If history is any indication, hunters in Illinois are likely to harvest about 150,000 deer this fall and winter.
“Over the long term — usually — you don’t see a lot of change between individual years,” said Paul Shelton, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Wildlife Program Manager. “If you look across all the seasons in the past four years, it’s been somewhere between 144,000-155,000, within 5 percent of each other.
“We haven’t made as many big changes, when your population is high and really trying to bring it down, we had way more antlerless tags out there 10 to 15 years ago. Our harvest got up to 200,000 several years ago. As we got the herd down to levels that were much more than keeping with our goal, we didn’t have to take that many deer.”
There are still plenty of deer in the fields and forests.
“We’re seeing improvements in deer populations in a lot of places,” Shelton said. “When it comes to firearm harvest, I don’t think it will translate into a lot of change. The opportunities will be good, but I don’t think the harvest won’t take any big jumps.”
The reason is simple. The state isn’t issuing as many permits as it did a few years ago.
“During the gun season, we’re probably issuing 50,000 less permits out there than there were 10 years ago,” Shelton said. “Some counties were virtually unaffected by it, others took a pretty big cut.
“It probably is grouped geographically, but they are scattered here and there. If you look at counties that are still in our late winter season, we had 70 to 78 counties in the late winter season, now we have 20-something.”
The changes to the herd are the result of a program implemented in 2008, designed to bring down deer population across the state and in some individual counties.
“We hit our highest peak probably 13 to 14 years ago,” Shelton said. “About 2003 to '04, that was about the time of the highest statewide deer population. We implemented the current objectives in 2008. These are levels we want to target for our deer population.
“The majority of counties have either come down to goal or gone down below goal. We still have some we haven’t gotten to goal yet. The ones below, we’re trying to bring up a little bit. You average that out across the state, the entire herd would actually average out to be below goal. We’re not looking to make rapid dramatic changes. You’re not going to do that one thing that is going to fix it, either up or down overnight.”
Unlike some other forest creatures, spring weather conditions have little effect on deer survival rates.
“Very little here in Illinois,” Shelton said. “There is some indication that really droughty summers, if they are dry enough to affect the amount of browse and mast out there, it may have some impact on survival of your deer. They might go into the winter not as great as they could have. That’s definitely not proven. The biggest impact on young fawns is the amount of good suitable fawning site habitat, whether mom picked out a good spot for them.”
In addition, Shelton said the overall health of the herd is good.
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease continues to plague some areas in east central Illinois. But, Shelton said there were few reports of EHD until archery hunters took the field this fall.
He also said chronic wasting disease doesn’t appear to be more prevalent, but expressed concerns the disease seems to be affecting a wider area.
Bow season began Oct. 1. The first firearm deer season is Nov. 17-19.