Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Firearms hunters look to push deer numbers

Springfield — Predicting how well hunters will do during the upcoming firearms deer seasons is a lot like trying to forecast next week’s weather. Or next month’s weather.

It’s a guessing game.

And speaking of weather, it again will be a huge factor in the total shotgun harvest, which totaled 99,461 last season. Deer numbers are down in most of the state, while hunters preferences have grown more and more finicky.

That combination sets up a scenario where firearms numbers could decline again this year. Add in pre-Thanksgiving rain and wind, and hunters could be facing a down season. Too, numbers from the Youth Deer Hunt and the ongoing archery season are both down in 2013.

But hunters, who also face some new laws this season, are optimistic, noting that slow hunting to this point could provide more  shooting opportunities when the first weekend of the gun season arrives Nov. 22-24. The second firearms weekend and concurrent muzzleloader season fall on the weekend of Dec. 5-8. The second muzzleloader season will be Dec. 13-15.

Even with an extra day of hunting this year, the youth hunt reported a harvest of 2,988 deer, compared to 3,118 deer taken last year. Harvest sex ratios consisted of 49 percent does and 51 percent males. The top five counties were Pike (166), Randolph (88), Fulton (85), Adams (83) and Jefferson (79).

Bowhunters had taken 14,013 deer through Oct. 24, 2013, down from the more than 14,600 taken at the same point in 2012.

As of that date, archery hunters had taken 68 percent does and 32 percent bucks. Pike, Fulton, Jefferson, Vermilion and Adams were the top counties.

Despite the slow start, wildlife officials are expecting a season similar to or better than last year, when all hunters harvested a total of 180,669 deer, which was slighty down from the 181,451 deer taken in 2011-12.

Those who are forecasting are predicting a late run, meaning harvest numbers could push upward later in the archery season and during the various firearms seasons.

This year the projected “rutting moon” falls on or around Nov. 17, compared to Oct. 29 last year, and Nov. 10 in 2011.

“It means, according to this theory, that the majority of rutting behavior will be significantly later than it has been the last two years,” according to Charles Alsheimer, who maintains a rutting calendar. Alsheimer has predicted the peak of seeking and chasing behavior for Nov. 14-25 and the breeding peak around Nov. 29.

Of course, not all hunters buy into the calendar and moon theories. Bowhunters so far in 2013 have been affected more by the weather and a later farmer harvest of corn and soybeans.

Last year, hunters were able to jump out early and finished with a total of 59,728, compared with the archery deer harvest of 61,974 in the 2011-12 season.

A couple of new laws will apply to deer hunters – one immediately and one later in the season.

House Bill 1003 changed the definition of deer and turkey baiting. In 2012, legislation was enacted to define exactly what baiting meant as it applies to water. Originally, it could be interpreted that pure water was included as bait. Therefore there were questions whether farmers who put out water for livestock could be allowed to hunt their property.

The new law, which is already in effect, defines that pure water is not bait.

The other law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires a hunter to use all of the usable parts of a game animal.  Until the passage of this law, it was not illegal for a hunter to shoot an animal and leave it in the field. This legislation requires the hunter to use the edible parts of the animal.

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