Illinois' 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Our Best Hunting Areas

Illinois' 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Our Best Hunting Areas

Mother Nature threw Illinois deer hunters a curve early last season, lowering the deer harvest slightly from 2005. However, this season is on track toward another remarkable deer harvest. Here's where you'll find 'em! (November 2007)

Photo by Mike Lambeth.

Consider for a moment the definition of the word "impossible." In one interpretation, Webster's defines it as "very difficult to accomplish."

Perhaps, Webster's could provide a still clearer understanding of the word by defining it as "the attempt to predict where the best deer-hunting areas lie in the state of Illinois."

It's a daunting task, but ponder the chore no more! The staff at Illinois Game & Fish magazine rummaged through tons of data from last season to arrive at the best places to hunt in the Flatland.

The 2006 Season in a Nutshell

In 2006, hunters across all the individual deer-hunting seasons in Illinois combined to harvest 197,287 deer. This is a slight drop -- about 2 percent -- from the record-setting year of 2005 when 202,492 deer were tagged.

With little significance, this decrease is unanimously attributed to the snap of arctic weather that gripped the state during the second shotgun season. The first shotgun season last year brought in 86,075 whitetails, compared with 29,117 animals in the second. A decrease is always expected in the tabulation of the second shotgun season, but this was a deficit of 34 percent.

Still, the 10-year trend data in overall harvest saw last season demonstrate an incredible 33 percent increase in the number -- 132,737 animals -- of whitetails harvested in 1996.

How They Fell in 2006

'¢ Bowhunters brought in 65,170 deer in 2006 -- 33 percent of the total harvest.

'¢ A staggering 86,075 whitetails -- 44 percent of the state's entire harvest -- were taken during the first shotgun season.

'¢ Overall, the shotgun harvest dropped 8 percent -- 115,379 animals compared with 124,560 in 2005.

'¢ Hunter shotgun success was 47.8 percent in 2006, compared with 52.5 percent the year before.

'¢ Muzzleloader hunters brought in an additional 5,939 deer -- 18 percent better than the year before.

'¢ The "Late Winter" and "Chronic Wasting Disease" seasons in the north chalked a record 9,700 animals -- 45 percent better than 2005, marking a 79 percent hunter success rate.

Overall, the state's average harvest/kill density was 3.5 deer per square mile. If we were to apply an average to each county for harvest, it would be roughly 1,934 deer per county. Of course, many counties ended their harvest far above and below this total.

Regional Ratings

Zone 4 -- 10 counties in west-central Illinois -- took top honors again this year for harvest numbers. Taken together in all seasons, 60,722 deer were killed by the region's hunters. This was good enough for an average kill density of 4.3 deer per square mile.

Eleven of the top 25 counties for harvest statewide are in Zone 4.

The total deer kill in Zone 5 was not far behind. The 2006 harvest here -- eight counties smack-dab in the middle of the state -- numbered 59,717 whitetails. Hunters here delivered the highest kill density in the state, with 5.3 deer harvested per square mile. In addition, 10 of the top 25 harvest counties are in the zone.

Zone 1 -- 12 counties in extreme northern Illinois -- always has a good showing in the state's annual deer harvest statistics. In 2006, three of the top 25 counties for overall harvest were located here.

Hunters in Zone 1 brought down 44,287 deer last year, for a kill density of 2.9 animals per square mile.

Zone 3 -- 16 counties in west-central Illinois -- placed none of its counties in the top 25 list for the state's deer harvest. Hunters combined for a total kill of 18,460 animals -- a kill density of 1.7 deer per square mile.

And hunters in Zone 2 -- 14 counties in the northeast corner of Illinois -- combined their efforts for the lowest deer harvest because of dwindling hunting opportunities. Just 5,808 deer were harvested here in 2006 -- a kill density of 1.1 deer per square mile.

Analysis

In review of the most prominent descriptors of the Illinois deer harvest, we considered four statistics to isolate which counties are best for deer hunting: 1) harvest, 2) harvest/kill density, 3) percent of harvest increase, and 4) the percentage of successful shotgun hunters.

All harvest numbers were the aggregate of all seasons, and harvest density was calculated as deer harvested per square mile. The greatest emphasis was given to overall harvest and harvest/kill density. Secondary considerations were given to hunter success and percentage of harvest increase.

Top Harvest

As to be expected, the western and southern portions of Illinois had good representation last season for overall deer harvested.

Pike County -- the "Whitetail Capital of the World" -- demonstrated a commanding lead on the rest of the state, bringing in 8,602 deer last year for all seasons. Jefferson County was a distant second, where hunters killed 4,557 animals. Adams County wasn't far behind with 4,478 deer harvested, and hunters in Fulton County posted 4,355 deer kills. Other counties rounding out the top 10 included Jo Daviess -- 3,793 deer, Marion -- 3,587, Jackson -- 3,472, Randolph -- 3,398, Hancock -- 3,382, and Macoupin County -- 3,361.

And more than 3,000 deer were collectively posted by hunters in Fayette, Peoria, Wayne, Calhoun, Union and Pope counties.

Top Harvest Densities

Hunters looking to see plenty of deer don't overlook Calhoun County, which gained top billing again this year for harvest/kill density. At nearly 12 deer harvested per square mile, the whole county offers superb chances for success.

Pike County took second here, with 10.3 whitetails killed per square mile. Brown County deer hunters collected an average of nine deer per square mile. Counties that rounded out the top 10 list in harvest density included Pope -- 8.0, Jefferson -- 7.9, Hardin -- 7.8, Johnson -- 7.5, Union -- 7.3, Williamson -- 6.9, and Randolph -- 6.7.

Review indicates that the absolute highest concentration of deer kills lies in the western triangle of Calhoun, Pike and Brown counties.

Percentage of Increase

Although an increase in harvest can demonstrate increased potential for success, counties with lower harvests are more apt to show si

gnificant increase over counties that have exceptional harvest totals.

Keep a close eye on the following top 10 counties and cross-reference the areas that demonstrate both increased and significant harvest totals. Combined descriptors may indicate an insurgence in regional deer populations:

'¢ Will and Moultrie counties showed the greatest percentage of increase -- 16 percent -- from 2005 to 2006.

'¢ Alexander County jumped up 15 percent, marking the third year this county has seen an increase.

'¢ Gallatin and Pulaski counties bumped up 14 percent.

'¢ The perennial whitetail factories of Calhoun and Jo Daviess counties increased by 13 percent.

'¢ Union and Jackson counties both jumped 12 percent.

'¢ Rock Island and Jasper counties bettered last year's harvests by 11 percent.

Hunter Success

Each year, there's always one county where hunter success sails far above the average for the state. Last year that area was Piatt County, which posted a phenomenal 84 percent hunter success rate! This year, Piatt didn't make the top 10 in this category, but its next-door neighbor, Moultrie County, did -- leading the pack in 2006 with a 79.9 percent hunter success rate.

The top 10 counties for hunter success rates are rounded out by percent of all issued shotgun tags being filled: Wayne -- 61.4 percent, Clay -- 60.8 percent, Edwards -- 60.7 percent, Hamilton -- 60.5 percent, Monroe and White -- 60.1 percent, Jefferson -- 58.9 percent, Hancock -- 58.8 percent, and Jasper -- 58.7 percent.

Putting It Together

Using the criterion discussed above, we allotted point values to each descriptor and assigned these values to the top 25 counties for each respective category.

The only counties to score in each category were Calhoun, Randolph and Perry counties. Hunters in these counties delivered excellent harvest rates and densities.

There's plenty of public ground in all three of these counties, too, providing many opportunities for deer hunters to log success afield.

In the southern third of the state, Jackson, Union, Williamson, Pope, Marion, Jefferson, Clay and Pulaski counties all scored marks in three categories. All but Pulaski and Clay counties scored among the top harvesting counties. All of these counties also scored marks for density, and many of these counties demonstrated an increase in harvest. Pulaski, Clay, Jefferson and Marion counties likewise had some of the highest hunter success rates in the state.

Fayette County made the top 25 list for high harvests along with Wayne County, which also had a high mark for hunter success. Jasper County received two marks for increase and success. Richland, Edwards, Hamilton and White counties received marks for hunter success. White County also scored a mark for density. Moreover, Massac and Alexander counties saw significant harvest increases in 2006 over 2005.

Greene County was the only county to score in three areas in the west-central region; however, Pike, Adams, Brown, Schuyler, Hancock and Jersey counties scored in the areas of harvest and density. Jersey County missed getting a mark for deer-kill density but earned a mark for an increased deer kill over 2005. So did Hancock County, but this deer factory on the Mississippi River also had one of the highest hunter success rates in the state.

Macoupin and Madison counties stood among the top counties for deer harvest numbers, while Christian County gained a mark for increase, and Washington and Monroe counties scored marks for hunter success.

There were no counties in Zone 3 that made the top 25 list for density or harvest. However, Cumberland, Moultrie and Champaign counties all scored marks in hunter success and harvest increase. Clark and Shelby counties scored marks among the top 25 for hunter success. Edgar County scored a mark for percentage of increase.

The lone county that had any representation in Zone 2 was Will County, which saw the overall best percentage of harvest increase over 2005.

Although not observed in the formula we used to rate deer hunting success, Grundy County -- especially near the Illinois and Mazon rivers basins -- has been putting out the deer for a few years. In addition, McHenry and Lake counties are chock-full of whitetails; but with dwindling areas to hunt, these totals are not well represented in the counties' harvest numbers. Find a place to hunt in any of these four near-Metro counties, and chances are good you'll see some deer.

Zone 1 had four of the top counties for deer harvest in 2006. Among the highest scoring county was Jo Daviess, which had representation in harvest, density and increase. Both Peoria and Fulton counties rank among the top 25 for harvest, and both rank there for harvest density, as well. LaSalle County found its way into the top 25 for harvest, and with extremely low densities through this large area, the prime focus is on the Illinois, Vermilion, Little Vermilion and Fox rivers corridors.

Little Putnam County -- 166 square miles -- on the Illinois River ranked for deer kill density; Rock Island County displayed a high rate of increase over 2005's harvest; and both Henderson and McDonough are among the counties with the highest rates of hunter success in the state.

Other Noteworthy Areas

After applying the formula for identifying the counties above as the best areas for success, there are always a few counties with respectable deer herds that slip through the cracks. Hunters who happen to be near one of these will find their time afield well spent.

In Zone 1, Stephenson County holds a considerable deer herd, especially in the Pecatonica River basin. Ogle and Lee counties are likewise productive around the Rock River corridor. Bureau County has put up respectable harvest numbers in the past few seasons, with most deer coming from woodland tracts associated with Big Bureau Creek and the Illinois River. Tazewell County, around the Illinois and Mackinaw rivers area, puts up the numbers. And it's surprising that Knox County doesn't score higher, because there's a high harvest total here, with most of the emphasis in the area of the Spoon River basin.

In Zone 3, one hunter told us she owns land in Williamson County, but she's switched to hunting Iroquois County around the town of Gilman because she's seen more deer there than she did while hunting for 10 years in the southern tip of the state. Iroquois County didn't make the top 25 list in any category. But hunters who can get in along the Iroquois River or any timber stands in the middle of the county will find the whitetails thick in there.

Vermilion County always makes the top 10 list for archery, but falls off during the gun seasons in comparison with the rest of the state. Good numbers of deer are present around the Vermilion River and all tributaries.

McLean County holds one of the lowest deer kill densities in the state, but in the Mackinaw River bottoms, deer run rampant. Money Creek and Six Mile Creek around the northwest corner of

the county, by Comlara Park, also carry good whitetail herds.

In both zones 4 and 5, just about any county you choose to hunt will offer excellent opportunities for success, but a few standouts aside from the perennial deer factories exist: Sangamon County in the basin of the river of its namesake and Salt Creek enjoy tightly packed deer kill density numbers that go unnoticed when applying harvest totals to the overall county. Mason and Cass counties, along the Illinois River and other small riparian swaths, house high numbers of deer that often miss the formula because of topographical anomalies.

For More Information

For more information on harvest totals per county, or other hunting information, go to the following page of the Web site of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources: www.dnr.state.il.us/pubaffairs/2006/December/2006_firearm_final.htm.

Find more about Illinois fishing and hunting at: IllinoisGameandFish.com

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