Modesto, Ill. — While there are certainly many hunters in Illinois who are just fine that the state’s non-resident deer permit fees are higher than any neighboring states, Brock Campbell certainly represents the other side of the equation.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Campbell, who runs a deer hunting outfitter business in Pike County, which draws big-time money from afar because of the area’s reputation for world-class bucks. “I lose countless customers every year because they can hunt elsewhere cheaper. The fees are insane, especially in these times.”
To be clear, the prospect of the state raising or changing the fees for either resident or non-resident deer permits for next season doesn’t appear to be on the table.
Tim Schweizer, a state spokesman, said, via email, “There are no plans being considered to raise hunting license or permit fees that we’re aware of,” noting that such changes are established by the Illinois General Assembly.
The last major change to the fees was in 2010, when the resident either-sex firearms permits were raised to $25 (they had been $15). The resident antlerless firearms permits were raised from $15 to $17.50. That year, the non-resident either-sex firearms permits were raised from $250 to $300. And non-resident combination archery permits were raised to $411.
Schweizer, responding to the non-resident fees being higher than the bordering states, said, “Traditionally, resident fees are lower than non-resident permit fees because Illinois residents are the owners of the state’s wildlife.”
Indeed, the Illinois resident deer permits are pretty much in line with the bordering states, give or take a few bucks.
But in most cases, bordering states charge non-residents a lot less money.
“If it wasn’t for the reputation and the number of bucks we put into the record books, I think a lot of people would say, ‘To heck with it,’” Campbell said.
He noted the decline in sales of non-resident combination permits, which are the state’s priciest deer permits ($411).
The price of the permit has continued to rise over the last decade, and back in 2008, the Illinois General Assembly raised the quota from 20,000 permits to 25,000, while at the same time raising the cost to $401 (as mentioned, it was raised another $10 in 2008).
That first year, sales fell well short of the quota at 20,853, and they’ve continued to decline ever since (19,197 were sold in 2009; 18,776 were sold in 2010; and 16,793 were sold in 2011).
That’s frustrated outfitters such as Campbell, whose businesses draw a major influx of out-of-state money every fall.
“Times have changed,” Campbell said, noting that business is down 50 percent since 2008. “My gun hunt has come down, but [the permits] haven’t. We’re selling that hunt for half, but they haven’t done anything to help that, and it’s pretty frustrating. Even if they dropped the prices enough to where people think it was affordable, they would probably make as much money. I think somebody up there is looking at it all wrong. If you get competitive with everybody in the Midwest, we will sell more licenses.”
Campbell said the management techniques that have led to Illinois’ world-class buck reputation have been copied in neighboring states, creating more competition, and enticing hunters to hunt elsewhere, especially when deer permits can be had for far less money in other states.
“The other states are starting to kill good deer and their tags are becoming a lot more accessible,” said Campbell.
Campbell acknowledged that keeping the fees high is probably popular among the state’s hunters, who would prefer there be some of the state’s trophy bucks left over for the residents.
Indeed, in western counties such Pike and Adams, where the price of a guided hunt peaked (they’ll still set a hunter back several thousand dollars), the demand had priced out the average hunter.
But the outfitters aren’t the only ones to benefit from the deer hunting industry, Campbell said.
“It helps the local economy,” said Campbell, claiming that west of the Illinois River, the hunting industry is second only to agriculture. “There’s a lot of businesses that wouldn’t be able to stay open year-round if it wasn’t for the three-month deer season.”