In 2010-09, Illinois hunters continued to harvest a significant number of whitetails. A look at the county figures can provide insight into just where to hunt this season.
The top counties in each zone remained the same with two exceptions. In Zone 3, McHenry, was replaced by Grundy County this year. In Zone 6, Crawford was replaced by Clay County. The highest harvest areas tended to be along the western side of the state where rivers flow into the Mississippi.
According to Paul Shelton, IDNR Forest Wildlife Program manager, hunters have had a chance at record harvest levels during the past seven years. Through liberal permit quotas and seasons, the department has controled herds and population growth in selected counties. "However as such goals are achieved, harvests tend to decline and stabilize," explains Shelton. In the future, the biologists will study data in an effort to adjust harvest levels to strike a balance between the need for herd control and the need to provide recreational opportunities. Shelton maintains that management is about maintaining a quality herd at desirable and sustainable levels.
For antlered whitetail deer, hunting is the only important cause of mortality affecting their populations. Yearlings are more vulnerable due to their movement through less familiar habitats during the hunting season. High harvest rates of antlered deer have less effect on the overall deer population than does the harvest rate of antlerless deer. Getting Illinois hunters to take more antlerless deer has not been without turmoil, but it has yielded some positive results.
The 2010-11 hunts produced an even number of bucks and does harvested.
Illinois hunters took a record number of deer in 2005-06 when a total of 201,301 animals were harvested. That number decreased to 189,377 in 2009-10. Last year, during the 2010-11 seasons, a total of 181,866 whitetails were taken by hunters using bow and arrow, crossbow, shotgun, handgun and muzzleloading weapons. Wildlife officials are not concerned over the decline in harvest numbers in certain parts of the state. They point to them as proof that the management plan is producing results.
One major management concern for Illinois hunters is the prevention of the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). A special CWD season and IDNR culling operations have held the disease pretty much in check. Since 2003 Illinois has had 326 cases of this fatal disease for deer. Neighboring Wisconsin counties across the border have had a significantly higher record of CWD cases. All Illinois cases were found in the northern counties of the state. Although not harmful to humans, the disease can devastate a deer population. In 2010-11, 32 new cases were found.
The new cases were found in Winnebago County (9), Boone (5), Ogle (2), DeKalb (5), LaSalle (2), McHenry (3), Stephenson (1), Grundy (2), Jo Daviess (1) and Kane (2). In the last three counties these are the first reported cases of CWD. The spread of the disease does not come as a complete surprise since deer are so mobile. Still, it is disappointing to wildlife managers and hunters alike.
Concern over how last spring's severe flooding in the western and southern areas of the state might affect the herd appears to be unjustified. According to biologists the deer are doing well. They simply move to less affected areas until the water recedes. Then they make a gradual transition back to their traditional home areas. Whatever attracted them to the area originally is most likely to do so after the floods recede.
Hunter reaction to the harvest numbers differs considerably. One biologist points out that he often gets complaints about too many deer and too few deer from areas about a mile apart. Because of management goals in specific areas, there is often a significant disparity in harvest figures. In urban areas, the goal might be to reduce deer/vehicle collisions while in some rural areas the herd plays a significant role in the economy. In the latter area,s the boost to the incomes of restaurants, hotels, gas stations, etc. are more of a consideration than numbers of deer in the woods. They usually have ample habitat and the herd is in less danger of overpopulation.
All that said, here are some figures for the 2010-11 deer season in Illinois and the regions of the state where the animals were harvested.
This far northwestern part of the state is known for its high ridges, broad valleys and steep bluffs. It provides some rugged land, with lots of forests and a number of clear streams with rocky bottoms. Low-lying areas along the Mississippi River are a haven for wildlife.
During the 2010-11 deer season, the area gave up 17,074 deer. Jo Daviess county alone produced a hunter return of 3,945 deer. The second-best harvest came from Knox County (2,860) and third place went to Carroll County (1,988.) The harvest in the other counties of the zone ranged from 1,000 to 1,500 animals each.
This area lies to the east of Zone 1 along the northern tier of counties. It contains many forested hilly areas of oak and hickory with some ravines containing white pine. The thin layer of soil with its rolling hills and hayfields is good habitat for wildlife. The wooded areas provide cool summer habitat for deer, and winter protection from wind and snow.
This zone provided the third-highest harvest of deer last year with 21,887. The top county was Peoria with 3,217 deer recorded. Second and third went to LaSalle County (2,762) and Bureau County (2,621,) All three of these counties contain large open areas used for agricultural purposes, with tree-lined rivers and streams.
Moving to the east, Zone 3 is often overlooked by hunters due to its heavy concentration of urban and suburban populations. Extending from the Wisconsin border and McHenry County south to Ford County, it includes much of the Lake Michigan shore and considerable urban development.
Characterized by oak forest and hilly areas, it contains some excellent wetlands. Some hickory forests are present. The large population of deer found in the public forest preserves result in significant numbers of deer/vehicle collisions. Deer hunting is not allowed in most of the preserves. Some bowhunting is allowed as determined by local officials.
The best areas seem to be in the counties just to the south of Cook County. The poorest harvest in the state comes from heavily populated DuPage County (68) just west of Chicago. Cook County was second with 158 deer harvested.
The top county in the northeast part of the state is Iroquois County with 1,299 deer. Second was Will County with 1,244 and then Grundy County with 1,052. Hunting in the last two counties will probably decrease due to urban encroachment.
This zone is known for high hills, deep hollows and an abundance of forest. The southern portion of the zone contains rugged scenic landscapes. The area is rich in oak and hickory timber. The land is provided with ample water through the meeting of the Illinois River and the Mississippi Rivers and all their feeder waterways.
The land contains an excellent mix of forest, agricultural fields, hay and pasture, which provides prime habitat for deer and other wildlife. In 2010-11, the zone produced a harvest of 44,379 deer to top the other zones of the state. The top three counties in this zone are also the top three counties in a comparison of all the counties in the state.
Pike County is probably the best-known deer hunting county in the state. Last year 7,331 deer were harvested. The county is well-known for the number of private clubs and outfitter-leased land. Finding a place to hunt is often difficult. It is consistently the top producer of whitetails.
Second place in Zone 4 goes to Fulton County with a harvest of 5,003 animals. Third place in the harvest sweepstakes is Adams County with 4,324.
This zone includes the heart of the Prairie State. It is located right in the center of what was once the vast prairie of Illinois. Hills and streams typify the topography of the area. Much of the forest land has been cleared for agricultural purposes and most is of a rural nature.
Wetlands and forests are scarce. Most deer hunting is done in woodlands that border agricultural fields.
The total harvest for the zone is 18,052. Fayette County tops the list of counties with 2,881. None of the counties in the area makes the list of top 10 deer harvest counties. Second place in the zone goes to Shelby County (2,372) with it large acreages of public hunting forests. Montgomery County harvested 2,007 deer last year.
On the east-central part of the state is Zone 6 from which 20,842 deer were taken. Not known as a deer-producing region, these counties seem to be producing more deer each year.
There are some oak-hickory forests and steep slopes along the waterways. The bulk of this area is planted in agricultural crops, such as corn and soybeans. In the eastern part, large grain fields are often bordered with forested shelterbelts. Nearly all of the ground is cultivated.
The prime hunting area of the zone centers on the county of Clark, which had a harvest of 2,482 deer in 2010-11. Vermillion County is second in the harvest figures with a total take of 2,261. Third place is Clay County with 2,247.
This far southwestern part of Illinois is known for the flat flood plain that provides rich soil for agricultural purposes. The western part of the vast Shawnee National Forest lies within this region. The hills have rocky outcroppings and deep ravines. They are covered with upland forests.
There is public land in this zone and Zone 8. It amounts to nearly 500,000-acres of federal- and state-owned property. Much of it is open to deer hunters resulting in significant harvests despite minimal human population.
Last years harvest of whitetails in this zone was 19,725. The top county was Randolph County (3,589) in the northern part of the zone. Contained in the county is Illinois' largest state park, Pyramid State Park. The park is known for its quality deer management program that demands that deer of only a certain size be harvested.
The next largest harvest came from Jackson County (3,163) which also contains a significant amount of public hunting land owned by the state and a section of the Shawnee National Forest. Third-place goes to Union County (2,774), a sparsely populated area along the Mississippi River.
This southeastern section of the state is often referred to as the Shawnee Hills due to a rugged geography and extensive forests with occasional farms. A significant amount of the land is part of the eastern section of the Shawnee National Forest. Deep ravines are covered with extensive upland forests.
The best deer harvest in this zone occurred in the northern portion of the area. The top harvest was in Jefferson County with 4,235 deer taken in 2010-11. Second best was Marion County (3.355) and third place goes to Wayne County with 3,279.
Hunters are advised to consult with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for information on license costs and procedures. The information is published in the free booklet entitled Illinois Digest of Hunting of Trapping Regulations 2011-2012. It can be found wherever licenses are sold and at most sporting goods retailers. The booklet contains a complete list of the locations, telephone numbers and hunts available for virtually all of the public lands, both state and federally owned. The information is also available from IDNR regional offices across the state and in state parks, as well as the main office at One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL 62794-9225. Licenses and information about the deer seasons are available online at www.dnr.state.il.us. A valid credit card is required to purchase a license.
In some counties special hunts are held to reduce numbers in a specific area. Often deer taken on these hunts do not count against the deer quota for that county and a license holder in that county does not have to use his regular deer license to participate. One should check with wildlife officials in those localities for site-specific information.
Site-specific regulations may also apply to some public land areas. They may apply to number of points a buck must have or perhaps an antlerless-only hunting regulation. Therefore it is important to contact the site superintendent of the area you plan to hunt before taking to the field.
The 2011-12 deer season dates are as follows: Archery: October 1, 2011 to January 15, 2012 except during the two firearms deer seasons; Firearm first season: November 18-20, 2011; Firearm second season: December 1-4, 2011. Muzzleloaders season is December 9-11, 2011 and during the second Firearm season December 1-4, 2011. The annual youth deer hunt will be October 8 and 9, 2011.
The special Late-winter and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) seasons will be held on December 29, 2011 to January 1, 2012 and January 13-15, 2012.