Illinois Deer Special Part 1: Our State's Top Harvest Counties

Illinois Deer Special Part 1: Our State's Top Harvest Counties

The Land of Lincoln is full of white-tailed deer hunting opportunities. Here are our state's highest harvest counties from last year. Is one near you? (October 2009)

Illinois hunters completed the 2008 deer season by taking a preliminary total of 188,922 deer in all of the different hunting seasons. As in years past, the major harvest tends to take place in counties found along rivers and in areas with large numbers of public-hunting acres. A few areas in the west-central part of the state, where significant outfitter operations are present, reported good harvest numbers as well. Because private landowners and outfitter operations control the age/sex harvest, those figures can be askew from what might otherwise occur.

Figures from our stateís Department of Natural Resources (DNR) provide a picture of the total Illinois deer herd and an indication of areas the 2009 deer hunter might wish to consider this fall.

Tom Micetich, deer project manager for the DNR, explains that the figures need to be considered ìpreliminaryî because of some of the data needing to be cleaned up. The figures reported do not always match the hunting permits issued. Mostly, this is due to misunderstandings on the part of the reporting person.

DNR preliminary figures show a harvest total of 188,425 from all methods of hunting. However, the same data shows a harvest of 93,969 does and 94,953 bucks, which would be more than that total number when added together. These are the kinds of figures that need to be reconciled before final figures are determined. The final harvest for 2007 was 199,671.

Most of Illinois is in the hands of outfitters or landowners. The public-land harvest of deer continues to rise each year and has done so since 1985.

Taken by zones, the most successful harvest comes from the west-central section near the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Zone 4 produced a harvest of 47,118 deer. In second place is Zone 8 in the southeast part of Illinois, with huge tracts of public lands available in the Shawnee National Forest, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and numerous state parks. Those counties produced a deer harvest of 33,103.

According to DNR Director Marc Miller, 2009 plans for the deer seasons and the implementation of changes in regulations should enhance hunting opportunities and improve herd management.

Basic deer hunting regulations are printed in the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations 2008-2009, which is available at DNR offices and vendor locations. The digest includes names and location information for all public land in Illinois. Since it was published, some modifications have been made to the seasons and license procedures.

In an effort to expand the availability of deer hunting permits, unsold firearms and muzzleloader-only deer permits will be made available over the counter through DNR direct license and permit agents.

This far northwest area of the state contains large tracts of wooded lands both private and public. Zone 1 produced 17,218 deer in 2008 compared with 17,922 in 2007. The top three counties in the harvest figures are Jo Daviess, Knox and Carroll. Jo Daviess and Carroll counties had a harvest of 3,714 and 1,915, respectively. Farther south in Knox County, 2,975 deer were taken.

Jo Daviess County figures show that 1,883 does and 1,836 bucks were taken in the past season. In Carroll County, 989 does and 930 bucks were harvested. In Knox County, 1,453 does and 1,525 bucks were taken.

Most of the public hunting in Jo Daviess County is located in the far northwest part of the state with its western border along the Mississippi River. Public hunting is available on state-owned land totaling some 17,047 acres, primarily along the river. The deep canyons and heavy forestation contributes to excellent habitat and forage for white-tailed deer.

The areas along the Mississippi River to the south in Carroll County provide an additional 12,472 acres that are open to public hunting. Down in Knox County, three public-hunting areas provide some 4,447 acres in which to hunt. These areas are close together in the northeastern part of the county and relate to the Spoon River and Snake Den Hollow areas.

Zone 2 covers the north-central section of Illinois from the Wisconsin border south to Tazewell County. The total deer harvest came to 22,668 in 2008 compared with 23,684 in 2007.

The top three counties in last yearís harvest figures were Peoria, LaSalle and Bureau. Peoria County led the field with a 3,352 animal total. This included 1,804 does and 1,548 bucks.

Peoria County contains a large metropolitan area and extensive farmland that is privately owned. Only the 5,900 acres of Jubilee College State Park and Banner Marsh are open to the public.

LaSalle County also contains significant developed land. Still, some 2,825 deer were harvested primarily on public land. There are 4,502 acres in three public areas located north off Interstate 80 and another 2,442 acres in two parcels south of the Interstate.

During the 2008 season, 1,500 does and 1,388 bucks were killed in LaSalle County. The southern part of the county contains more open land and agricultural fields than that closer to Chicago. It is still possible to find landowners willing to lease or allow free hunting rights in that area.

Bureau County came in third in harvest figures for Zone 2 with 2,784 total deer. With four parcels of public land, there is a total of 3,368 acres available for hunting. The land is primarily in agricultural use and privately owned.

Again the doe/buck ratio remains close. Bureau County hunters took 1,459 does and 1,325 bucks last year.

As might be expected, since Zone 3 has the largest deer population it also had the lowest number of deer taken. Zone 3 includes the counties of the northeast part of the state, including Chicago. Several of the counties have only archery permits issued. The total harvest, both archery and firearms, for the zone is 8,037 deer compared with 8,528 in 2007.

Deer hunters in Will County took some 1,358 deer last year. There were 626 does and 732 bucks harvested. There is not a lot of agricultural land in this county, as most of the land has been developed. Hunters are dependent upon the 6,400 acres of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie south of Joliet. The nearby Des Plaines Conservation area has an additional 3,500 acres. The only other public hunting is the archery-only 80 acres at the Des Plaines propagation area.

Iroquois County, on the Illinois/Indiana border, has four public land areas. Only the Iroquois County Conservation Area allows deer hunting on its 2,185 acres. Hunting pressure is heavy in this area because of the lack of any other public land deer hunting nearby. The county as a whole reports 658 does and 679 bucks were killed last year.

In third place in Zone 3 is McHenry County, northwest of Chicago. McHenry is a fast-developing county of bedroom communities. An area of rolling hills with oak forests rapidly being cut down for housing, the county has only the 1,400-acre Moraine Hills State Park for the deer-hunting public. Still, they managed to harvest 1,072 deer. The does numbered 526 and the bucks 546.

Zone 4 is the deer-hunting hotspot of the Prairie State. With an annual harvest of 47,118 deer last year, the hunting pressure here is heavy. Still, last yearís harvest is a decline from the 2007 harvest of 49,471. The area has many private members-only clubs, as well as land leased by outfitters. Public access is limited. Located on the west-central border of Illinois, both the Illinois and Mississippi river drainages provide excellent habitat. The perennial high deer harvest county is Pike County with 8,058 deer taken last year. This has been reported as 4,072 does and 3,986 bucks.

The two public-hunting areas in Pike County are the Clarksville Pool Federal Land with 10,211 acres and Ray Norbut Fish and Wildlife Area with 1,290 acres.

The second place in the deer hunterís heaven zone is Fulton County, with an annual harvest of 5,071. The number of does reported is 2,552 and 2,519 bucks. Only two public deer-hunting areas exist in this county. They are archery only. Rice Lake Fish and Wildlife Area has 2,500 acres and the Anderson Lake Fish and Wildlife Area contains 1,900 acres.

Adams County reported a total harvest of 4,509. That is broken down to 2,257 does and 2,252 bucks.

There are five public hunting areas, all along the Mississippi River in Adams County. Together they provide some 23,467 acres of deer habitat. One, Siloam Springs State Park, is muzzleloader hunting only, but it is the smallest area with only 190 acres.

The central part of the state is Zone 5. This zone is an area of gently rolling hills and flat prairie; it yielded a harvest of 18,819 deer in 2008 compared with 19,844 the previous year. Primarily agricultural in use, there are a number of river drainages that yield deer to those who are willing to do some intensive scouting. Some very large deer come from these fields.

The top deer-producing counties in this zone come from the south end. Fayette County produced 5,071 deer total with 2,552 does and 2,519 bucks. This flat land of central Illinois has shelterbelts of river bottom hardwoods and the large Carlyle Lake. The 9,475-acre public hunting area at Carlyle Lake is the only public hunting area for firearms deer hunting. The Ramsey Lake State Recreation area has an archery hunt for deer on its 1,610 acres.

Second place in Zone 5 goes to Shelby County with its vast Lake Shelbyville and surrounding public hunting access. There were 2,396 deer harvested in the county last year. The harvest consisted of 1,251 does and 1,145 bucks.

In addition to the 16,363 acres surrounding Lake Shelbyville, there is an additional 963 acres of public-hunting land at nearby Hidden Springs State Park.

Over in Montgomery County, hunters took 2,125 deer. The bag consisted of 1,047 does and 1,078 bucks. Public-hunting land is limited to some 3,063 acres at Coffeen Lake.

Zone 6 in the east-central part of Illinois bordering Indiana produced 20,769 deer, a decline from the 22,087 taken in 2007. Five of the 13 counties produced harvests of more than 2,000 animals each. Clark County leads the parade with 2,329 deer taken.

Clark County produced 1,132 does and 1,197 bucks. The only public hunting in Clark County is archery only in the 857-acre Lincoln Trail State Park.

Clay County hunters took 2,273 deer of which 1,162 were does and 1,111 bucks. All of these deer were taken on private land, as there are no public hunting areas in the county.

In Vermillion County, there are three public hunting areas with a total of 5,031 acres available. They are Middle Fork Fish and Wildlife Area, Kickapoo State Recreation Area and the Harry ìBabeî Woodyard State Natural Area.

Hunters took 2,221 deer in this county with 1,041 being does and 1,180 being bucks.

In the far southwest corner of Illinois is Zone 7. A sparsely populated area of bottomlands, it is best known for waterfowl hunting opportunities. But the swamps and grain fields produce some excellent deer hunting. In 2008, hunters harvested 20,976 deer, which is down slightly from the 22,549 harvested in 2007.

Randolph County produced 3,855 deer of which 1,903 were does and 1,952 bucks.

Public deer hunting is available at 14,000-acre Kaskaskia River Fish and Wildlife Area and the 2,250-acre Turkey Bluffs (2,250 acres) area. Muzzleloader hunting is to be found on the 800-acre Fort de Chartres Historic Site, and archery hunting is permitted in Randolph County Conservation Area (140 acres).

A significant amount of Jackson County is included in the Shawnee National Forest (277,645 acres), with the remaining part in agricultural and state park land. The forest extends across parts of nine counties in southern Illinois. In addition to the national forest property, one can hunt deer in the 3,400-acre Oakwood Bottoms and the 3,700 acres at Kincaid Lake, both of which are near Murphysboro. Another 2,256 acres of public hunting land is to be found at Giant City State Park near Carbondale.

Jackson County deer hunters harvested 3,411 deer, which breaks down to 1,640 does and 1,771 bucks during the 2008 season.

Union County came in third in the deer sweepstakes with 2,963 deer harvested. Of those, 1,458 were does and 1,505 were bucks.

In addition to that portion of Shawnee National Forest within Union County, there are an additional four state public hunting areas totaling 9,100 acres. The county is bottomland and forest with few towns.

Zone 8 was the second-best harvest of all zones with a total harvest of 33,103 whitetails. This is down from the 2007 figure of 35,577. This cluster of counties in the southeast corner of the state contains significant public-land hunting opportunities. The bulk of the 277,645 acres of the Shawnee National Forest lies in this area of the state. In addition, there are some 23,000 acres of public land at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion. There are also public hunting areas operated by the DNR spread throughout the zone.

The best harvest data last year came from Jefferson County, where hunters took 4,471 d

eer. There were 2,350 does and 2,121 bucks taken.

Public hunting in this county is limited to the Rend Lake area. There are 7,740 acres of federal land and 7,690 acres of state land. In addition, the Mt. Vernon Game Bird Propagation Farm has 650 acres open to bowhunting only.

Just north of Jefferson County is Marion County where hunters took 3,573 deer. It breaks down to 1,718 does and 1,855 bucks. The only public hunting is the 2,580-acre Stephen Forbes State Park.

Wayne County to the east has only one public hunting area that offers archery and late-season firearms deer hunting. It is the 950-acre Sam Dale Lake Conservation area. Wayne County hunters still turned in a harvest of 3,382 deer, with 1,734 does and 1,648 bucks.

There you have it, a look at the top harvest counties in each of our stateís eight hunting zones. Surely one is near where you hunt!

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