IDNR cutting deer permits
DANVILLE — The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is reducing the number of firearm deer hunting permits in some counties this year — including Champaign and Vermilion — and eliminating late winter hunting in 20 counties.
But some hunters believe those changes still aren't enough to deal with dramatic drop-offs in the state's deer harvest.
"I think it's a step in the right direction, that's for sure, but I think there's a lot of work left to be done," said Kevin Chapman, of Blue Mound, the president of the Illinois Whitetail Alliance, a group that was formed in January by Illinois hunters concerned with declines in the state's deer harvest, the size and quality of the herd, and IDNR's management of it.
"They were in full herd reduction mode for so long. It really was turning the corner for them."
Illinois hunters harvested 148,614 deer during all seasons last year compared to 180,811 taken in 2012.
It's that decline that has many hunters wanting action to boost the state's population.
Sam O'Neal, with Sam's Pro Shop in Georgetown, said he is seeing fewer deer in his area, and hunters are sharing similar reports.
"They've killed too many deer in the last 3-4 years," O'Neal said.
His suggestion to the state: further reduce the number of permits and get rid of the late winter antlerless-only hunting season entirely. In that season, he said, hunters often kill bucks, because they have dropped antlers by then, and females that may be pregnant.
"It depletes the herd," he said.
It's a balancing act for IDNR officials — keeping a healthy, quality deer population that's good for hunting but doesn't pose a public safety problem, such as deer-vehicle accidents.
According to IDNR, last year's significantly lower harvest numbers are due to a combination of factors, not just the state's effort to reduce accident rates. Among them: 2012 and '13 outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), a sometimes-fatal viral infection of white-tailed deer, and poor weather during last fall's firearm season.
Long-time deer hunter Paul Pasquale of Danville agrees that weather likely played a part last fall, but he still believes the population is down.
Pasquale said he has been hunting in Vermilion County for 15 years. In the area he hunts — near the Middle Fork River — it's been typical to "see deer everywhere" every time he goes out.
But this past season, it was different.
"I sat in my tree stand the entirety of the (firearm) season, and I didn't see one," Pasquale said. He said a friend who hunts in the same area harvested one deer.
"That was the only one he saw, which is very unusual," Pasquale said. "The deer have been so plentiful so many years in that part of the county. It's just a drastic change, day and night."
IDNR biologists recommended cutting permits this year and reducing the late winter season after reviewing deer-hunting harvest numbers, deer-vehicle accident data, a survey of deer hunters, hemorrhagic disease reports and other factors.
The result: Firearm permits have been cut by 11,300, or 4.1 percent. Last year, 277,585 firearm permits were available compared with 266,285 for the upcoming season.
And 20 additional counties were added to the existing 35 already closed to the late-winter hunting season.
There are no changes to the late winter season locally — Champaign, Ford, Douglas, Iroquois and Piatt counties did not have a late winter season last year and will not again this year. Vermilion County has had one for several years, and will again this year, as will Edgar County.
Chapman said the permit reductions as proposed may not make a difference in every county, because some didn't sell out of permits last year.
Champaign County, he said, did sell out, so reducing permits by 125 there could make a difference in how many deer are harvested this year.
But in Vermilion, Chapman said the number of unsold permits is higher than the reduction in permits will be this year.
"That's one example of how it won't really do any good," he said.
O'Neal said the state needs to limit all hunters — regardless whether it's firearm, muzzle loader or archery season — to one buck and one doe. The Whitetail Alliance is proposing a statewide one-buck limit per hunter for all seasons combined.
"Back in the '80s and '90s it was that way," he said.
Illinois' modern firearm deer season began in 1957 after being closed for more than 50 years, and the deer herd has grown since then, along with the popularity of deer hunting. The state has several seasons — firearm, muzzle loader and archery — from early October through early January.
In 2008, Illinois added late winter antlerless-only deer seasons in certain counties during the month of January in an effort to achieve a 14 percent statewide reduction in the rate of deer-vehicle accidents.
Illinois uses annual deer-vehicle accident (DVA) statistics as its index to deer population.
IDNR spokesman Tim Schweizer said the DVA rates are a good indicator of herd size and a reliable tool to use. But the agency considers other factors, he said, such as deer harvest numbers and disease outbreaks.
The number of deer-vehicle accidents in Illinois peaked in 2004, when 25,847 were reported on all roadways, according to IDNR statistics. Around 2008, when the late winter seasons were added, those accident numbers began to decrease — to 17,918 in 2011, 15,488 in 2012 and 15,326 last year.
In 2012, Illinois hit the statewide goal of a 14 percent reduction in the DVA rate, but the state didn't close late season hunting. The reason, according to the IDNR, was because county rates vary widely — some were below the goal, some above. And DVA rates fluctuate, sometimes significantly, at the county level, so a county must be at or below goal for two years before the agency will consider a change to its late-winter season.
Pasquale believes the state's latest round of changes will be a step in the right direction but hopes it doesn't stop here.
"A good hunter doesn't mind passing up a season or so, if they have to, to get the herd built back up," he said.
The total number of deer harvested in Illinois (all hunting seasons) has decreased each year since 2007.
Source: Illinois Department of Natural Resources