CHAMPAIGN — Fewer firearm deer permits may be issued in East Central Illinois later this year, because state natural resource officials have decided to shift from reducing the herd in some counties to maintaining, or even increasing, the population.
On Thursday, Illinois Department of Natural Resources director Marc Miller announced plans to revise deer population goals for 41 counties beginning with the 2014-15 deer season, after reviewing the state's deer management efforts the past two years.
Locally, those counties include Champaign, Vermilion, Douglas and Ford but not Piatt.
Natural resources biologists have determined that population goals can be increased in those counties while still keeping the overall numbers at levels that reduce conflicts between deer and people, such as automobile accidents and agricultural crop damage.
To achieve the higher goals in the 41 counties, the agency said it would likely limit hunting days during the Late Winter Season (Jan. 1-4, 16-18) and reduce the number of antlerless tags available during firearm and muzzleloader seasons.
Hunters in Illinois harvested a preliminary total of 148,569 deer during all 2013-14 seasons, compared with 180,811 in 2012-13, according to the IDNR. Smaller harvests were recorded throughout the Midwest, including Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.
According to biologists, several factors contributed to the decline: adverse weather conditions, herd reduction efforts and, in some locations, deer mortality due to outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD.
Cole Thompson, owner of Hunter's Haven in Champaign, said local hunters he has spoken with are concerned with the population in East Central Illinois after seeing fewer deer during the 2013-14 season and hearing reports of dead deer, especially in Vermilion County, likely due to EHD.
Thompson believes the agency should eliminate the late winter antlerless deer season state-wide while preserving the two-part firearm deer season in November and December.
The late winter antlerless seasons had already been eliminated the last two years in 11 Illinois counties where reduction goals had already been met.
The state is also considering ending the recent practice of selling remaining firearm deer permits over-the-counter through the end of the firearm season.
The IDNR is asking for deer hunters' input on that proposal. Hunters registered in Illinois can complete a four-question survey at http://www.dnr.illinois.gov.
2014-15 deer schedule (for now)
Oct. 11-13 Youth Firearm Season
Nov. 21-23 First Firearm Season
Dec. 4-7 Second Firearm Season and First Muzzleloader Season
Dec. 12-14 Second Muzzleloader Season
Jan. 1-4 First Late-Winter Antlerless and CWD Seasons
Jan. 16-18 Second Late-Winter Antlerless and CWD Seasons