Danger in deer harvest
Springfield — Though it would seem like a positive sign, this year’s spike in harvest during the shotgun season is not necessarily a good thing for the deer herd.
At least that’s the thinking in some deer monitoring circles.
While this month’s disappointing muzzleloader harvest – hunters took just 2,375 deer compared to the 2014 total of 3,444 – pulled the pace of the overall harvest back slightly, it appears that last year’s mark of 145,720 will easily be eclipsed. The 2013 harvest of 148,614 is also likely to be topped.
Second season shotgun hunters this year took 28,803 deer, up from the 24,745 taken in 2014 and the 18,483 taken in 2013. And, with the 57,968 taken during the first shotgun weekend of 2015, the total gun harvest this year was 86,711, up from the 76,547 taken in 2014 and the 74,318 deer harvested during the 2013 firearms season.
Bowhunters have also kept pace.
As of Dec. 18, with a full month remaining in the archery season, hunters had taken more than 50,500 deer. Last year’s season total was 56,076.
One interesting side note in this year’s firearms season involved the first weekend harvest in Pike County, which regularly leads all counties in deer harvest during all seasons. Pike’s first season total of 1,419 barely made the top 5. Randolph County topped the list this year with 1,619 deer taken. Jackson County followed with 1,586, while Adams (1,561) and Jo Daviess (1,453) topped Pike.
Pike did recover to record a harvest of 792 during the second season, putting its firearms total at 2,211, up from the 2,163 total of 2014.
Statewide, the increase in firearms numbers this season fail to put things even close to where they were five years ago, when during the 2009 firearms season hunters took 99,755 deer. The number has gradually slid – taking its biggest plunge from 99,546 in 2012 to the 2013 mark.
Kevin Chapman, president of the Illinois Whitetail Alliance, penned a commentary following the second shotgun season that warned hunters about getting too excited at the numbers.
“While most people feel that herd levels are still well below what they should be, it’s not getting worse,” Chapman wrote. “Unfortunately, it’s not getting better, generally speaking. Some hunters have seen small increases (in the herd size), but what will that mean if we have a harvest increase?”
What Chapman was pointing out is that deer population levels in the state aren’t getting bigger or smaller – and that low harvest numbers in 2013 and 2014 haven’t really helped grow the herd.
And if the herd is stable, an increase in harvest may actually do more damage to the process of growing the herd.
“If we can’t grow the herd with a few years of harvest less than 150,000, how can we grow the herd with a harvest of 160-170,000?” Chapman said. “Is it the right time to be increasing deer harvest? Do we have data that supports an increase in population? Or are hunters killing more deer because of some other factor – better weather or tired of voluntary restraint?
“Furthermore, if we’re still in that ‘low point’ of deer population, and we want to increase the herd size, shouldn’t DNR be managing the harvest so we don’t exceed the target?”
Will late-winter season rollback affect harvest?
DNR will open only 27 counties to the late-winter season this year, while the state’s special CWD season will be open in 14 counties.
Dropping more counties from the seven-day season will likely cut into the total harvest.
“The late-winter season provides additional hunting opportunities in counties with surplus deer, while the special CWD season allows hunters to help combat the spread of chronic wasting disease in Illinois’ deer herd,” is how DNR describes the purpose of the two hunting efforts.
The late-winter and CWD hunts will be Dec. 31-Jan. 3, 2016, and Jan. 15-17, 2016.
Counties open previously to late-winter hunting that will be closed this year are Coles, Effingham, Macoupin, Montgomery, Peoria, Stark, Warren and Wayne.
Meanwhile, the CWD season has added two counties: Kankakee and Livingston. Those two counties had their first confirmed cases of CWD-positive deer last year.