Deer woods face winds of change

Springfield — Longer season. Shorter season. Bigger deer herd. Smaller deer herd.

Those who study deer have their expert opinions – so do those who hunt deer.

What is for certain is that future Illinois deer seasons could look different, as DNR fulfills its promise to revisit its deer management plan. DNR Director Marc Miller recently said that the agency will hold a series of meetings to provide hunters an opportunity to have their say.

While some of those hunters border on irate about the current deer situation, there are those who have never seen better days.

It’s basically a matter of geography.

To those who’ve seen it, Bill Ullrich’s 31-pointer is the clear choice for Illinois “Deer of the Year.”

Even the modest Ullrich had to admit the non-typical, taken Oct. 26 in Peoria County, is “quite a buck.” The deer’s rack scored 2402⁄8 gross and had a net of 2201⁄8.

Ullrich, of Washburn, also took a 12-pointer this season. He said hunters in other parts of the state may have seen fewer deer, but in his corner of Illinois the deer herd seemed, well, populous.

“For the first time in my 35 years of deer hunting I got to see two bucks fight this year,” he said, recalling the day two healthy deer squared off near him.

But many hunters are claiming the deer have all but disappeared from their hunting lands.

While DNR prepares to address those who are concerned about the deer herd and review its deer plan, state lawmakers are taking whacks at several new hunting laws, filing a number of proposals that could be called for debate during the spring legislative session. Some of the new bills are re-hashed versions of bills that have never made it out of committee. Others build upon laws that are already on the books.

Included in the mix are several crossbow bills. Last spring the General Assembly approved a “Bow of Choice” season, which allowed anyone with an archery permit to use a crossbow during the second half of the archery season. Prior to the 2012-13 deer season, only hunters 62 and over, or those with a disability, were allowed to use crossbows.

Among the bills introduced so far this year:

  • HB2619. This bill, introduced by Rep. Al Riley, D-Hazel Crest, would allow hunters 55 and over to hunt with crossbows during the full archery season. The bill was filed Feb. 21 and sent to the Rules Committee the same day.
  • HB2703. This bill, introduced by Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, would grant crossbow use to anyone 14 and under. Phelps’ bill was introduced Feb. 21 and sent to Rules the same day.
  • HB284. Also filed by Phelps, this proposal calls for permits for deer hunting and turkey hunting to be issued without charge to certain individuals or groups provided that the individual or group owns or is a resident tenant of at least 20 acres of Illinois land. In other words, it would lower the requirement for what has been known in the state as a “Free Landowners Permit.” Currently, the requirement is 40 acres. This bill was filed Feb. 22 and sent to Rules on Feb. 26.
  • HB1580. This bill, filed by Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, would make it illegal to “wantonly waste or destroy usable meat from game animals.” The bill was filed Feb. 13 and sent to Rules on Feb. 25.
  • HB1003. This bill, filed by Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, amends the law dealing with the baiting of wild turkey and deer. It would remove pure water from the bait definition. The bill was filed on Jan. 30 and placed for second reading in the House on Feb. 27.

Crossbows help Indiana hunters set record

While new crossbows laws failed to push Illinois’ deer harvest higher, neighboring Indiana, which extended its deer season this past year and added crossbow hunting, reported a record deer harvest.

The Indiana DNR said hunters harvested 136,248 deer, breaking the record of 134,004 set in 2010.

Mitch Marcus, a spokesman for the DNR, said crossbows were made legal during archery season. Marcus said the changes were designed to reduce the deer population to “balance the ecological, recreational and economic needs” of Indiana residents.

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