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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Are We Ensuring the Health of the Illinois Whitetail Herd?

I feel it would be disingenuous if I didn’t preface this post with the disclaimer that I really know very little about deer herd management. I am merely an “Average Jane Deer Hunter”. I’m just a plain person who enjoys hunting, photographing, and watching the whitetail deer in Illinois.  Thanks to friends such as Heartland Outdoors blogger  and founding member of Illinois Whitetail Alliance, Kevin Chapman along with others (including ~ gasp~  some highly respected outfitters)  I am learning more about herd management each day. 

It’s absolutely no secret at this point that harvest numbers in Illinois are on a downward spiral. It’s absolutely no secret that deer sightings are also on a downward spiral in a great many areas of Illinois. Lastly, it’s no secret – despite the data released by Illinois DNR, that EHD and CWD have taken a heavy toll. 

As I learn more about appropriate management, I have more and more questions about how the state of Illinois currently chooses to address the issue of sound herd management. I also have to wonder how we will ever bring all of the stakeholders into any kind of cohesive effort to make what I feel are necessary changes to the management plan in Illinois.

The fact is this: More than just deer hunters, more than just bow hunters, more than gun hunters, more than outfitters do indeed have a voice and stake in the game. Are we reaching out to them and opening avenues of discussion? Has anyone invited a small rural chamber of commerce representative to the table? It’s impossible to ignore the fact that deer = dollars to Illinois in more ways than just permit sale receipts. More so are the non-hunting stakeholders willing to even enter the discussion? All I can say is I hope so. 

I need to say right now – I do support the recently formed Illinois Whitetail Alliance, and I applaud their efforts to bring change to try and open the doors for discussion across the board with all stake holders. I appreciate than rather than just writing opinion pieces, complaining across social media, and in general, preaching to the choir, the Illinois Whitetail Alliance is taking action and calling for a review of the current deer management practices in Illinois. 

Will any deer management plan ever completely please everyone involved? Of course not. Can Illinois develop a plan that is acceptable to all stakeholders? That remains to be seen. 

One of the problems faced by those who feel that the Illinois deer herd is in peril is that initially the cries of alarm were only being raised by hunters. Many of which were public land hunters. Drivers were still smashing deer on a regular basis, farmers were still suffering crop damage. It’s difficult to convince the lady in the body shop for the third time in a year that there aren’t enough deer. It’s even more difficult to convince a farmer looking across rows of beans that have been completely laid to waste. 

It’s just as difficult to convince a resident of some of the hardest hit areas where deer sightings are few to none that the herd is not in peril. 

Many resident hunters would like to cast blame on the nonresident hunters and outfitters. While I agree that there some horrendous examples of unethical behavior by both groups, that can also be said about resident hunters. It behooves us to remember that deer hunting, deer watching, deer processing, eco-tourism, etc. are large part of the economy in many rural areas.  If we completely remove the outfitters and nonresident hunters how do we replace that gaping hole in already struggling rural economies? 

Do we need to form yet one more committee and one more task force comprised by representatives form all stakeholder areas?  In a perfect world, yes I do believe that, and I do believe that everyone should have a voice at the table. In reality – I know that truly is not going to be feasible. 

What I do believe is that the way Illinois approaches deer management is not working. Harvest numbers continue to decline, permit sales continue to rise, and frankly I have had one hell of a time getting any type of accurate data on real herd numbers. 

What many fail to realize is that the only true deciding factor currently used in Illinois is the Deer Vehicle Accident percentages. Yes, Illinois DNR does take a cursory look at harvest numbers by county and will occasionally adjust late season permit availability by county based on those numbers, but the bottom line is this – its DVA numbers that control the whole stinking works, and only DVA numbers! 

Thankfully Kevin Chapman has provided Heartland Outdoors readers with some very detailed posts regarding the DVA numbers and the travesty that they are. I commend him for digging, filing the FOIA requests and breaking down the information for the rest of us. You can view his work here.

What would I suggest? As an Average Jane? 

I would certainly push for additional indicators – both economic and biological; data that is collected and analyzed in timely fashion. Currently the DVA numbers must be gathered by Illinois Department of Transportation, then provided to Illinois DNR, then reviewed, and guess what by the time that takes place – the next season permit numbers and seasons have already been set. That leads me to believe we are always behind the eight ball so to speak by at least a year, if not two. 

Illinois is large state, with highly variable and vastly different  habitat, economies, and culture from north to south. What is an acceptable plan to the voter and resident base in Chicagoland has no bearing on the reality of the residents living in the “Southern 16” counties.  Nor can central Illinois highly agricultural areas be dumped in the same box as the “Golden Triangle” where deer hunting is a huge part of the economy.  I feel that a regionalized approach would serve the overall herd much better than a huge statewide approach. 

I also believe that more boots on the ground biologists, surveyors, data collectors would be beneficial. Sadly given the state of the Illinois budget as a whole and that of Illinois DNR that is not likely to be feasible at this point. 

I believe that the points in the Illinois Whitetail Alliances Plan are excellent starting areas for restoring the health of Illinois whitetail herd. 

And what I believe most of all, is that all Illinois residents and stakeholders  – need to look at what is happening, ask questions, learn as much as we can and most importantly talk not only to each other, but also to IL DNR and our legislators. 

The future of the Illinois deer herd is in our hands. Let’s not muck this up any further.


A few weeks ago I looked up the harvest numbers by county. Up my way, Kane and Kendall counties, I see just as many deer as I always have. This year, actually more. But then, what I recall of the harvest numbers for these counties they were both under 100 deer each. Saw other counties down south with harvest numbers in the thousands. You kill everything in sight, numbers will do down over time. You can factor in some of the things you talk about here, but dead is dead. Doesn't matter how it happens at that point.

I swore I wasn't going to read anything more about deer in Illinois and I kind of just skimmed this.

I came by to look cause I knew you'd have some of your usual outstanding photos mixed in.

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