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Guest Blog

Will things change for Illinois deer?

Tue, February 17, 2015

wyoming muley
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.

morgan county buck
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.

Comments

Well said Les…time will tell!

Posted by LandGuy on February 17

Good blog Les!!! I am a non-resident hunter and have hunted Ill. for the last 19 years. I have seen a steady decline in both quality and quantity of the deer herd over the last 7-10 years. I can’t understand why the IDNR continues to practice poor management practices attempting to manage a wonderful resource.  I have answered several surveys sent to me by the IDNR and am sure many hunters have done the same, what has happened to this invaluable data furnished to the IDNR. It seems they still as Les has stated, rely on auto collisions, special interest groups and friends of the powers to be to make poor management decisions, not data from the hunter who are in the field every hunting day! If it takes as many years to rebuild the herd as it took to deplete the herd, being 67 years of age, my hunting days in Illinois are probably over. It is time for the new governor to look at his political appointments and put good qualified people in the right positions to make sound decisions that affect the deer herd, and to rely on information that can be provided by hunters, sportsman and landowners to support those decisions!! As in Wyoming, some landowners in Ill. do control the number of deer harvested, so why can’t the IDNR?? I will be like other hunters, looking at other states to hunt!

Posted by VAhunter on February 17

Great article.  I can’t say I’ve been practicing selective harvest, because honestly I haven’t had the chance to fill a tag.  Last tag I put on a deer was two years ago.  Its wierd though because on that day I saw three shooter bucks.  Including one that dwarved the 160” I shot earlier that morning.  I can’t believe how fast things have declined.  Gonna spend more time duck hunting and fall fishing I guess.

Posted by RiverRat on February 17

Talk about garbage in / garbage out.
Comparing your luxury of hunting mega-acre ranches elsewhere with Illinois management is not an apples to oranges comparison for practicality.

A ranch managing that many acres can selectively harvest on a scale much larger than more typical Illinois size parcels.  20,000 plus acres is likely 20 times bigger or more than an average typical Illinois parcel.

But this rant does speak to the agenda of trophy hunting nicely.

The trophy first crowd seems to be demanding the state DNR to manage the whole state for age/trophies like a person with 20,000 plus acres.  They want to limit all properties to rules that large tract managers follow.

Summarizing, the debate continues here again about who gets to decide the goal of hunting or the direction of management.  Big dollar hunting/tourism needs big bucks.  Managing a healthy herd doesn’t need large antlered deer(defined by older or mature), nor does a healthy herd need a population on the upper end that habitat could support.
Hunting is easily defended when used to limit a game population from over population and disease risks.  Its much harder to defend if the goal is to max out the population to simply increase yearly harvest and max antler size.

Sadly, it seems those with money to invest in deer hunting & hunting tourism want(demand) the reward be large antlers.  If hunting becomes trophies first, I refuse to be an advocate of that.  But that is easy for me as I don’t have conflicting interests.  Seems too many advocates are commercially motivated. Not saying this author is conflicted.

Posted by virtualSniper on February 17

VirtualSniper, you, like the DNR over the last decade, missed the point of this editorial. Why do you defend the past DNR? Do you possibly work there and are a part of their irresponsibility? Illinois obviously can’t manage 102 counties like a Wyoming rancher manages 20,000 acres. But the DNR could use some of the Wyoming-ranch mentality in order to sustain a healthy population of deer, allowing them to remain financially stable in the process. Like it or not, without older bucks sporting impressive antlers, Illinois has no tourism dollars coming in. Like it or not, low numbers of deer cause resident hunters to drop out of the sport, therefore not teaching the next generation how to enjoy the outdoors and its wonderful wildlife. Illinois deer managers have taken the easy and lazy way out by calculating only one criteria, cars hitting deer. And they did a lousy job of that, not even paying attention to their own numbers and goals. Like each Wyoming ranch, every Illinois county is different and should be managed on its own merit. The least the DNR could have done was manage by zones using hunter opinion and a variety of herd indicators. If something does not change quick under Rosenthal, we’ll all be duck hunting with RiverRat. At least that resource is well managed. And, by the way, VirtualSniper, this is a free country. We are allowed, by constitution, to earn our luxuries by working long hours and spending those dollars with business, or Wyoming ranchers, who were smart enough to manage their resources.

Posted by loveofthehunt on February 18

VS i have had several things typed out to respond to you but feel its a waste of time.  Im not going to make you care about future deer hunters or the future of this sport with any words i type.

Posted by clintharvey on February 18

Great article Les.  Things can’t get much worse as far as the deer herd goes. You hit the nail on the head when you stated that effective deer management can’t be solely performed with deer/vehicle collision statistics. We need to regulate our deer herd with county-specific permit allocation using multiple factors. DNR needs to listen to the hunters as we are the ones paying their salary. I hope Mr. Rosenthal can listen to us and make some changes quickly. This fight we have is not about producing more trophy deer, it is about sustaining a well balanced deer herd based on science and working with all stakeholders. 

Posted by hunter4life on February 18

The point of the editorial is to further attack the DNR to come over to managing Illinois for hunter tourism.  Hunter tourism is a luxury for most.  I am not complaining/attacking about your freedoms to spend where you wish.  I am complaining about the debate defining the purpose of hunting and to that end what should the management goals be.  How did the hunter (the taker) in this debate get to be the one biggest stakeholder.  The hunters ego and demands should rightfully be nearer the bottom.  Certainly not the highest.

Being labeled as uncaring is an interesting dismissal.  I care about hunting but in much different ideals.  Trying to trivialize an idea is a good debate tactic. Let me frame it differently.  My inability to advocate for trophy first is based on years of following the chatter here and on PSO.  Trophyism is an affliction.  You can end up doing things that make you a hypocrite.  Risky shots.  Baiting.  Trespassing.  Hating your neighbors.  Feeding an ego.  Posing as the next Fred Bear.  It further makes one mad by trying to justify dollars invested

Posted by virtualSniper on February 18

Sorry, my continuing rant was partially chopped off.
.

The point of the editorial is to further attack the DNR to come over to managing Illinois for hunter tourism.  Hunter tourism is a luxury for most.  I am not complaining/attacking about your freedoms to spend where you wish.  I am complaining about the debate defining the purpose of hunting and to that end what should the management goals be.  How did the hunter (the taker) in this debate get to be the one biggest stakeholder.  The hunters ego and demands should rightfully be nearer the bottom.  Certainly not the highest.

Being labeled as uncaring is an interesting dismissal.  I care about hunting but in much different ideals.  Trying to trivialize an idea is a good debate tactic. Let me frame it differently.  My inability to advocate for trophy first is based on years of following the chatter here and on PSO.  Trophyism is an affliction.  You can end up doing things that make you a hypocrite.  Risky shots.  Baiting.  Trespassing.  Hating your neighbors.  Feeding an ego.  Posing as the next Fred Bear.  It further makes one mad by trying to justify dollars invested in a hobby to garner the next big buck.  Commercialization feeds the trophy ego. I find it convenient that many advocates have retail connections to trophies.  Cannot expect to sell those magic seeds if no big bucks will develop as an example. 

My point is if hunting is branded a trophy only business, then deer management will not get much public support. 

I wish I did work for the DNR.  I have some wish lists of my own.  Oh to be the omnipotent director for a week. 

I am sure the position is so powerful that I could abolish the permitting process for deer and turkey.  I would prefer one permit that would be universal for all seasons. 

I would impose big time regulation on existing farms of wild animals (kind of like to put them out of business).  To me the risk of CWD becoming universal is too great. 

I would further disallow any importing of any live cervids regardless of purpose.  I would do away with transporting rules.  I hate having to wait to get home before reducing a deer to just the edible parts.  Having to prove a deer’s sex is just admitting we care too much for antlers.  I would make crossbows open for the full season.  If its such a potent weapon, then why are we shorting ethics and making archers be less accurate before gun season with limiting to just vertical bows.  Talk about priorities being out of order.  Sacrificing efficiency to appease hard core compound users.  I am sure my time as director would be memorable. 

Sadly I don’t work for the state in any fashion.  Got to get back to my real world job.

Posted by virtualSniper on February 18

How did the hunter get to be the biggest stakeholder in hunting?  The hunter should be near the bottom.

Did I read that right?

If so, I’m curious to see who you would put in a list of stakeholders of hunting from top to bottom.

Posted by goodsoil on February 18

VS, if they can’t be the next Fred Bear, maybe they could settle for being the next noel feather or marc anthony.

Posted by riverrat47 on February 18

Lots of great ideas.  I’m over the antler thing.  I’m not saying I’ll let Buster walk if I have an Antlered Tag, but mostly now I’m teachiny my 8 y/o to hunt ethically and for meat.  I hunt Henry County.  Its all about the Almighty Dollar!  Examples include deer vs vehicle collisions.  Bringing tourist dollars in.  Maybe most importantly in my area is the lack of habitat.  Ditches with trees, tall grass waterways, fence lines, and much missed hedge rows.  Mostly gone.  I understand the average farmer wants as many crop rows per acre he can get, but it comes at that price.  A lot of the borders on local farm fields get mowed more than some lawns.  And as far as filter strips go, no benefit to critters since they are allowed to now them too.  A pleuyhra of variables has gotten us here.  I hope for our children sakes we can fix some of this.

Posted by Robby on February 18

Maybe this solves everything wrong with Illinois deer management.

Posted by virtualSniper on February 18

Great article Les.  VS…  Apparently you are missing the entire point of this article.  It talks about managing for mature bucks and does.  As well as managing the buck to doe ratios.  The article is just using Wyoming as a reference to how good management can turn a declining deer herd around.  If the DNR continues to manage the way they are before long, whether you are a meat hunter or a head hunter, there will be limited number of deer to even hunt.  In your reference to shorting ethics and making hunters less accurate by only allowing compound bows.  The weapon itself has very little to do with it. It is all about how much effort the hunter puts in to practicing with whatever type they choose to use.

Posted by hunt77 on February 18

I am pretty sure its conventional wisdom that a crossbow is easier to use and learn than a vertical bow.  I agree that your practice with a bow should set your limits.  A crossbow is said to be quicker to get to hunting proficiency. Learning a vertical bow itself is a hurdle.

If weaponry has little to do with it, why do some archers rail against it being allowed.  The argument is off target.  It shouldn’t be about banning its use.  The target is on the user.  The way I remember the opposition against it was more deer would be killed during archery season and would increase competition for the prime time.  That may be true as it is likely more folks would enjoy bow season.  But this doesn’t mean more will be killed in total.  If any statistics from the DNR are worthy of mentioning I think it is the one where most hunters kill zero or one deer a year.  That means if a person previously hunted gun season and now starts earlier, they may simply get their deer earlier.

I previously stated allowing crossbows may save some deer.  This can be accomplished if the cross bow is more efficient, a bow hunter may be less likely to kill two to get one.  I know the times I have lost deer are primarily from bow hunting when the deer jumps the string because they go on alert during the draw.  So if more bow users lose less deer due to the crossbow, this seems a reasonable reduction in unfortunate losses. 
I know I would likely switch to a cross bow if I could use it full season.

My argument for better weaponry does have one flaw that cannot be overcome by rule.  It is not the weapon, but the user.  The user has to limit themselves to ethical shots.  So my point on weaponry is caring about the appearance of the hunter mindset.  One should use the weapons that lead to the least suffering and lost animals. So weapons do matter to public perception.  I care that hunters are not branded willfully choosing weapons that increase chances for suffering.

I am simply expressing an opinion with opposing views that the focus should not be trophy hunters first.  Crossbows are not a threat to exterminating Illinois deer.

Posted by virtualSniper on February 19

Les nice job. I have been a hunter for a majority of my life.  When I first took up bow hunting I felt I had a successful season when I got the opportunity to get a deer in close enough to be able to draw my bow.  Each year I would get that opportunity 1 or 2 times during the season.  As the years passed and our herd grew I was able to evolve into a better hunter by learning from my mistakes as a result of more opportunities during the seasons.  Hunting has changed my life.  It provides me with the opportunity to view nature in its purest form.  There is nothing like being in your deer stand and watching nature wake up in the morning.  I have evolved to more of a trophy hunter as a result of the challenge.  I still get my one or two does each year to stock my freezer but the rest of the season is spent trying to outwit those cagey mature bucks.  Most times I am the one who gets outwitted but that is what keeps me coming back year after year. 

Over the past five years I have definitely seen a decline in the number and quality of deer that I get an opportunity to hunt.  I hunt in Brown County and purchased property there when it became to difficult to get permission from local landowners as a result of demand to hunt trophy whitetails.  A group of us purchased the property together and established our “farm hunting rules”.  Over the year we have had to keep adding additional restrictions (size limits and penalties, harvest quotas, etc.)just so we could still have an opportunity the hunt trophy quality whitetails.  This past year on the entire 400 acres we harvested 1 trophy buck.  That was eye opening to all of us.  We are trying along with a few of our neighbors to manage our herd but with plots of land as small as ours we don’t stand a chance.

We need the DNR to open their eyes and help the deer herd in this state.  There are plenty of states that understand how to manage good deer herds.  We don’t need to create an new management method just emulate and existing successful one.  It is easy to complain about something and do nothing about it but I believe the army of deer hunters in Illinois will do whatever is needed to get this accomplished.  I have grandchildren that love to hunt and I believe it is our duty to provide a legacy for them.

Posted by pmabwilson on February 20

it seems the debate here is which is more important. the health of the deer herd or selling more real estate.

Posted by djcrokit on February 20

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