Gentlemen, and ladies, load your shotguns. Illinois' firearm deer season is almost here.
Friday through Sunday, and another four days in December, hunters like Marci Rife, 24, of Rossville, and her dad, Doug Rife, will be pulling on their camouflage and trudging into the woods with high hopes of getting a shot at a buck or doe, maybe both.
In preparation, here are five things you should know about deer hunting in East Central Illinois.
1. The legal hunting season is the best way to control the white-tail deer population in Illinois, according to the UI Extension and Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
If deer numbers are kept in check, it means less crop damage, less destruction of trees and other plants in yards, and fewer collisions with vehicles on the roads.
Tim Schweizer with IDNR said the rate of vehicle-deer accidents is a factor when determining the number of deer hunting permits offered in each county. Most deer-vehicle collisions happen in October, November and December during the deer mating season when the deer are more active. Total number of deer permits issued statewide for the firearm season: 359,265, with 339,241 of those going to Illinois residents and 20,024 to nonresidents.
2. Illinois' white-tail deer population is larger than it was when the pilgrims stepped off the Mayflower, but that hasn't always been the case.
In the late 1800s, deer in Illinois had nearly been wiped out, but restocking and habitat restoration along with a ban on hunting and the decline of natural predators like wolves and cougars led to the white-tail deer's recovery.
And in 1957, the first modern deer-hunting season began in 33 Illinois counties. Today, all 102 counties have some form of deer hunting.
3. Champaign, Douglas, Ford and Piatt counties are working on at least a three-year streak without a hunting accident.
Vermilion County also did not have any accidents last year, but it recorded one in 2011 when an 82-year-old coyote hunter mistook a turkey hunter for a coyote and shot the other hunter in the hand. Another happened in 2010, when a 20-year-old female slipped while climbing into a tree stand and fell, injuring her back and ankle.
Almost half of the 26 hunting accidents reported in Illinois last year involved falls from tree stands, so IDNR officials are emphasizing that deer hunters, when using a tree stand, should use a full body safety harness, Schweizer said.
He said falls from stands occur because straps break or the stands aren't installed correctly or the hunter dozes.
"You can't remind folks enough to wear a full-body harness in a tree stand," he said.
4. Where do East Central Illinois counties rank in the state's deer harvest?
The highest densities of deer in Illinois are in wooded habitats along the watersheds of the major rivers, including the Mississippi, Rock, Illinois and Kaskaskia, and in the Shawnee Hills in southern Illinois. So it makes sense that counties in those areas have larger harvests. Pike, the predominantly rural county in western Illinois between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, led the state again in 2012 with 7,241 deer taken (all seasons).
The final tallies for area counties:
5. The total number of days deer hunting is allowed in Illinois: 112. That's almost one-third of the year.
Although the two-part, seven-day firearm season (Friday through Sunday and Dec. 5-8) is the most popular and results in the most deer harvested — 99,546 last year — the archery season is the longest, from Oct. 1 to Jan. 20.
And within the archery season are other shorter seasons, like muzzleloader, Dec. 7-9, and a youth season, Oct. 6-7. The total deer harvested in Illinois last year across all seasons: 180,811. That's slightly fewer than the previous year (181,451) and significantly fewer than the state's record harvest in 2005 of 201,209 deer.