Cold temperatures and gusty winds are partly to blame for hunters harvesting significantly fewer deer — both locally and statewide — during this year's shotgun season.
But other factors may also have contributed to the harvesting of 25,355 fewer deer than a year ago, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller said following the release of preliminary firearm numbers.
Statewide, hunters took a total of 74,191 deer during the seven-day firearm deer season, held on Nov. 22-24 and Dec. 5-8. That's down from 99,546 last year.
In Champaign County, hunters took 224 deer this year, compared to 342 in 2012. In Vermilion, they took 572 this year, down from 947 last year.
And hunters harvested significantly more deer the first part of the shotgun season (55,708) compared to the weather-plagued second part in early December (18,483). In 2012, the first-half harvest was 72,111; the second half, 27,213.
In some counties, a reduction in deer populations — combined with the Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease that's affecting the herd — were to blame for this year's lower firearm harvest, according to state wildlife officials.
EHD is a sometimes fatal virus found in white-tail deer. It's not transmitted from deer to deer but by a biting midge, or gnat, and is different than the Chronic Wasting Disease that has been found in white-tail deer in 10 northern Illinois counties.
Locally, Kickapoo State Park superintendent John Hott said a few deer were found dead from the disease this year but not nearly as many in 2012. Last year's severe EHD outbreak was blamed for between 23 and 41 deer deaths in Vermilion County; another 13 to 22 were attributed to the disease in Champaign County.
Hott said deer harvest numbers likely won't increase by much during the three-day muzzle loader season, which ended Sunday. Hunters have told Hott they are seeing significantly fewer deer than usual, he said.
"I don't know if the hunters are not putting in the hours or if there are less deer," he said.
Mark your calendars
Through Jan. 19: Archery deer season
Dec. 26-29, Jan. 17-19: Late-winter Firearm Antlerless-Only and Special Chronic Wasting Disease deer seasons