Illinois' 2008 Bowhunting Outlook

North, Central or South: The stage is set for a phenomenal bowhunting season in the prairie state. (September 2008)

Illinois wildlife biologists predict another bumper crop of whitetails awaiting bowhunters on Oct. 1.
Photo by Windigo Images.

You've been scouting for weeks. The stands are set and the gear is ready. All that's left is the long, grueling wait for the annual archery deer season opener. While you may already have a good idea about where to find whitetails on your personal hunting grounds, many hunters are curious to know how things are shaping up on a statewide basis.

Well, the news is indeed bright. Illinois wildlife biologists predict another bumper crop of whitetails awaiting hunters for the Oct. 1 opening of the archery deer season. And for those familiar with Illinois bowhunting, this not only means good numbers of whitetails but plenty of wallhangers as well.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
No matter what state a hunter may call home, anyone spending any serious time in a tree stand has certainly heard about the quality of Illinois deer. And Illinois Wildlife Program manager Paul Shelton said this year is no exception.

"I think things are in place for Illinois deer hunters to do as good or better than last year," Shelton said. "When it comes to the archery season, I actually think our hunters have underperformed the past few years."

Shelton bases these comments on the less-than-desirable hunting conditions that occurred during last year's nearly 3 1/2-month season and not on a lack of skill among bowhunters.

"A great deal of our hunters' success depends upon weather conditions at strategic times in the season," he explained. "As an example, conditions were far less than favorable during the first month or so of the 2007 season when summer-like weather plagued much of the state."

Most hunters readily admit that temperatures hovering near 90 degrees make deer hunting exceptionally difficult. Last year, cool fall weather didn't arrive until the early weeks of November.

"While permit sales and regulations are in place for a big harvest, it has not yet happened in recent years," Shelton said. "While our Illinois bowhunters have done quite well, the deer harvest in our state has certainly not yet reached its full potential."

The percentage of harvested antlerless and antlered deer has changed little in recent years. In both seasons, firearms and archery combined, the figures show Illinois hunters took about 60 percent antlerless each year, a figure Shelton said holds true for the current archery season.

Interestingly, fewer antlerless deer have been taken during the past firearms seasons. Shelton attributes this to regulation changes that allow firearms hunters to use their unfilled permits during the late winter antlerless-only deer hunt held in January.

"These hunters are now considering the late-winter hunt merely an extension to the regular season," Shelton said. "Instead of taking a doe during the second segment of the hunt, many continue to hunt for bucks realizing they still have the late-winter hunt to fill their antlerless tags."

THE HEALTH OF THE HERD
Every year, there are last-minute concerns for deer hunters and 2007 was no exception. A late summer outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, an acute, infectious virus that kills white-tailed deer, was detected in several downstate counties. The news concerned deer hunters who worried that whitetail numbers in some isolated areas might be lower.

EHD outbreaks typically begin in late summer or early fall and end with an insect-killing frost. At the time, the disease was the suspected cause of death in wild deer in at least 28 central and southern Illinois counties and was also confirmed in captive deer herds in Franklin and Randolph counties.

Officials believed the dry summer contributed to the outbreak.

"When shallow ponds and creek beds dry up, conditions are good for hatches of disease-carrying insects," Shelton said. "Then, as summer progresses, deer become more concentrated around watering holes, facilitating the spread of the disease."

Each year, the IDNR asks landowners to report any diseased or dead deer they may find, but many are never found or go unreported.

"We do often see localized outbreaks of the disease where deer numbers are diminished in certain isolated farms or small areas," Shelton explained. "Conditions must be right for the disease to spread and, with the extremely dry weather last summer, this is exactly what happened."

Shelton said the disease was probably documented in virtually every county in the state last year, but the loss in numbers is not measurable on a statewide or even countywide basis.

"Still, this is no consolation to a hunter who is on a farm impacted by EHD," he added. "On a small area like a single farm, deer numbers can be greatly reduced by the disease."

Another serious concern for hunters is the spread of chronic wasting disease, that shouldn't be confused with the EHD virus. So far, the IDNR has done an admirable job of tracking and controlling the spread of the disease. Although complete test results have not been compiled, the numbers of confirmed cases so far appear lower. Only one new case has been found in Stephenson County.

"We have taken in some 8,000 samples and it does look like the numbers of confirmed cases will be somewhat lower than last year," Shelton said. "It does appear that we've managed to keep the disease in check and it is not spreading very quickly."

CWD is a fatal neurological disease of deer, elk and moose that causes small holes in the brain that ultimately results in loss of body condition, abnormal behavior and death.

There is no treatment for the disease, which is transmitted directly from one animal to another, although there is some indication it can be transmitted to other animals from contaminated places like feeding locations.

CWD was first found in Illinois in 2002, after a Boone County doe that was behaving strangely was tested. The disease remains concentrated in the state's northernmost reaches, with the greatest number of cases in Winnebago, Boone and McHenry counties.

The impact of CWD on Illinois deer populations is still unknown, but most experts agree that, if left unchecked, it poses a serious threat to wild deer

herds.

THE OUTLOOK
Shelton said the overall deer population has held relatively steady in recent years. While harvest numbers have diminished in certain counties, he doesn't feel it's due to lower deer numbers.

Still, he admits there are some sections of the state where deer populations are too high, especially in and around major metropolitan areas. These hotspots typically see little, if any, hunting pressure, so deer numbers are rising and will likely continue to rise unless the problem is resolved.

He also feels that some commercial hunting operations are adding to the problem of growing deer populations in other counties.

"We've seen the deer harvest go down in some high-profile counties like Pike and Calhoun, but this is certainly not due to fewer deer," Shelton said. "I really feel the hunting pressure in many of those counties is declining due to a variety of reasons."

Large expanses of acreage in some Illinois counties are controlled by outfitters, which exerts less pressure on the reproductive portion of the herd.

Even in counties where deer populations are stable, wildlife biologists must consider other concerns. Though deer populations are still well short of the state's carrying capacity, other important issues like landowner tolerance must also be considered when managing whitetail numbers. White-tailed deer often cause significant damage to crops, orchards and nurseries.

A LOOK BY REGIONS
The previous year's deer harvest is often one of the best ways to forecast hunting success for the upcoming season.

Although Illinois deer hunters wrapped up the 2007-08 hunting seasons with higher harvests during the late winter antlerless-only firearms deer hunt, archers fell short of topping last year's total.

Bowhunters in Illinois arrowed 64,217 deer during the 2007-08 archery season, about 1.5 percent less than the 65,179 taken in 2006-07. According to Shelton, the total for all deer seasons -- last fall and this winter -- fell just short of 200,000 deer.

During the other 2007 seasons, hunters took 116,708 deer during the regular firearms season, 4,333 deer in the muzzleloader season and 897 deer during the youth deer season.

"We appreciate the important role all hunters play in our deer management program," he added.

Region 1
Of the region's 25 counties, archers increased harvest numbers in 13 counties during the 2007 season.

The greatest increase was seen in Knox County where the harvest jumped from 870 to 1,028 whitetails. Other counties in the region with significant increases included Bureau, Carroll, DeKalb, Fulton, Henderson, JoDaviess, Lee, Marshall, McDonough, Putnam, Whiteside and Woodford.

The top five counties by archery harvest included Fulton with 1,598, Peoria with 1,318, LaSalle with 1,154, Knox with 1,028 and Jo Daviess with 897.

Region 2
With only nine counties, this region also contains the state's largest metropolitan area. Still, archers seem to find success where hunting is permitted. Five counties within the region showed increases in harvest from the previous year.

The greatest increase in archery harvest came in the southeast corner where some of the better hunting opportunities are found. Here, significant increases were recorded in Will County, from 894 to 952, and Kankakee County, from 270 to 323. Cook County's harvest also increased notably from 193 to 234.

Other counties in the region recording harvest increases were DuPage and Kendall.

The top five counties in the region by archery harvest were Will with 952, McHenry with 616, Grundy with 481, Lake with 440 and Kane with 406.

Deer populations in the region continue to rise, particularly near urban areas. For those with access to hunting areas, the opportunities are excellent for bagging a quality whitetail.

Region 3
Ten of the 16 counties in Region 3 recorded increases in archery harvest from last year.

The greatest increase was in Vermilion County, from 945 to 1,078. Coles County also witnessed a significant increase in hunter success, from 541 to 641, as did McLean County, from 525 to 591.

Other counties recording archery harvest increases were Livingston, Ford, Macon, Shelby, Clark, Edgar and Douglas.

The top five counties in the region by harvest were Vermilion with 1,078, Clark with 786, Shelby with 767, Coles with 641 and McLean with 591.

Region 4
Although the region includes some of the top deer-producing counties in Illinois, it experienced one of the greatest declines in archery hunter success from the previous year. Of the 24 counties, only five recorded harvest numbers greater than the previous year and most of those increases occurred in the northern edge of the region.

Brown County boasted the biggest increase, from 933 in 2006 to 968 last year and Schuyler County, from 884 to 925. Other counties in the region recording significant archery harvest increases were Mason, Logan and Macoupin.

The top five counties by harvest were Pike with 3,704 deer, Adams with 1,313, Madison with 1,146, Calhoun with 1,066 and Macoupin with 1,057. Those numbers are among the best counties in the entire state.

In the past decade, this region has garnered nationwide fame for its excellent deer populations yielding plenty of record-book whitetails and 2008 should be no exception.

Region 5
This region is the biggest with 27 counties -- 15 showing increased archery harvests. Counties recording some of the biggest increases in archery harvest were White, from 667 to 755, Union, from 749 to 823, Gallatin, from 307 to 374, Johnson, from 606 to 671 and Jasper, from 601 to 656.

Counties with more modest increases include Fayette, Crawford, Wayne, Edwards, Hamilton, Jackson, Williamson, Pope, Pulaski and Massac.

The top five counties in the region according to archery harvest were Jefferson with 1,502, Marion with 1,156, Wayne with 977, Fayette with 888 and Williamson with 868.

More so than other portions of the state, the deer harvest in this region continues to rise. Hunters here in the state's southern reaches are again expected to experience another superb season.

OUTLOOK
As Shelton said, the outlook remains bright as the state's deer herd continues to thrive. If conditions remain favorable, experts expect whitetail fanciers to enjoy another exceptional hunting season.

As most hunters realize

, deer numbers alone don't guarantee a good harvest. Bad weather and unharvested crops can greatly influence the annual deer harvest. With the archery season opening on Oct. 1, however, archers are accustomed to dealing with warm weather and an abundance of standing crops.

While weather is impossible to predict, the Illinois archery season is long enough to provide plenty of acceptable weather conditions.

Like last year, regulations permit hunters to harvest no more than two antlered deer a season regardless of other permits they may possess. All remaining permits convert to antlerless only after a hunter harvests two antlered deer.

Young archers planning to participate in the special Youth Firearms Deer Season on Oct. 11 and 12 should also be aware of a special regulation in place for those two specific days. During the youth hunt, all hunters (except waterfowl hunters) are required to wear a cap/hat and upper outer garment of solid blaze orange covering at least 400 square inches.

It is important to note that camouflage blaze orange clothing does not meet this requirement.

As in the past, Illinois archers are offered more than three months to pursue deer. The season opens Oct. 1 and continues through Jan. 15. The season temporarily closes during both segments of the firearms deer season (Nov. 21-23 and Dec. 4-7). Archery hunting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.

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