Bowhunters will be ‘eye in the skies’ once again

Springfield — A bowhunter tends to pay attention.

Which is why when deer and turkey hunters take to their stands for the Oct. 1 archery opener, many will once again be called upon to be on the lookout for coyotes, bobcats, fox, mink and other furbearers.

Squirrels and feral cats, too.

Bob Bluett, DNR’s Wildlife Diversity Biologist, said Archery Hunter Surveys are in the process of being sent out to more than 3,000 hunters around the state. Hunters who purchase more than one archery permit are likely to be selected. Those hunters are asked to make daily notes on wildlife they witness while sitting in their stands while waiting to harvest a deer.

Craig Miller at the Illinois Natural History Survey handles the mechanics of the survey, but DNR’s Division of Wildlife benefits from the data, Bluett explained.

“For example, in recent years we started getting surveys in that reported more and more river otters, which helped us confirm their population numbers,” Bluett said. “The surveys help us establish a baseline for bobcat populations and, of course, turkey and coyote densities.”

And why ask bowhunters to keep tabs on pesky squirrels?

“We really have no other way to monitor squirrel populations,” Bluett said. “Quail have whistle calls. rabbits are monitored with roadkill surveys, on so on. A bowhunter sitting in the woods is a good source when it comes to squirrel counts.”

About one-third of hunters who receive the survey actually participate, and Bluett said those who do fill out the survey tend to be dedicated.

During the 2012 season, DNR received useable surveys from 896 hunters who logged 55,067 hours of observations. The goal for the survey, per recommendations by researchers at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, is to obtain 1,650 useable surveys.

Archery deer hunters who volunteer are asked to keep standardized daily logs of their efforts – number of hours afield – and wildlife observations from Oct. 1 through Nov. 14.

Bluett said surveys come in once hunters begin to harvest deer.

“We start seeing a few come in right when the bowhunting season opens, then we see a flood come in toward the end of October, followed by a trickle around

Thanksgiving time as hunters take time to complete their surveys,” he said.

DNR first administered the survey during the 1991 archery season as part of a Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration project.

Since then, data inputs have been averaged for each hunter-location. For example, if an archer hunts 20 days in one county, meaning that if a hunter hunts one or more days in second county, that data is tabulated as a separate sampling.

In 2005, DNR recruited new observers every other year rather than every year, as a way to save money, Bluett said. The move caused sample sizes to decrease during off-years.

“Campaigning to get more hunters to fill out the survey is ongoing,” he admitted. “The information is invaluable.”

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