Springfield — Numbers from the second weekend of the 2017 shotgun deer season are still being tallied, but an analysis of the first weekend provides an update of deer harvest geography in Illinois.
A total of 51,365 deer were taken during the first firearms season. This is 5.67 percent, or 3,087, less than last year’s first season total.
Despite lower harvest numbers in three quarters of the counties in the state, the top performing counties were quite familiar. The top five were Randolph (1,603), Jackson (1,487), Adams (1,408), Jefferson (1,328) and Fulton (1,270).
Pike County, of interest to many in the state, came in sixth in the state with 1,187 deer, an 11.87 percent decrease from 2016’s first season total.
With counties varying in size and available habitat throughout the state, a quick look at the percent increase or decrease from last year gives a good idea of its status. In all, 33 counties were within five percentage points (plus or minus) of last year’s harvest. This group includes the counties of Calhoun, Alexander, Hancock, Williamson, Greene and Clay.
Clark, Franklin and Lawrence counties are a few of only 10 counties that had more than a 5 percent increase from 2016’s first season numbers. The majority (57 counties) had a more than 5 percent decrease.
Just under a quarter of Illinois counties had an increase or stayed the same as last year’s first season harvest numbers. Only three counties managed to have a double digit percentage increase of deer taken. These were Bond County’s 441 deer (a 13 percent increase), along with Madison County’s 493 deer and Marshall County’s 424 deer (both had an 11 percent increase).
Not counting Lake County’s three deer (compared to five last year), four counties saw decreases of over 25 percent from last year’s first firearms season. These were Stephenson (180 less deer for a 30.15 percent decrease), Grundy (57 less deer for a 26.64 percent decrease), Winnebago (56 less for a 25.81 percent decrease) and Scott (68 less for a 25.76 percent decrease).
By the numbers, the top five counties were varied in their improvements, or lack of, from the year before. Notable is Adams County in west-central Illinois, ranked third in the state so far this firearms season with 1,408 deer. Pretty impressive considering it is a 14.25 percent decrease from last season. Last year, Adams ranked first throughout all firearms seasons, harvesting 2,362 deer during the seven day season.
Archery harvest update
It would be remiss to not note some of the increases seen during this year’s archery season in comparison with the shotgun season. Throughout the state, archers had taken 50,742 deer into the end of November, or the point in time between the first and second firearms seasons. This is notable because it is a statewide increase of nearly 10 percent, and those double digit increases are a bit scarcer than in years past.
Central Illinois’ Christian County and Carroll County in northern Illinois each had seen over 20 percent more deer harvested by bow. Other counties have seen a decrease – in the bottom five is Schuyler, down 20 deer from 2016, making for a 9.57 percent decrease. The least improved from last year’s archery season so far is Effingham County’s 536 deer, which is 91 less than last year at this time and accounts for a 14 percent decrease from similar dates in 2016.
Taking a look at the top five counties from the 2017 first firearms season and comparing it to their current archery season, there are some interesting facts.
Shotgun hunters in Randolph County are leading the state in harvest numbers so far – hunters had taken 21 more deer (1,603) than during the 2016 first firearms season. The archery numbers are down slightly from last year, about 6 percent. Jackson County hunters have managed to stay within five percentage points for both firearms and archery seasons.
Last year’s top firearms county, Adams, managed to secure a top five firearms spot so far in 2017 despite a 14 percent decrease from last year’s shotgun harvest.
Jefferson County in southern Illinois is the only top-five county with a current positive in both hunting genres. First season firearms hunters there took 1,328 deer (a 3.83 percent increase from last year) and bowhunters have an end-of-November total of 523 by bow. This is an impressive 64 more, a 14 percent increase, from the same 2016 time period.
Counties up and down the state have a similar break-down, and are mostly keeping things on par with the totals from the past few years.
Illinois’ record deer harvest was in 2005 when firearms season saw 123,792 deer shot. Since then the numbers have generally decreased with 79,559 deer taken during both firearms seasons last year. This accounted for 55 percent of all deer during the 2016-17 seasons.
The reason for the overall lower numbers (nearly 60 percent of Illinois counties had over a 5 percent decrease in shotgun numbers) is not clear, and DNR has not indicated a concern with this trend. Weather is often a factor, and there were high winds throughout the state during the Saturday of the first season.
Also, archery numbers have seen a notable increase so far this year. It has been speculated in certain circles that some hunters may have forfeited their firearms season to take to the timber with a crossbow now that restrictions have been eased on the weapon.