Final deer tally sees slight dip

Springfield — It was the question lingering the halls of recent outdoor sports shows in Marion, Chicago and Schaumburg.

When it comes to deer harvest, is 180,000 the new 200,000?

Hunters from the “golden years” of a decade ago had grown accustomed to posting annual harvests near the 200K mark, but a thinning deer herd – and a possibly “pickier” generation of hunters – is gradually pushing the bar down to what DNR wildlife managers refer to as a “more reasonable” level.

Take the 2012-13 harvest, for example. Shortly after the season ended on Jan. 20, DNR put the total harvest at 180,669 deer, just off the 181,451 killed in 2011-12. A mere seven years ago, hunters set the state record deer harvest with 201,209 deer. That 2005-06 season was followed the next year by a harvest of 196,241. The 2007-08 season produced a 199,611 harvest, followed by a drastic drop to 188,901 in 2008-09.

The harvest has never again approached the 200,000 mark. It hasn’t even hit 190,000.

But much of it is design, as DNR works to control a deer population that, by the late 1990s, was beginning to get out of control. DNR has contended that the state tries to keep the deer population below what the environment can support.

In reality, many hunters were surprised the deer harvest even reached 180,000 – given last summer’s drought and outbreaks of blue tongue and EHD across the state. DNR confirmed that more than 2,000 deer were found dead all over the state between July and September. Taking into consideration that many farmers who found dead deer while harvesting corn and soybeans last fall did not report the findings to DNR, the number of deer affected by EHD was likely much larger.

Paul Shelton, DNR’s Forest Wildlife Program manager, said deer biologists will spend the next few months reviewing data and “making any needed program changes in order to ensure the continued well-being of Illinois’ deer herd for the future.”

Shelton noted that during the 2012-13 season, hunters took 51 percent bucks and 49 percent does – an identical ratio to the 2011-12 season.

Broken down into the various individual seasons, it’s easy to see where the weaknesses and strengths were this season. Archery hunters tool a total of 59,728 deer, a drop from last year’s archery deer harvest of 61,974. That number surprised many because an open crossbow season was included in the second half of archery season.

The 2012-13 late-winter antlerless-only and special CWD deer seasons, which wrapped up Jan. 20, had a harvest total of 14,726 deer, compared with a harvest of 14,906 deer taken during those seasons last year.

The seven-day split seasons for the late-winter and CWD hunts were Dec. 27-30, 2012, and Jan. 18-20, 2013. Hunters in Boone, DeKalb, Grundy, Jo Daviess, Kendall, LaSalle, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties and parts of Kane County participated in the CWD season, while another 56 counties were open for the late-winter season.

Shotgun hunters took 99,461 deer during the firearms season, up from the 97,820 taken in 2011-12. Muzzleloader hunters harvested 3,630 deer during the muzzleloader-only season, down from the 4,902 the year before. The Illinois Youth Deer Season had a harvest of 3,124 deer, well above the 1,849 taken during 2011-12.

Pike County was the top harvesting county in the state this year with a total of 7,239 deer taken in all seasons.

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