Hunters down but not out of deer game

Springfield —  Not much can be said about the deer season that wasn’t said about the deer season before. Except maybe this: Fewer hunters may be inclined to buy permits this fall.

Some hints of this were evident during the 2016 shotgun season, when roughly 314,500 permits were sold – down from almost 324,000 last year. Likewise, the total deer harvest numbers will come in lower, further frustrating hunters in some counties.

As this issue of Illinois Outdoor News went to press, DNR was still calculating results of the late-winter and special CWD seasons in order to come up with the total harvest. But archery season, which ended Jan. 15, produced a harvest of only 53,678 – down from last year’s harvest of 56,740. And the firearms harvest of 79,429 deer was down from the 2015 total of more than 86,000 deer.

Of course, even the most frustrated Illinois deer hunter can’t dispute the quality of the deer that were taken this season. Several monster bucks were included in the harvest, and those big deer came from all corners of the state.

Deer hunting is certainly not dead, but hunters are looking for change. It’s a steady decline in the overall herd that seems to be irking – and frustrating – the hunting community.

Changes in store?

Last year’s overall harvest of 155,229 halted several years of free-falling harvest numbers. The harvest had been 145,720 in 2014-15 and 148,615 in 2013-14.

Hunters were optimistic after the jump last year.

Kevin Chapman, president of the Illinois Whitetail Alliance (ilwhitetailalliance.com), noted after last season that the state’s deer herd numbers suddenly weren’t dropping like they were after the Illinois Joint Deer Task Force for Deer Population Control regulations first went into effect almost nine years ago.

Actually, Chapman noted, population levels weren’t moving significantly either direction. Thus, hunters  feared that low harvest numbers from previous years wasn’t helping grow the herd – the lower harvests were just keeping the herd stable.

While DNR has made no firm plans for changes to the 2017-18 season, there are expectations.

Decline by design?

DNR Deer Project Manager Tom Micetich raised some brows when he recently told WSIL-TV in Carterville that the decline in the deer population was by design.

“Recognizing that the deer numbers, especially the number of deer standing in the middle of the highways, is not a good thing,” Micetich said.

Micetich also noted that in 2008, when lawmakers called for DNR to reduce statewide deer/vehicle accident numbers by 14 percent, it was clear the herd would shrink. DNR has used e a county-by-county approach to issuing late-season antlerless permits based on the accident data.

EHD in 2012 and 2013 hit the deer population significantly.

“If you got hit hard during that period of time, the numbers recover in two or three years, but it takes a little while for the age structure to come back for those guys looking for large antlers,” Micetich told WSIL-TV.

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