, Shelton believes the herd is “in the ballpark of 800,000 deer.” Ten years ago he said the herd was closer to 700,000.

Of that total, hunters have taken close to 200,000 for the past few seasons. Road kills account for another 25,000 annually.

Shelton does not think that’s enough. “Do we need to get (the overall herd) down? Yeah, I think we do,” Shelton said. “... I’d be a lot more comfortable if we were closer to 700,000.”

Q: Why not just sell more permits?

A: The deer hunting program is already at its most liberal point ever. Last season, the state sold more than 426,000 deer hunting permits (gun and bow) and distributed another 89,953 tags to landowners.

To some extent, selling more permits won’t make a major difference. There’s a finite number of people willing to use those tags.

Shelton estimates there are 110,000 resident archery hunters and another 20,000 non-resident bowhunters. There are also 190,000 resident gun hunters and about 10,000 or so non-resident gun hunters.

Short of recruiting new hunters, the best way to slow herd growth is for another season like 1995.

“If you recall back to the 1995 season, that was a season where everything seemed to come together. Weather, crops, everything,” Shelton said. “The kill was higher than it had been the preceding years, and that kind of got us over the hump.”

“Well, the amount of permits and opportunity right now is much higher than it was then. We just need to catch a break where the crops and weather come together, and we can have another great season.”

Q: Any idea how much people are paying for hunting leases?

A: According to Access Illinois Outdoors, 168 outfitters have leased 63,406 acres in Pike County for 2007. The going rate is $70 to $90 per acre.

Q: If I have unused tags after firearm or muzzleloader season, can I use them during the late-winter antlerless-only hunt?

A: Yes, provided the county for which your tag was issued is open. Unfilled bow tags are not valid. If you want to hunt on an unfilled muzzleloader permit, you’ve got to hunt with a muzzleloader.