‘Voluntary restraint’ at play in deer harvest?

Springfield — The lowest deer harvest numbers in more that two decades could have a positive spin: some believe hunters may actually have pulled back on their efforts during the 2014-15 season.

It’s called “Voluntary Restraint,” a campaign proposed last year by the Illinois Whitetail Alliance. The IWA, which formed to revitalize the state’s deer herd, held meetings with DNR and waged a public effort to suggest hunters do their part to help manage the dwindling herd.

Whether hunters practiced restraint or not isn’t clear, but what is known is that the recently completed season produced a total harvest of 145,804 deer, down slightly from the 148,614 taken in 2013-14. 

According to DNR’s tally, the breakdown of the Illinois deer seasons is as follows: 

  • Archery hunters took 56,083 deer, which compares to the 57,364 taken in the 2013-14 archery season. 
  • Youth hunters harvested 2,768 deer during the 2014 season, down from the 3,016 harvested in 2013. 
  • Shotgun hunters took 76,729 deer during the 2014 firearms season, an increase from the 74,318 taken during the 2013 season. 
  • Muzzleloader hunters killed 3,478 deer during the 2014 muzzleloader-only season, down only slightly from the 3,536 taken in 2013. 
  • The 2014-15 late-winter antlerless only and special CWD seasons wrapped up with a combined harvest total for both seasons of 6,746 deer, compared with the 2013-14 harvest of 10,380.  

With the addition of Will County this year, 12 northern Illinois counties were open to the CWD season, compared to 11 open counties in 2013-14.  

Having a bigger impact was the fact that 20 fewer counties were open for the late-winter season this year. The number of open counties went from 55 to 35 this year. Counties that are at or below their individual deer-vehicle accidents goal for two consecutive years may be removed from the late-winter season. 

An always-important number for deer watchers – the harvest sex ratio – shows that hunters took 47 percent does and 53 percent bucks this season. 

A significant development during the popular firearms season was that southern Illinois counties fared better than other regions in the state. Jackson County was up nearly 300 and Williamson and Randolph counties increased by more than 200. Nearly 11,500 deer were harvested in Jefferson, Jackson, Williamson, Franklin, Randolph and Perry counties.

“You kind of have to look at the timeline for some of these counties,” Paul Shelton, forest game manager for DNR, told the Southern Illinoisan. “Some of these counties have been shut down for  the late-winter season longer than others. Jackson and Williamson have been seeing some results of that.” Shelton summed up this deer season when he added, “Somebody’s good news is somebody else’s bad news.”

Meanwhile, the IWA, which began accepting members late last year, continues to push its proposals for the deer herd. The organization is studying county-by-county harvest numbers released by DNR. 

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