The Land of Lincoln is full of white-tailed deer hunting opportunities. Let's look at last season's best harvest counties in all parts of the state...
The 2009 deer season began a little slow, but it closed out with a bang.
"For mid-January weather, this was about as good as it gets," said Paul Shelton, forest wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Shelton said that deer hunters taking to the field for the last three days of hunting experienced excellent conditions, which he described as "a good way to close out another successful season."
Wet weather earlier last year caused a late planting and subsequent late harvest of the corn crops. Illinois experienced its fourth wettest year on record. With corn still standing in early October, deer were difficult to find during the early archery hunt. The slow action continued through the first firearms season as well.
A cool dry spring in 2010 allowed most farmers to get into the fields in April and early May. That is more than a month earlier than they were able to plant a year earlier. If the hot summer months hold up, most of the grain should be out of the fields either before or shortly after the beginning of the archery season. That bodes well for a good statewide harvest in 2010-2011.
Improved conditions and the addition of an expanded seven-day split late-winter firearms antlerless-only Deer Season as well as the special chronic wasting disease (CWD) deer season in select counties helped Illinois deer hunters take a total of 189,277 deer last season.
The late-winter season provides additional harvest opportunities in another 70 counties as a deer population management tool.
The total season harvest was greater than the 2008-09 harvest of 188,901. The record harvest occurred during 2005-06, when hunters killed 201,301 deer.
This past year hunters in the prairie state harvested 50.5 percent does and 49.5 percent bucks.
Taking a closer look at harvest figures by county, it becomes apparent that those counties that topped the list by zone last year almost unfailingly did so again this year.
Hunters in such a diverse state as Illinois need to take a variety of factors into consideration in selecting a hunting area. In addition to proximity to home, there are such things as quality of habitat, public land availability, amount of managed and/or leased land and the amount of city and urban development. Most of the top areas seem to be near rivers and agricultural fields.
For an extensive list of public hunting areas and their associated management offices, refer to the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations 2010-2011. It is available wherever licenses are sold and from all office of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It can be requested on line from the IDNR website at: www.dnr.state.il.us, or by mail from the IDNR, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL 62702-1271.
Let's take a zone-by-zone look at Illinois deer hunting, studying the top-producing counties in each zone and at public hunting opportunities in all parts of the state. Because top counties do tend to be quite consistent from one year to the next, this overview should provide excellent direction as to which counties will provide the best hunting prospects in all parts of the state this fall.
Nestled in the northwest corner of the state and basically along the Mississippi River is one of the most picturesque regions of the Prairie State. Despite all the fine scenery in the area, though, the harvest from the area is the second lowest in Illinois. This may be in part due to the land taken up by the urban areas associated with the Quad Cities.
A total harvest of 17,683 in 2009-10 marked an increase of 465 deer over the previous year. The top county was Jo Daviess, with 4,147 deer killed, which was an increase of 433. In third place was Carroll County, the next county to the south. Both counties have a western border on the Mississippi River. Carroll County's harvest in 2009-10 was 1,973, compared to the previous year's total of 1,915. Second place in the zone was Knox County with 2,966, a slight decline of nine deer.
In the north-central part of the state, Zone 2 is rich in agricultural fields, which provide a constant source of food for the whitetail population. The organic rich soil can hold large amounts of water for long periods of time. The zone is largely rural farmland and lies a little more than 100 miles west of Chicago.
Year after year, the same three counties produce the majority of deer harvested. Peoria County produced 3,364 deer last year. That is more than the total for the three top counties in Zone l and represents an increase of 18 deer from the prior year. In second place was LaSalle County, with 2,825. Third went to Bureau County with 2,769.
Peoria County does not have public hunting available, but LaSalle County offers public hunting at Mitchells Grove State Nature Area, Mathiessen State Park, Marseilles Fish & Wildlife Area, and Sandy Ford State Nature Area.
Bureau County has archery only hunting at Mautino Fish & Wildlife Area and Hennepin Canal State Park. Other public deer hunting opportunities within the region are found at Miller Anderson Woods State Nature Area and George S. Park State Nature Area.
The most populous area of the state, the northeastern zone is also the one with the lowest harvest numbers. Chicago and the collar counties had a modest decline in the numbers from last year. This year's harvest was 7,983, which was down from 2008-09 by a total of 54 deer.
The expansion of housing developments in suburban areas has cut into the available habitat area. The top counties of Will (1,353), Iroquois (1,210) and McHenry (1,140) combined did not produce as many deer as many individual counties in other parts of the state. This is not to say that the deer are not there; just that available hunting is very limited.
Public hunting can be found at Des Plaines Conse
rvation Area and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. An archery-only area can be found at the Des Plaines Game Propagation Center.
These west central counties have been producing record harvests in recent years, and that trend continued last year. In 2008-09 the harvest was 47,118. Last season the harvest was 47,820, an increase of 702 deer. The top producer was again the world-famous Pike County, with 8,131 deer. Public access in this area is very limited. Most of the good hunting land is leased by outfitters and private clubs.
Pike County contains expansive stretches of hardwood-covered ridges and other fine whitetail habitat. It is located between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
Two public areas, which cover a total of 11,500 acres, are Ray Norbut State Fish & Wildlife Area and Mississippi River-Pool 24 State Fish & Wildlife Area. The rest of the county is private land, and most is closed to public hunting access.The second best harvest in this zone came from Fulton County, northwest of Pike County on the Illinois River. Last fall a total of 5,344 deer were registered, compared to 5,065 the previous year. Public hunting can be found at one Fulton County location: Anderson Lake Fish & Wildlife Area. This 1900-acre parcel is open only during the archery season.
Fulton County is farm country and timberland. The Spoon River and the Illinois River border it. This combination of habitat elements provides bedding, feeding and drinking areas. The timber and unharvested corn also provide concealment for the deer.
Third-place Adams County has three public hunting areas near Quincy. With a county-wide harvest last year of 4,613, Adams County produced 107 more deer than in 2008-09. As with other counties in this zone, the proximity to water and grain fields seemed to be a key to hunter success.
Public land hunting for deer is permitted on the 8,536 acres of land of Mississippi River Pool 21 and Mississippi River Pool 21 Islands with its 6,300 acres. Close to Quincy, the Quincy Bay Federal Land contains 1,580 acres. Siloam Spring State Park (Fall Cree Unit) has 2,200 acres of land available only during the archery season.
Zone 5 might be described as the heartland of the Prairie State. Nestled in the center of the state and in the heart of the level "grand prairie," this region offers rich soil that promotes agricultural crops. Small rivers and lakes provide water to the area.The total Zone 5 harvest last year was 18,781, a slight decline of 38 deer. The top three counties remain Fayette, Shelby and Montgomery in exactly the same order as the previous year. Fayette showed a decline in harvest from 3,333 in 2008-09 to 3,174 in 2009-10. Shelby, in second place, increased its harvest by 93 to 2,489. Third place in the zone was Montgomery County with a harvest of 2,166.
Public hunting in Fayette County can be found at the 9,475-acre Carlyle Lake Wildlife Management Area. In addition, a muzzleloader-only area is located at Ramsey Lake State Recreation Area and offers 1,610 acres.
In Shelby County, there is public hunting at Hidden Springs State Forest with 963 acres and on the 9,000 acres of Shelbyville Federal Land. The hunting at Eagle Creek State Park and Wolf Creek State Park is archery only. The last two have a combined acreage of 1,020 acres.
This east central zone along the border with Indiana showed a total harvest of 21,069, an increase of 300 deer.
First place in Zone 6 was Clark County, with 2,423 deer harvested last year, which was up from 2,323 the previous year. Second place Vermillion County came in with 2,352, up 132 and an improvement from third place in 2008. Third place was Crawford County with a total harvest of 2,251, an increase of 30.
Clark County has a public archery-only deer hunting area in the 857-acre Lincoln Trail State Park. Public land deer hunts are possible in Crawford County at Crawford County Fish & Wildlife Area, which is 1,100 acres.
There is public hunting available at Middle Fork Wildlife Management Area a reclaimed strip mine site in Vermillion County. Additional public hunting opportunities can be found at Kickapoo State Recreation area and Harry "Babe" Woodyard State Recreation Area.
Moving down into the southwest sections of the state, one comes to the bottomland and canyons of the Shawnee National Forest. The extensive public land available for hunting in this and Zone 8 make this area attractive for deer hunters. Agriculture provides food, the feeder creeks and swamps provide water, and the ridges and canyons provide shelter.
A total harvest of 20,173 in 2009 marked a decline from 20,976 in 2008. The early season wet weather probably contributed to the lower total harvest. Soil here held water much later in the season and contributed to farmers not being able to get their corn out of the fields. Deer love to stay in corn as long as they are able to feed and find water. Many corn fields in this area had abundant standing water.
Randolph County had the highest deer harvest in 2009 with 3,678. However, that was down from the 3,851 that were taken from same county in 2008. Second place went to Jackson County, where 3,017 deer were taken, a decline from 3,405 harvested in 2008. Union County had an increase of nine deer for a total of 2,949 in 2009.
Beyond the hunting on Shawnee National Forest Land, there are public muzzleloader-only hunting opportunities on state property at Fort DeChartres Historical Site. Archery-only hunting is permitted at Fort Kaskaskia Historical Site. Firearm and muzzleloader hunting can be found at Randolph County Conservation Area. Turkey Bluffs Fish & Wildlife Area and Kaskaskia River Fish & Wildlife Area are open to all seasons and weapons. All are located in Randolph County.
To the east in Jackson County, public hunting areas are Kinkaid Lake, Oakwood Bottoms Federal Land and Giant City State Park, which together provide 9,355 acres of hunting. In Union County LaRue Swamp Federal Land, Bluff Lakes Federal Land, Trail of Tears State Forest and Union County Fish & Wildlife Area offer a total of 9,100 acres.
The southeast counties, which are heavily loaded with both state and federal public land hunting, created one of the few areas in the state to show substantial increases in the harvest data. A total for the zone of 35,548 in 2009 was an increase over 2008 when 33,103 deer were taken.
The many stands of hardwoods, ample water and interspersed corn fields attract and hold whitetails in this area. It is traditionally a top place to hunt.
Topping off the list of counties in Zone 8 was Jefferson County with 4,612, which marked a substantial rise in harvest figure from the 3,571 deer that were taken in 2008. Second place Marion also showed an increase in 2009. The har
vest went from 3,571 in 2008 to 3,620. Wayne County followed up with 3,504 in 2009, up from 3,378 the prior year.
In Jefferson there are 1,540 acres of public land hunts at Rend Lake Wildlife Management Area and Rend Lake Federal Land. There is an archery-only hunt held at the 650-acre Mt. Vernon Game Propagation Farm. Marion County public land use is limited to archery-only hunting on the 2,580-acre Stephen A. Forbes State Recreation Area. In Wayne County there is an archery-only area at Sam Dale Lake Conservation Area which comprises 950 acres.