This is Scott Schumacher of Washington, Illinois, with a mature eastern Wyoming mule deer buck.
By LES DAVENPORT
Over the last half-dozen years I’ve glassed from numerous Wyoming canyon tops at sunup attempting to spot mature mule deer bucks meandering from valley grasslands back to wide, rocky terrain breaks where they bed for the day. In late afternoon the process reverses. Rarely have there been zero sightings. The best bachelor group I’ve spotted in the morning was fourteen bucks, more than half shooters! During an evening hunt my wife had sixteen bucks standing in an alfalfa field, all grouped within 20 yards of her ambush site. I watched Connie arrow a great old buck that dropped within sight. I thought to myself, It doesn’t get any better than this!
Over the same period here in Illinois I’ve sat in uncountable tree stands on numerous properties and thought, It can’t get any worse than this! But it does, year after year. Both the quantity and the quality of our herd are circling the drain with no end in sight. The anticipation of hunting Wyoming grows every year. Expectations of hunting Illinois wane more every year. I hunt harder to see less.
During the past decade and a half, I’ve stated in magazine articles that effective deer management can’t be solely performed with deer/vehicle collision statistics. But, in fact, that’s what our DNR has attempted to accomplish. Instead of regulating this natural resource with county-specific permit allocation using multiple factors, our deer program managers have elected to please Corporate America and politically-motivated bosses as opposed to the consumers…responsible deer hunters.
Ongoing disease, the over-glut of permits, and the open floodgate of non-residents have become a major detriment to this state’s deer herd, yet our DNR has shown absolutely no move toward accountability. They undoubtedly recognize the cash cow aspect of the resource and sport, but clearly have not comprehended how ill that cow has grown. I liken our past DNR to a bad outfitter. They’re clueless about the resource and its management, thinking it can’t ever be depleted. They rape it for profit (that’s not put back into the resource), and then when things dry up they’re so bold as to lie to potential clientele, spouting nothing but the resources’ enduring greatness.
Wyoming at one time exactly mirrored Illinois’ present situation; they had a notion that game populations would sustain significantly more pressure from non-residents, bringing in tourism dollars literally by the truckloads. CWD, EHD and BT grew worse, and the glut of permits, still available, dropped populations to alarming levels.
Many ranches in Wyoming have been family owned for three or more generations. These ranchers are true survivalist, hearty in every way; they are conservation-minded and frugal, because it’s the only way to avoid bankruptcy. Income provided by outfitting non-resident hunters is essential to their ongoing financial stability. Most of these operations quickly recognized the problem with dwindling populations two decades ago and adjusted their game management to emulate cattle rearing mentality.
The owners of all four ranches I’ve hunted in the last decade, ranging from 22,000 to 54,000 acres, stated they managed for age structure both in does and bucks. They regulate the coming year’s harvest quota by evaluating the previous year’s harvest and the severity of winter and disease. Droughts causing poor fawning and loss to predators may cause a rancher to eliminate all doe harvests and cut buck harvest in half. A single bad year of disease loss may shut down hunting on the ranch altogether.
Though Illinois and Wyoming are quite different in terrain and population, I will never be convinced that some of this same management mentality can’t be used for managing Illinois whitetails. Like the “Colonel” commented in a previous HO article, it can’t be “Garbage in, Garbage out” to obtain adequate results for the future wellness of a resource. The IDNR needs to appoint and hire personnel that formulate a management plan that is both proactive and flexible enough to react to yearly variations.
Is getting rid of Quinn and having Rauner take over the helm going to help resource management of whitetails deer? Everybody, including the IWA, is watching the new Director, Wayne Rosenthal, to see if we made the right polling decision…or not. I think everybody understands that things can’t be fixed by a new administration in one year. But saying the right thing upfront and beginning to act on it shows the deer hunting public that things have a chance of improving.
Great bucks like this one taken by Scott Whittington in Morgan County are getting fewer and farther between due to ongoing poor deer management and diseases in Illinois.