Illinois' Deer Outlook 2008 -- Part 2: Our Best Hunting Areas

The 2008 season looks bright for Illinois deer hunters. Regardless of how you enjoy hunting or where you live, great opportunities are nearby. (November 2008)

The 2007 Illinois deer season was one to remember. Firearms and late winter season totals drove the overall harvest to near record proportions. Another productive archery season and the state's most widespread youth season to - contributed to what was one of our best seasons ever, and the 2008 season is looking even better. Illinois Game & Fish has scoured mounds of harvest data from the 2007 season to help you isolate the best areas to hunt this season. The opportunity to fill a tag is at its pinnacle, and regardless of where you live, excellent deer hunting is right around the corner.

Illinois archers in 2007 enjoyed another productive season, bringing in 64,294 whitetails, roughly 32 percent of the state's total harvest, but a 1 percent decrease from 2006.

Pike County out-distanced all other areas with 3,707 deer harvested. Fulton was a distant second with an impressive 1,599; Jefferson notched 1,503; Peoria had 1,319; Adams stuck 1,315; and Marion and LaSalle tied with 1,157 to complete the top five archery harvest areas in the state.

Despite poor weather statewide during the second firearms season, Prairie State hunters were able to bring down a three-year high harvest total. The aggregate of both seasons saw 116,708 whitetails reported, approximately 58 percent of the state's harvest. This is a 2 percent increase over 2006. Again, Pike County led all counties with an amazing 3,732 whitetails shot in just seven days. Jefferson has propelled to the top of the list with 2,805 deer harvested in 2007; Adams had 2,791; Fulton notched 2,671; Jo Daviess was a nearby fifth place with 2,662; and Randolph tabbed 2,598 to complete the top five areas in the flatland for firearms harvest.

The youth season saw some historic precedents set. The 2007 season marked the first time the season was open statewide, the first season where participants could shoot a buck, and near-record high temperatures placed a tough spin on the game. Overall, Illinois youth bagged 901 deer. Pike County came out on top with 39 smiling youngsters; Jefferson had 34; Fulton had 33; Mario had 32; and Macoupin had 27 to round out the top five areas.

Prairie State muzzleloaders brought in 4,233 whitetails, 2 percent of the total harvest. This was a significant decrease of almost 30 percent from the 2006 total of 5,939. Pike County took the top spot with 199 deer. Jo Daviess came in second with 141; Fulton had 115; Hancock dropped 110; and LaSalle killed 107 to round out the top five in the state.

The late winter/CWD season in January saw 12,434 deer taken despite arctic-like temperatures statewide. This was a 22 percent increase over the previous year and rounded to an impressive 6 percent of the total harvest. Pike County notched 714 late-winter whitetails; Wayne had 372,; Adams dropped 371; Jo Daviess tabbed 355; and Randolph charted 343 to complete the five best.

Overall, Prairie State deer hunters brought in 198,670 whitetails in 2007, commensurate with the 2006 tabulation of 197,287 deer. That translates to an overall state average harvest density of 3.5 deer per square mile. About 46 percent of all resident firearms hunters filled their tags last year.

Using four descriptors -- overall harvest, harvest density, percent of harvest increase and hunter success -- we have identified the top 25 counties statewide to hunt. All counties were ranked based on their placement in a respective descriptor. In this analysis, we gave special consideration to each descriptor based on its level of significance in providing information about herd distribution. The greatest emphasis was placed on overall harvest, which received a weighted score multiplied by four. Density carried the second greatest weight, which multiplied each score in this area by three. Percentage of increase was the third highest consideration with a weight multiplied by two and percentage of hunter success was weighed as a single score. The top 25 counties in each category were selected according to the aggregate points tabulated in all categories of harvest.

Overall Harvest
Most counties experienced an increase in overall harvest in 2007. This descriptor is defined as the total number of deer taken in the aggregate of all seasons. Pike County led the state with 8,391 deer for all seasons. Jefferson County was a distant second with 4,874. Fulton brought in 4,749. Adams harvested 4,571, and Jo Daviess chalked 4,079 to round out the top five areas in the state.

Harvest Density
Harvest density is calculated as the number of deer harvested divided by the number of square miles in a respective county. Calhoun County boasted a density of 11.4 deer harvested per square mile. Pike County came in second with 10.1. Brown had 9.4. Hardin tallied almost nine deer per square mile, and Johnson had 8.2 to complete the top five.

Percent Of Harvest Increase
This descriptor considers how a respective area increased in harvest from 2006 to 2007. Stark County took top honors this year with a 61 percent increase over last year's harvest. Although many numbers are preliminary, this is an incredible increase for a county that has not historically been a premier destination in the state. It's one to watch during future seasons to see if the phenomenon becomes a trend. Putnam County is one to pay close consideration, as it increased by 20 percent in 2007. For the third straight season, Knox County went up by 18 percent. Bureau increased by 17 percent, and Jasper brought in 16 percent more deer to round out the top five counties statewide.

Percentage Of Hunter Success
The final category looks at areas where hunters are the most successful. For the second season in a row, top honors go to Moultrie County with an incredible 63.3 percent of all firearms tags filled in 2007. Next was Jefferson with 58.7 percent; Wayne next door boasted a 58 percent success rate; Marion, just to the north, had 57.9 percent, and Richland County observed 56.8 percent of its hunters tagging a deer. One consideration to note, with the exception of Moultrie County, is that the rest of the top five areas for hunter success exist in a quadrangular area to the south-central and southeast portion of the state. It's also interesting to note that between these areas, Clay County took the sixth position with 56.4 of all firearms hunters successful.

Tabulating the descriptors of harvest and applying the various weights to each, the Prairie State's best areas emerged as follows. The following 10 counties as well as any area that made the top 25 should be a consideration of any serious deer hunter this season.

Jefferson County took the top position in this analysis with an end score of 183. Densities are hig

h, harvest is the second best in the state, and most hunters here fill a tag. Pike County came in second with a final score of 172. It scored very high in both harvest and density. Randolph County took third place with a score of 134. Schuyler scored 131. Jo Daviess took fifth place with a score of 129. Fulton scored 113 for sixth place with a high score for overall harvest and density. Marion County also scored 113 points but took seventh place with consideration to a higher overall harvest in Fulton County. Hardin County came in eighth with a score of 102. It scored very high for overall harvest density and also saw a considerable increase over its harvest in 2006. Union finished ninth with a score of 98 receiving high marks in both harvest and density, and Jackson County took 10th position with a score of 97.

Regardless of where you live, great deer hunting is within a few hours of your home. Although not every county made the top cut, there are a number of places with considerable herds and excellent potential.

Region 1
Collectively, Region 1 was responsible for 25 percent of the state's total deer harvest and it boasts an average harvest density of 3.2 deer per square mile. Six counties scored in the top 25 for overall harvest and three scored in the top for density rankings.

Additionally, hunters in Region 1 will want to check out a few other areas. Peoria County did not make the top 25 counties, but has the 13th best harvest in the state. Stark, McDonough, Henry, Marshall and Winnebago counties were in the top 25 for harvest increase. And Woodford County scored in both harvest increase and hunter success.

Region 2
Chicagoland doesn't offer the most opportunistic deer hunting, but mixed in with urban sprawl are some really good areas to hunt. Key in on these areas, find a place to hunt and the deer are here waiting for a savvy hunter to find them.

Overall, Region 2 was responsible for 3 percent of the state's overall harvest with roughly one deer shot per square mile. McHenry, Grundy and Kankakee made it to the top 25 counties for harvest increase over 2006. Will County boasted the most public hunting and the highest overall whitetail harvest with 1,427 deer. McHenry has few areas to hunt, but those who found a way picked off 1,266 deer last season, and Grundy County boasts the second highest allotment of public ground and a harvest of 1,155 whitetails.

Region 3
Region 3 saw approximately 10 percent of the state's harvest. It supports an average density of 1.8 deer harvested per square mile. No county made the top 25 for harvest or density, but quite a few made it for harvest increase and hunter success. For harvest increase, Livingston, Iroquois, Vermillion, Macon, Coles, Edgar and Clark counties saw a top rating. For hunter success, Iroquois, Champaign, Moultrie, Shelby, Cumberland and Clark counties made the top 25. For overall harvest, Shelby County tabbed 2,542 deer, followed closely by Clark with 2,535 and Vermilion with 2,245. Other noteworthy areas were Iroquois, McLean, Edgar, DeWitt, Edgar, Coles and Cumberland counties each bringing in more than 1,000 whitetails.

Region 4
Responsible for 32 percent of the Prairie State's total deer harvest, describing where not to hunt in Region 4 is simpler than figuring where to hunt. Practically every county is a hotspot, but some are better than others.

The six-county region of Hancock, Adams, Pike, Calhoun, Schuyler and Brown counties boast some of the highest harvest and densities in the state and nation. Public land is readily available in most areas and chances for success are high. This area, about 3,492 square miles, is responsible for 12 percent of the state's entire harvest and sports a density of 7.3 deer harvested per square mile.

Aside from the famed Golden Triangle and its periphery, Randolph County ranked high in the overall compilation with a third-place ranking in the state. Greene County had a mark for both overall harvest and hunter success. Macoupin County did not make the top 25 this year but was ranked seventh in the state for overall harvest. Both Logan and Christian counties observed a marked increase in harvest over 2006, and Washington County boasted a top ranking for hunter success rates.

Region 5
In 2007, Region 5 was responsible for 30 percent of the state's harvest. It calculated a density of 5.3 deer harvested per square mile. The region to watch here is the quadrangle area of Fayette, Marion, Jefferson and Wayne counties. Collectively, this area observed 7 percent of the state's entire harvest. This translates into six deer killed per square mile. Additionally the four-county area of Jackson, Williamson, Johnson and Pope counties rank high in harvest and have almost unlimited public access in the Shawnee National Forest. Nearly six deer per square mile are harvested in this small region.

Other noteworthy areas in Region 5 include Hardin County, the state's second smallest district, that recorded nearly eight deer per square mile, plus there's good access in the Shawnee. Perry County scored in three categories, just missing a top 25 ranking. It had a mark for overall harvest, density and hunter success. Hamilton County is a deer magnet with a ranking as one of the state's highest densities and areas for hunter success. Jasper saw a spike in harvest over 2006 and also was a top county for hunter success. Clay missed the top 25 for harvest, but made it for density. It also had a top ranking for hunter success. Richland, Edwards and White counties each had a mark for hunter success.

The 2008 season and future look bright for Illinois deer hunters. Regardless of how you enjoy hunting or where you live, great opportunity is right out your back door.

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