Bowhunters jump out with solid start

Springfield — The opening week of bow season was nearly identical to 2014, both in hunter mood and harvest.

Like last year, hunters generally have a feeling that change is afoot.

At the Oct. 8 mark, with mostly good weather conditions and a sizable corn crop harvested, hunters had taken 6,243 deer – just six more than the 6,237 they took in the Oct. 1-8 period last year.

Pike (206), Fulton (169) and Jefferson (159) were the top counties after one week.  According to DNR records, the early harvest consisted of 71 percent does and 29 percent bucks.

Early success comes as hunters and DNR consider possible rule changes for future seasons. Regulations for this season remain largely unchanged from previous years.

Deer season changes afoot?

One of the steps taken by DNR this year includes the eventual elimination of the single antlerless only non-resident permit. Technically, this type of permit was to be available at point of sale locations until the middle of the month. An administrative rule eliminating this permit takes effect at the end of the month.

“Non-resident permits are generally pretty pricey,” Paul Shelton, forest wildlife program manager for DNR, said. “This was a way in the past a non-resident could hunt here pretty cheaply. They could get this permit for about $25. I think originally one of the reasons for having it was it let people who moved away from Illinois hunt with their family, someone who couldn’t afford a permit for several hundred dollars.”

Problems arose when hunters and law enforcement officials complained that non-resident hunters would pool permits, buying one or two of the more expensive permits for bucks and several of the cheaper permits with the permit for a buck being used by the first person to kill a trophy male.

The non-resident antlerless only permit will be available next year, but only after the individual hunter buys one of the more expensive permits.

The other major issue facing the Illinois deer herd is chronic wasting disease. Shelton said the number of CWD cases has remained steady, but the area affected by the disease has spread from 10 to 16 counties.

“There’s not a whole lot of change, looking at accident rates over the past year they were up just slightly over what they have been the last couple years,” Shelton said. “Those really high levels back in 2007-08, the General Assembly, farmers and motorists weren’t happy with those levels. We’re trying to find a balance, find deer levels that are pleasing both the hunter and other people who don’t derive as much pleasure from them as hunters.”

DNR was tasked by the General Assembly to reduce the deer herd. That didn’t play well with a lot of hunters.

“We have to manage it for all Illinois citizens,” Shelton said. “There are a lot of people out there that like to see a lot of deer, but there are other people that want to see lower levels because they have negative affects on them. They hit one on the road, or they get in their corn and beans.

“It’s hard to make radical changes in large scale deer herds in one year. Generally, we try to achieve a soft landing until we see something is happening or see a really big abrupt drop. Probably the most noticeable things we do are close a county to a late winter season. That’s a much more visible thing, but certainly not the most important thing we do.”

And, there are biological considerations. 

“Deer in fragmented agricultural habitat tend to be very mobile,” he said. “We get a lot of long-range movements and immigration of deer from one population to another several miles away, things that are uncommon in other areas. That has some really serious implications for disease spread.”

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