Friday, February 06, 2009

ILLINOIS NEWS: Deer Harvest Down 5% Compared to Last Season

Illinois deer hunters experienced their lowest kill total since 2003 this past season, but the state's deer project manager is not pushing the panic button.

In fact, he's not even breaking a sweat.

"I know there's people that are alarmed right now," said Tom Micetich, who holds the post for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. "I hear from a bunch of them, but I'm not terribly concerned.

"You'd think if the agency was in fact making an effort to curb the herd growth like we have since the 2003 season -- noting that was the peak in deer-vehicle accidents -- you'd see a decline in the harvest."

Preliminary totals released last week by the IDNR reveal Illinois hunters killed 188,425 deer. That's a 5.3 percent decline, or 11,246 fewer deer, than were harvested during the 2007-08 season. It represented the lowest total since the 2003-04 season, when 168,762 whitetails were harvested. [Twenty years ago, the harvest was just shy of 50,000 deer, and that was a state harvest record. -Ed.]

Illinois wasn't alone in experiencing a decline. Neighboring states Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota all saw their harvest totals dip. What has hunters worried is the kill total is decreasing even though the IDNR is issuing more permits.

"Guys get alarmed, but when you combine all the seasons and all the dead deer, it's not that bad," Micetich said. "In Wisconsin, hunters killed about 450,000 deer and were complaining they didn't see enough deer. It's kind of hard to kill almost a half-million deer and complain that you didn't see any."

Micetich said numbers are what people make of them. He noted that Illinois has an estimated 800,000 deer.

"In Illinois, we've killed nearly 200,000 deer for five straight years," he said. "Yeah, there's no deer out there. I wasn't discouraged by the total. When you look at the total, we're down 5.4 percent, but our actual doe harvest was up by .6 percent. That's a good thing."

Illinois' doe harvest was up nearly 1,200 from last season, but the buck harvest was down by more than 12,000. Micetich said a later gun season and unfavorable weather were likely the prime culprits for that dip.

Illinois' firearm season started a week later (Dec. 4-7) than last year, prompting many to believe hunters had missed the peak of the rut, or the time of the year when bucks and does mate.

"With an earlier season, you tend to have more chasing going on," Micetich said. "The boys are pursuing the girls, making them more visible. If you're on the tail end of that period when bucks aren't with does or are wore out from having chased them for three weeks and are going to lay up and recuperate from all the energy expended, that may have played a significant part of it.

"The other part of it was the weather itself kind of stunk both seasons with temperatures 15 to 20 degrees below normal. You have a bunch of hunters who were maybe fair-weather types that were waiting for the next season."

Locally, hunters in an 11-county area -- Bond, Clinton, Fayette, Jefferson, Madison, Marion, Monroe, Perry, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington -- harvested 27,729 whitetails. That's 1,826 fewer than were killed last year.

Area hunters took 8,479 deer during the archery season, 16,442 during the firearm season and 2,040 during the late-winter antlerless only season. Jefferson County topped the list with 4,469 kills, followed by Randolph County (3,851) and Marion County (3,571).

Several changes could be in store for the 2009-10 deer season. Micetich said the IDNR is currently reviewing recommendations made by the Task Force on Deer Population Control

"I would suspect at this point, we're working toward that nine-day late-winter season and selling permits over the counter," Micetich said. "I don't think there's been any movement on the additional firearm deer day for the first season. I think we're going to wait and see what the hunter survey shows us."

Source: Belleville News-Democrat

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