Illinois'™ Bowhunting Outlook

After crunching the numbers, we find that not only did our state's archery deer hunters enjoy a good season last year, but 2007 looks like it could be even better! Here's the scoop on where you bowhunt. (September 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

If you are an Illinois bowhunter, by now your blood is boiling with anticipation of the upcoming season. When you combine the number of deer arrowed in 2006 with the potential to take a trophy buck this year, there has never been a better time to be an archer in our state.

With bow season just around the corner, we have crunched the numbers from the 2006 season to provide you with the outlook for this year, and it could be even better than last year. Here's the scoop on where you bowhunt.

THE POINT SYSTEM

In consideration to four prominent descriptors of the overall archery harvest in 2006, for each county in Illinois we analyzed the number of whitetails killed, the harvest density, historic bowhunting entries into the Illinois Big-Buck Recognition Program and the percentage of increase over the previous season. We used a scoring system that weighed criteria in order of significance. Points were given to the top 25 counties statewide in each descriptor. The counties that scored in the various categories were ranked through a tabulation that used a system where overall harvest and density received the greatest consideration, while trophy-buck entries and percentage of increase over 2005 received secondary emphasis. Here is a breakdown of the numbers.

2006 Harvest

Illinois' overall archery harvest continues to be stable. According to Department of Natural Resources' Deer Program manager Tom Micetich, the 2005 season was a record year for bowhunters with 66,581 whitetails. Last year, the total dropped slightly to 65,170.

"We still don't have all the data cleaned up from either season," Micetich said just before this went to press. "But the numbers speak for themselves. Each year, the harvest is consistent throughout the state, showing good long-term improvements."

Pike County continued to live up to its reputation as the "White-tailed Deer Capital of the World" by registering 4,248 bow-killed deer, followed by Fulton County with 1,556, Jefferson County with 1,513, Adams County with 1,481, and Peoria County rounded out the top five with 1,391 animals. Next were Calhoun with 1,276, Madison 1,194, La Salle 1,192, Marion 1,178, Macoupin 1,036, Randolph 948, Vermilion 945, Hancock 934, Brown 933 and Wayne with 915 whitetails.

Harvest Density

Harvest density is the number of whitetails arrowed divided by the square miles in a specific county. Statewide, there was an overall density of 1.16 deer killed per square mile. Most counties rounded out to this average, but some had densities considerably higher than the average.

Pike County came out on top with an overall harvest density of 5.1 deer arrowed per square mile. Calhoun County wasn't far behind with 4.9, followed by Brown at 3.0, Jefferson at 2.6, and Schulyer, Pope, Marion and Hardin at 2.0. Jersey, Williamson, Union, Peoria and Cass counties weren't far behind at 1.9 whitetails arrowed per square mile.

Trophy-Buck Potential

Bowhunting entries into Illinois Big-Buck Recognition Program (BBRP) paint a good picture of areas where a preponderance of our trophy racks came from.

Since the inception of the BBRP, McHenry County has the most entries with 155 bow bucks, followed by Vermilion with 146, Pike with 135, La Salle with 133, McLean with 107, Peoria with 105, Adams with 97 and Lake County with 91 archery deer.

Greatest Increases

The area with the greatest gain from 2005 to 2006 was Cook County -- yes, suburban Chicago -- with 193 deer arrowed, an 18 percent increase over 2005.

Mercer County had a bow harvest of 454 deer, up 14 percent over the previous season. Peoria County and Alexander County both increased by 12 percent. Adams, Calhoun and Edgar counties jumped 10 percent. Jo Daviess rose for the second season in a row with a 9 percent gain. Rock Island County, with a harvest of 665 deer, and Schuyler County, with 881, both were up 7 percent over 2005.

REGIONAL OUTLOOK

With careful consideration to the previous analysis, we have compiled the best areas to bowhunt in Illinois. Regardless of where you hang your camouflage coat, a good opportunity is nearby.

Region 1

Region 1 in northwestern Illinois once again had a strong showing last year. Two areas that really stood out were Peoria and Fulton counties along the southern edge of the region. Both of these counties have an extremely dense deer population and excellent potential for trophy racks.

Public ground is available for bowhunting in Jubilee College State Park, (309) 446-3758, Banner Marsh Fish & Wildlife Area, (309) 647-9184, Rice Lake Fish & Wildlife Area, (309) 647-9184, and Anderson Lake Fish & Wildlife Area, (309) 759-4484.

Knox County has a top harvest rating, and La Salle County had the most new entries statewide for trophy bucks last year. For Knox County public-land options, try Spoon River or Snakeden Hollow, (309) 879-2607. In La Salle County, try Matthiessen State Park, Starved Rock State Park, (815) 667-4726, or the Marseilles Fish & Wildlife Area, (815) 795-2448.

Tazewell County scored well in all categories. Public hunting land includes Spring Lake Fish & Wildlife Area, Pekin Lake Fish & Wildlife Area and Mackinaw River Fish & Wildlife Area, (309) 963-4969.

Jo Daviess rounds out the top counties. Public access includes Apple River Canyon State Park, (815) 745-3302, which offers some of the best opportunities in its main annex, plus numerous satellites throughout the county. Also, try the Mississippi Palisades, (815) 273-2731, and Mississippi River Forest Land at Pool 12, (815) 273-2732.

DNR regional wildlife biologist Tom Biessel suggested bowhunters concentrate their efforts on riparian and forest/agricultural edges. He said private ground can be difficult to gain access to, but many of the public areas are underutilized, and they offer access to areas that funnel whitetails, and subsequently, the best opportunities for success.

Region 2

A predominant urban setting prevents Region 2 in the upper northeast corner of Illinois from being a bona fide bowhunting destination, but one county that always finds its way into the top 25 is Will County.

"This is one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, and hunting is limited to archery in many areas," said DN

R biologist Bob Massey. "The reason the deer population is so high is because of the many parks and forest preserves. There is no hunting in these areas, but for savvy hunters who find areas on the edge of these places and intercept deer moving in and out, the hunting can be phenomenal."

Public-land options include Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie, (815) 423-6370, and the Des Plaines Fish & Wildlife Area, (815) 423-5326. Both are overrun with deer.

Region 3

The best county to try in Region 3 is Vermilion because of its top 25 harvest ranking.

Kickapoo State Recreation Area, (217) 442-4915, manages about 5,000 aggregate acres of bowhunting opportunities. DNR wildlife biologist Deck Major said that in this predominant agricultural setting, hotspots can be found along field edges next to water, but especially the North and Middle forks of the Vermilion River.

Farther south, the counties of Edgar and Clark enjoy similar status, if not the top kill ranking. Both are perennial monster-buck producers. Edgar County saw a significant increase in harvest, and Clark County has many recent entries into the BBRP. A new archery program at Lincoln Trail State Park, (217) 826-2222, is a great opportunity in this neck of the woods.

Region 4

For serious bowhunters, Region 4 is the place to be. From Schuyler County down through Brown, Pike and Calhoun counties is where Illinois' best whitetail hunting is right now.

"A biologist could not have created better deer habitat," biologist Major said.

Schuyler County scored high in all categories except for recent BBRP entries. Densities are among the highest in the state, and it increased in harvest over last year. Brown enjoyed a top 25 finish in harvest, has a top 25 density rating, and is a historical contender for bragging-sized racks. Pike County had the highest kill, a significant increase in kill, the highest harvest density and is a great destination for rack-happy bowhunters. Calhoun County boasted the second-highest density, a top 25 harvest rating and a considerable kill increase over 2005.

Good luck getting on private ground in Region 4, but excellent public opportunities exist. In Schuyler and Brown counties, Weinberg-King, (217) 392-2345, and Siloam Springs, (217) 894-6205, manage plenty of acreage for archery. In Pike County, don't overlook Pool 24 on the Mississippi River, (217) 285-222, but you will need to bring a boat to reach the islands and sloughs. Calhoun County is basically nothing but public land, including Bachtown Fish & Wildlife Area, (618) 376-3303, and Pere Marquette State Park by Grafton, (618) 786-3323.

Additionally, Adams and Hancock counties are very strong, with top 25 ratings in harvest and increase. Mississippi River Forest Land, (217) 285-2221, has great access. In Hancock County, there is Nauvoo State Park, (217) 453-2512, and newly acquired Cedar Glen State Nature Area, (217) 453-2512, which biologist Major said is an incredible hunt that few people know about.

Coming next are Sangamon, Macoupin, Greene, Madison and Randolph counties, all of which scored well in the areas of overall harvest, density, increase and trophy entries.

Region 5

Region 5 produced seven of the top 25 counties. Starting in Fayette and traveling straight south through Marion, Jefferson, Franklin and Williamson, these five counties scored in the top 25 for harvest. Marion, Jefferson and Williamson counties have plenty of whitetails. Pope County isn't too far behind, and Wayne County also was a top producer in 2006.

Other considerations are Crawford, Hamilton, Hardin, Saline, Massac, Johnson, Union and Perry counties. All enjoy top rankings for deer density, and as one local hunter put it, all are "lousy with deer."

From Williamson County south, the Shawnee National Forest, (618) 253-7114, serves bowhunters well. It has excellent archery hunting, maybe the best opportunities in Illinois. DNR chief wildlife biologist Paul Shelton said it is hard to find a better area, but be sure you get a map from the U.S. Forest Service to see just where private ground intermingles with public land.

In Fayette County, some of the best hunting occurs on Carlyle Lake WMA, (618) 425-3533. Brushy river lowlands harbor numbers of deer, and trophy bucks. In Marion County, try Stephen A. Forbes State Recreation Area, (618) 547-3381. In Jefferson and Franklin counties, Rend Lake WMA, (618) 279-3110, and Rend Lake Forest Land, (618) 724-2493, offer a collective 15,000 acres of deer-thick lowlands. And alongside the Shawnee National Forest in Williamson County, there are 23,000 acres of public land in Crab Orchard Forest Land, (618) 997-3344.

Additional public access in the other counties include Crawford County Fish & Wildlife Area, (618) 563-4405, Hamilton County Fish & Wildlife Area, (618) 773-4340, Saline County Fish & Wildlife Area, (618) 276-4405, Ferne Clyffe State Park, (618) 995-2411, Mermet Lake Fish & Wildlife Area in Massac County, (618) 524-5577, and Pyramid State Park in Perry County, (618) 357-2574.

THE TOP COUNTIES

Applying the formula mentioned earlier, we are able to make a prediction on the top 25 counties for you to focus your efforts on this year. Whether you are looking to see numbers of deer or to arrow a Booner buck, all of the following counties should be considered this season.

The top-scoring counties were Pike, Peoria, Fulton, Schuyler, Brown, Randolph, Calhoun and Madison. All were ranked high in harvest and deer density. Pike, Peoria, Schuyler, Calhoun and Madison each had an increase in harvest over 2005, despite an overall drop statewide. Peoria, Schuyler, Fulton, Pike, Brown and Randolph were in the top counties for trophy-buck entries.

The next tier of counties is Marion, Jefferson, Williamson, Pope and Greene, and they ranked high in both kill and density. La Salle, Knox, Vermilion, Will, Macoupin and Sangamon were also in the top 25, and all have produced many entries into the BBRP. Adams and Tazewell counties enjoyed top harvests along with significant increases, and recognition as trophy-buck hotspots. Jo Daviess and Hancock counties along the Mississippi River can be considered a tie for comparable top-ranking harvests and rate of increase. Rounding out the best counties are Fayette, Wayne and Franklin, which all had top kill rankings.

RED FLAGS

It is true that each county in Illinois has its productive pockets for deer hunting, but some places are better than others. Deer for deer, there is a flip side. Be sure to steer clear of the following areas.

In Region 1, you may want to avoid hunting in Boone County, which had a meager harvest of 162 deer, a density of half a whitetail per square mile and a drop of 12 percent from 2005. De Kalb County isn't too hot either, with 240 deer arrowed last year, a 13 percent drop from 2005, and harvest densities reveal only one-third of a deer per square mile. Henderson and Warren counties had low kills with 244 and 302, respectively, and both dropped 10 percent and 17 percent.

Region 2 being predominantly urbanized has a predictable number of places that bowhunters should avoid. Aside from the concrete jungle, places to avoid include Kankakee County, which tallied 270 deer last season and a 33 percent drop from 2005, which is less than one-third of a whitetail per square mile. Kendall County only had a harvest of 212 deer, dropped 6 percent and has a density of six-tenths of a deer per square mile.

In Region 3, Ford County had the lowest kill in Illinois with 49 deer in 2006, which is a 35 percent decrease, and only one-tenth of a deer per square mile. Douglas County dropped 15 percent with a harvest of 185 critters, and Piatt County slipped 9 percent with 295 deer. Livingston and McLean counties have some of the lowest densities in the state with three-tenths of a deer per square mile.

The lone red flag in Region 4 is Logan County with a bow kill of 290 deer and a 6 percent drop from 2005.

The area to avoid in Region 5 is Edwards County, which tallied 193 deer last year, a 14 percent drop from 2005.

NEW REGULATIONS

Bowhunting season begins on Oct. 1 and will run through Jan. 17 statewide. In counties open for firearms hunting, bow season will be closed Nov. 16-18 and Nov. 29 through Dec. 9. In counties of the northeast sector closed to firearm hunting and on some state-managed areas, archery season will remain open, but bowhunters must abide by the same hunter-orange clothing requirements imposed on gun hunters.

All resident tags are available over the counter. The 2007 Youth Deer Hunt will be Oct. 6-7 statewide. Participating youths will be allowed to arrow antlered bucks, and everyone must wear hunter orange.

As for equipment, longbows, recurve bows and compound bows must pull, at minimum, 40 pounds within a 28-inch draw. Arrows must be a minimum of 20 inches in length.

Also noteworthy is that bowhunters can take more than two antlered bucks per season in the Special Chronic Wasting Disease Season in Boone, McHenry, Winnebago, Ogle and De Kalb counties.

The crisp chill of an early October morning is just about here, and soon you will be heading out before first light to climb into your tree stand amid the aroma of leaf litter and damp earth -- an excitement only a deer hunter knows. This year is shaping up to be another great season for bowhunting in Illinois. Just make sure you are in the right place at the right time!

(Editor's Note: For more information on regulations or places to hunt in your neck of the deer woods, go online to the DNR's Web site at www.dnr.state.il.us, or call (217) 782-6384.)

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