Illinois 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 2
November 04, 2010
Record books don't tell the entire story about Illinois' biggest whitetails, but they're a great place for you to start your quest this season for your trophy buck. Diligent scouting, hard work afield and ample anecdotes complete the formula.
No doubt, the best way to find a big buck in Illinois is to scout potential big-buck hunting areas for signs of trophy-deer activity. But scouting for big bucks can also include viewing sources of information such as record books, newspaper and magazine articles, visiting and Internet chat rooms that yield anecdotal information.
For example, a study recently completed for the National Rifle Association shows that in the past decade Illinois deer hunters have posted the largest number of entries of trophy white-tailed deer in the record book of the Boone & Crockett Club. Recently, the 12th edition of the Records of North American Big Game, maintained and published by the B&C Club, revealed that among the top counties in the country for record-book entries of whitetails, four lie in Illinois: Pike, Jo Daviess, Adams and Schuyler counties. However, in 2008 these counties interestingly did not produce big numbers of bucks for registration in the state-sponsored Illinois Big Buck Recognition Program.
During the 2009 season, 50.5 percent of the overall Illinois deer kill were does; 49.5 percent were bucks. But the harvest figures do not show the size of those bucks, perhaps because deer-kill check stations are no longer used in Illinois. Check-station personnel once not only collected data on the sex of the deer but also the age and number of antler points. That information is no longer readily available. Cuts in state funding required the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to seek more cost-effective ways to obtain harvest information. Today's hunters report their kills by telephone and the Internet.
And record-book deer are not the stated goal of the IDNR's deer-herd management team. In its report of the Joint Deer Population Task Force last year, the IDNR's goals in deer management were defined: "In setting an objective for deer population, the goal is to strike a balance between a properly-managed, sustainable deer resource and a publicly-tolerable (level) of negative deer/human interactions, such as the level of car accidents."
Nowadays, getting a clear picture of Illinois' best big-buck harvest areas can be deceptive. Record books provide information about big-buck kills, but it is not always current. Hunters may take a big buck but not have it scored. Others may live out of state and not enter their deer in the Illinois records. Still other big deer may not be scored until years later. Some areas of Illinois offer very limited deer hunting or no deer hunting at all. In one season, big deer from those areas may cross into an adjacent county where deer hunting is allowed and be harvested. The next season, few big bucks -- perhaps, none -- will make that transition and trophy bucks may be completely absent from the area.
Some counties' high harvest numbers may be due to large amounts of public land available to deer hunters. Other counties may produce big deer but have severely limited hunter access due to private lease agreements or commercial development.
For sure, some of Illinois' best trophy deer hunting lands are controlled by lease agreements with private groups or by outfitters who control the number and size of deer to be harvested. These management techniques, while often good for the herd, also can provide a distorted view of the overall harvest. Although many hunting permits might be available, they might not produce kill figures because the permits remain unsold or unused.
A good example of this is a 2009 buck taken in Kendall County by a bowhunter. In 2008, Kendall County did not produce a single entry in the state's Big Bucks Recognition Program. Chris Kiernan, of Morris, Illinois, harvested the buck. It scored 268 1/8 non-typical Pope & Young points. The 37-point deer carried a huge typical frame with balanced abnormal points and a wide spread. Once a P&Y Club committee reviews the scoring next March, the buck should be the new Illinois state-record non-typical white-tailed deer. However, Kiernan appears to have chosen not to record the buck in the state's record-book program.
One thing records do show is that a certain area may have the potential habitat that attracts and produces big deer. In some counties, big deer are produced in areas where hunting is prohibited, such as city suburbs. And the big deer located there might not migrate to other areas of the county where they can be hunted. However, when big bucks are taken in non-developed areas, the trend produces a picture that paints rural areas as better producers of big deer. That's not necessarily so.
Gaining hunting access to land in many areas of the state can be difficult. Many hunters find they must hunt public land or engage in expensive lease agreements. The high property values dictate the costs of lease agreements. However, public hunting land can be scattered in and around these leased lands. Hunters can locate these lands in the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, published annually by the IDNR. It is available in their offices and wherever licenses are sold. Do not overlook the small tracts of public land identified in the regulations. It's not unusual for big deer to hide in these "islands" of deer habitat.
To qualify for the Illinois Big Buck Recognition Program, deer must be legally taken with either a firearm or archery tackle (including crossbow). Its antlers must be scored by certified measurers after 60 days of drying. The standards for scoring are those set by the B&C Club, which are also used by the P&Y Club for scoring archery trophies. Deer taken by firearms must score a minimum of 140 points for a typical rack and 160 points for a non-typical rack. Deer killed by archery and crossbow tackle must score a minimum of 115 points for typical racks and 130 points for non-typical antlers.
For more information about the program and a list of scorers, contact the IDNR, phone: (217) 785-5091, or visit the IDNR Web site at http://dnr.state.il.us/events.
The most complete records of Illinois trophy whitetails at the time of this writing are for the 2008-09 season. Here is what they tell us.
Some of the largest whitetails in Illinois live in this bluff country along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers in the northwest part of the state. They got that way because they are among the most difficult deer to hunt. Pay attention to the swirling wind patterns created by the terrain and set up near routes that concentrate buck travel.
In 2007 Zone 1 produced 24 trophy-deer entries. In 2008, however, only six deer were entered in the Illinois records program. Hunters in Rock Island County, which stretches along the M
ississippi River, posted two of those entries. Excellent public hunting in Rock Island County can be found south of Moline in the big river's bottomlands.
Four counties -- Mercer, Jo Daviess, Carroll and Knox -- in Zone 1 tied for second place with one entry each. Collectively, these counties hold numerous rivers that provide excellent deer cover. From the driftless area of Jo Daviess on the north, southward to the riverside bluffs, ravines, thick maple bottoms and adjacent lowland grain fields, excellent trophy whitetail habitat stretches throughout Zone 1.
In north-central Illinois, record-class deer in Zone 2 numbered 12 in 2008. Thirty-two trophy bucks were recorded in 2007.
Peoria County was the leader in Zone 2 when it comes to big deer. Hunters here posted four record-book entries in 2008. The bluff region near Chillicothe, the forestland around Jubilee College State Park, and the area of Banner Marsh carry good deer herds and public hunting access. Deer hunters in Woodford County in the eastern portion of Zone 2 also posted four entries in the 2008 records program. Both Peoria and Woodford counties are located about half way between Chicago and St. Louis.
Hunters from Putnam, LaSalle and DeKalb counties all posted one entry each. This rich agricultural land is divided by the Illinois and Vermillion rivers corridors.
Zone 3 in northeast Illinois combines the Chicago area and its suburban collar counties. In 2007 hunters in Zone 3 produced nine record-book entries, but don't let that figure deceive you. Much of the urban Chicago and suburban forest preserves do not allow the hunting of what are big deer that feed on ample food supplies and reach advanced ages. In 2008 hunters in Zone 3 posted 11 trophy bucks in the records program. Most came from the less commercially developed areas.
Despite heavy hunting pressure in Iroquois County on the southern edge of Zone 3, hunters here in 2008 posted five record-book whitetails. Hunting pressure is heavy in Iroquois County, but the 2,185-acre Iroquois County Conservation Area provides good public-land access and, of course, private hunting leases can be arranged in much of the county.
Second place in Zone 3 goes to Will County with three trophy bucks entered in the 2008 records program. Will County contains large tracts of mixed grasslands, forestlands and river bottom land. Public access is good, with public lands available in the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairies, Goose Lake State Park, Des Plaines Fish and Wildlife Area and Heidecke Lake.
Hunters in Grundy County on the western edge of Zone 3, posted two big bucks in 2008. Grundy County contains farmland and borders agriculturally rich LaSalle County, where development is light and large farms are common.
In 2007 42 deer from Zone 4 in west- central Illinois were entered in the state's big-bucks record program. In 2008 that number dropped to 24. Hunter access in this area is difficult due to lease agreements between landowners and other groups or outfitters. With ample bottomland, wooded hills and farm fields, Zone 4 has traditionally produced some of Illinois' largest whitetails.
Jersey County, along the Mississippi River, took top honors in 2008 in Zone 4. Hunters here posted five bucks in the state records. Meanwhile, deer hunters in Fulton County posted four trophy bucks in the books. The Spoon River and Illinois River corridors, as well as strip mines, provide excellent food and shelter areas.
Farther south, deer hunters in Madison County placed four trophy-class whitetails in the 2008 record book.
Situated in central Illinois, Zone 5 produced 52 trophy-buck entries in the 2007 state records program, but only 20 bucks were recorded by the state among area deer hunters in 2008. Hunters in Bond County in the southwest portion of Zone 5 produced four of those bucks in 2008.
Deer hunters in McLean County equaled their counterparts in Shelby and Menard counties, all posting three trophy bucks each. Some of the biggest bucks came from the northwest corner of McLean County.
Significant portions of public hunting land lie in Shelby County, but hunter access can be difficult because private land lies adjacent to much of it, and roads leading into the public areas are scarce. A quick study of area maps reveals walk-in sites to some great hunting spots, while others are accessible only by boat from Lake Shelbyville.
Much of Zone 5 is farming country. Bucks in farm country do not enjoy the unlimited cover available to big timberland bucks, but they are masters for making use of the cover and habitat available to them. Hunters should check tree lots and fence lines carefully for deer rubs, and look for often-used paths across creeks, draws and tree lots. These areas produce big deer year after year.
In 2007 36 trophy-buck entries from Zone 6 were posted in the state record books. A total of only 10 deer from Zone 6 were entered in the program in 2008.
In fact, no more than two record-book bucks were recorded in 2008 from any one county in Zone 6. Hunters in Vermilion County posted two bucks, citing the best hunting areas were found along the Vermilion River basin and its tributaries. But big bucks have often been sighted near Kickapoo State Park, too, where deer cover is good and food-rich fields can hold big deer.
Hunters in Clark County, along the Wabash River, produced two entries as well as did their counterparts in the farm country of Richland County.
The topography of Zone 6 is very much like that in Zone 5.
In 2008 Zone 7 in southwestern Illinois was one of only two zones that posted more trophy bucks in the state's record book than were posted following the 2007 deer hunting season. Hunters here posted 20 whitetails last year in the program, compared to 18 in 2007. Steep sandstone bluffs, wooded ridges and narrow creek bottoms produce many deer each year in Zone 7, where hunting pressure is heavy on large tracts of publicly accessible state and federal lands.
In fact, hunters in Randolph County in Zone 7 collectively posted nine record-book bucks last season -- the most trophy bucks posted from any one county in 2008. An abundance of deer and a lot of often overlooked public hunting areas combine to make this an excellent choice for deer hunters. Pyramid State Recreation Area probably accounts for much of the harvest. In 2007, hunters in Randolph County posted just four record-book bucks.
Washington County deer hunters entered four bucks in the state records program, compared to three animals the previous year. Meanwhile, hunters in St. Clair and Clinton counties each produced two record-book buck entries in the program.
In southeast Illinois, most of the public hunting access in Zone 8 is found in the Shawnee National Forest, lands operated and maintained by the US Arm
y Corps of Engineers, and in numerous state parks. Still, the 2008 record-book bucks posted in the state program were killed in areas unassociated with these large tracts of public hunting lands.
Deer hunters in Zone 8 in 2008 posted 16 trophy bucks in the state records program, compared to 11 bucks entered in 2007. Hunters in White and Marion counties posted three entries each. Both counties contain good stands of timber in close proximity to agricultural lands planted with corn and soybeans. In White County, excellent deer hunting is found in the lowlands along the Wabash River. Any flooding of the river pushes the deer up out of the lowlands and into the hills and bluffs that adjoin it. Marion County deer hunters like to prowl the Kaskaskia River corridor.
The record books -- whether maintained by the state or published by the trophy records keepers of the Boone & Crockett Club and the Pope & Young Club -- prove that taking a trophy-class whitetail in Illinois is more than possible. But not all trophy bucks get scored and many will never be entered in any record book. Combining the records with good scouting and hunting skills, patience and even some luck can put you in the right spot at the right time to tag the trophy buck of a lifetime in Illinois.