Hunters enjoy early elk season
Springfield - Gone is the excuse empty-handed deer hunters have used in Illinois for decades: “If only I had another half-hour Š.”
When firearms hunters hit their treestands for the November season, they will be allowed to stay 30 minutes past sunset.
The extended hunting period - previously hunters had to pack it in at sunset - was passed as a new state law earlier this year and is probably the biggest change hunters will see in 2007-2008.
Coming off last year's 50th anniversary of firearms deer hunting, the state is expected to produce another bumper crop of bucks and does. Hunters harvested almost exactly 200,000 deer in all seasons during 2006-2007. That was down slightly from the record year of 2005-06, when hunters took 202,492.
Shotgun hunters took a total of 115,279 last season, while archers killed 65,170. Other harvests included late-winter antlerless-only (9,075), muzzleloader (5,939), youth (1,099), and the special chronic wasting disease hunt (625).
Even as chronic wasting disease and epizootic hemorrhagic disease take their toll on the deer herd, state deer biologist Paul Shelton said the overall population in the state seems to have remained fairly steady in the past few years, after peaking in 1995.
He estimates there to be 800,000 deer roaming the state. That's about 100,000 more than wildlife officials would like.
“Last year was a good harvest, and if the weather had been a little better we might have come close to the previous year's record harvest,” Shelton said. ”During the firearm seasons we had some rough weather. Then, again, a rough week or so during the late-winter season.”
Even with perfect weather, there's no guarantee that hunters would thin out the deer herd. Shelton, like many others in his field, believes many hunters are too choosy when it comes to taking deer.
“Some would say the way to cut down the numbers is to provide more hunting opportunities,” he said.”But any additional opportunities would have to be for antlerless deer.”
Tim Overstreet, an archery and firearms hunter from Harrisburg, agreed with that assessment, noting that he's seen many hunters from all parts of the state pass on perfectly nice does.
“They'd rather go home with nothing than take an antlerless deer,” he said.
Harvests that push 200,000 deer seem common to Illinois hunters these days, but 50 years ago firearms hunters really had to do some hunting to find their deer. In that 1957 season, 33 counties participated in a three-day season, with hunters harvesting about 1,700 deer.
Archers that year harvested 220 deer.
Other changes for deer hunters have likely been noticed. When archery season began Oct. 1, the number of crossbows being used was expected to multiply. A new law this year gives hunters age 62 and older the right to legally use a crossbow during archery season without a special permit.
How many hunters will take to the woods this season is still unknown, but DNR officials expect the number to be similar to last year, when more than 425,000 deer hunting permits were sold for both firearms and archery seasons. Nearly 90,000 permits were distributed to landowners.
DNR estimates there are 100,000 resident archery and 195,000 resident firearms hunters. But there is a growing number of nonresident hunters - an estimated 21,000 nonresident bowhunters and about 11,000 nonresident gun hunters.