Whitetail group: It’s DNR’s ball

Springfield — A lawmaker has filed legislation to alter the state’s firearms  season, while a newly formed group has offered DNR a multi-pronged plan to re-build the state’s deer herd.
Indeed, changes promised to hunters may finally be on both the real and proverbial docket.

Most notable is the fact that the Illinois Whitetail Alliance – organized in January and made up of a handful of notable deer and conservation experts – was able to score a meeting with DNR administrators and biologists on Feb. 21.

At that meeting, IWA founders laid out a comprehensive proposal that included a number of suggestions. Among them:

  • Reduce the pressure on the overall deer harvest, particularly on female deer.
  • Implement a statewide one-buck limit for all seasons combined.
  • Implement new regulations on non-resident permits including an immediate elimination of the over-the-counter antlerless-only permit, unless the non-resident hunter has purchased a regular combo permit.
  • Enact stricter penalties for deer hunting violations.

“This was a starting point, and we don’t expect to get everything,” Kevin Chapman, a founding member of the IWA, said following the meeting with DNR. “Our proposal was a culmination of several years of issues involving the deer herd and the management of the deer herd. We laid it out for them, and now the ball is in their [DNR’s] court.”

Chapman pointed to a past quote by DNR Director Marc Miller, who was present for the meeting.

“He said more than once that ‘everything is on the table’ when it comes to the deer management program,” Chapman said. “Our goal with the Alliance and with this proposal was to provide some tools for DNR.”

The IWA, which also includes former DNR Director Brent Manning, along with Don Higgins, Lee Mitchell and Les Davenport, met with DNR for 21⁄2 hours.

“In return for our proposal, we got the full presentation on DNR’s deer management goals,” Chapman said. “My biggest take-away from the meeting is that there remains a large gap between where we hunters in the state see the deer herd and where DNR sees the deer herd.”

As for specifics of their proposal, Chapman pointed to the management of female deer in the state.

“Many will recall that DNR changed its focus on doe harvest in the late 2000s,” he said. “Before the shift, the harvest ratio was running about 54 percent bucks to 46 percent does. Thing leveled off to about 50-50, and in 2009 hunters killed more does than bucks.”

To reduce pressure on the herd, one IWA proposal calls for elimination of the late-winter antlerless-only seasons, unless lawmakers, DNR and the public in each county meet and agree to have the season.

Another suggestion is to eliminate all over-the-counter permit sales after Nov. 1 – that includes firearms permits.

Limits on buck harvests are also included, as are increased penalties for poachers and illegal deer hunting activities.

In order to allow changes to take hold and have an effect, the IWA also proposed placing a five-year moratorium on administrative rule changes to deer seasons and regulations.

Meanwhile, existing firearms deer seasons are up for a tweak – for reasons that have nothing to do with the status of the deer population.

State Sen. Dave Luchtefeld, R-Okawville, introduced legislation that would changed the firearms deer seasons from a Friday, Saturday and Sunday affair to a Saturday, Sunday and Monday setup.

Luchtefeld noted that some schools in the state report 30 to 35 percent of students are absent on the Friday of firearms deer season, especially during the first firearms season. School officials have suggested to him that many of the hunters would be back in school by Monday because they would have taken a deer on Saturday or Sunday.

The proposal, Senate Bill 2645, was under consideration by the Agriculture and Conservation committee as of Feb. 27.

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