Deer hunters enter new era with excitement

Harrisburg, Ill. — It came and went without bells or whistles – without alarms or sirens, too.

The state’s first open crossbow season made its debut Dec. 3. And hardly anyone noticed.

“We did see quite a few guys pass through and a lot of standing around showing off new crossbows,” Jon Schurtz, who clerks at a convenience story along Route 145 in Saline County, near the Shawnee National Forest.

“But did we see them come back out of the woods with a lot of deer? Nothing noticeable.”

Actually, DNR has not officially labeled the new addition as a “crossbow season.” The agency re-wrote the Wildlife Code after Gov. Pat Quinn signed House Bill 4819. It was described as a “bow of choice season.”

Crossbows, which had been limited to disabled hunters and those age 62 and over, were made legal for all archery hunters earlier this year. The inaugural crossbow season encompassed the second half of the traditional archery season and wraps up Jan. 20.

DNR officials have said they don’t expect the new season to have much of an impact on the deer harvest. There was no official count of crossbow kills during the first few days of the season, making it difficult to gauge the impact.

As of Dec. 6, archery hunters had taken 51,707 deer. The total archery harvest last season was 61,872. With more than a month remaining in the season, it’s likely bowhunters will come close to equaling the 2011 number.

While it may not result in more deer taken in the state, an open crossbow season does bring an element of opportunity with it.

Hunters who disdain shooting traditional bows and in the past have stuck with firearms hunting may see crossbow hunting as a chance to get in the woods after the shotgun seasons wind down.

“I have seen hunters who fall into that category, certainly,” Carol Rau, of Sure Shot Archery Center in Belvidere, said. “I see the upside to this as getting more hunters involved. I understand traditional bow and arrow hunters being a little against it, because there is a lot of history with traditional archery. But these days getting any hunter involved is good.”

Deer hunting already brings people – and money – into Illinois. Each fall, thousands of hunters from nearly every state come here to hunt deer. Pike County and the counties around are given economic boosts.

The Quincy Area Visitors and Convention Bureau recently reported that the average hunter spends an average of $150 per day. Hotels, restaurants, gas stations – and, of course, outfitters – embrace deer hunting seasons.

“It’s a family-operated business so it means a lot to us, and there’s a lot of people that count on us to lease their property in order to have an income or make something,” Eagle Lakes Outfitters co-owner Tina Sprague told WGEM-TV in Quincy. “It brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars to this area. With all of the outfitters it brings in millions of dollars to Pike County.”

The addition of crossbow hunting is expected to bring even more visitors to Pike County and other deer hunting destinations across the state.

For Illinois residents, the ongoing concern is how the state’s deer herd will be affected by a crossbow season and out-of-state visitors.

The harvest has been in decline since 2007. The record of 201,301 deer was set in 2005.

A short few years ago, the state’s deer population was estimated at between 750,000 and 800,000 deer. These days, DNR estimates there are 700,000 to 750,000 deer in the herd.

Few firearms accidents

Following some tragic accidents during the 2011 deer season, the current season has had few reports.

A case in Pike County where a man was shot was still under investigation. There has been no indication if the man was duck hunting or deer hunting.

A press release from Pike Sheriff Paul Petty said the department received a 911 call at 7:48 a.m. Dec. 1 regarding a hunting accident in rural Chambersburg. Upon arriving at the scene, authorities encountered the body of John R. Ware, of Jacksonville, who was pronounced dead. Petty said preliminary indications led authorities to believe Ware suffered a fatal gunshot wound.

Otherwise, no fatalities related to deer hunting have been confirmed in the state.

“We’ve had a couple accidents happen already this year just with the archery season of people falling out of their treestands,” Kris Taylor, a DNR CPO in southern Illinois, said.

According to DNR, in 2011 there were 14 hunting-related incidents reported that did not involve the discharge of a firearm or bow. Thirteen of those accidents were treestand falls.

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