By Dom Castaldo, Ph.D.
Special to The Rock River Times
Cold temperatures, rain and steady winds combined to reduce the 2013 firearm deer harvest 25.5 percent — or 25,355 deer — compared to the 2012 deer harvest.
According to preliminary data from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the state’s firearm deer hunters killed 74,191 deer during the two-part, seven-day season that ended Dec. 8.
Frigid temperatures — some in the single digits — and blustery winds that pushed the wind-chill (“feel-like”) temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit made it difficult for many hunters to remain outdoors for long periods of time. The wind moved leaves and tree branches, making it difficult for hunters to hear and see the deer. Also, during extremely cold temperatures — 10 degrees Fahrenheit or lower — deer tend to seek shelter and don’t move as much to conserve their body heat.
Statewide deer harvest in 2013 was less than the 2012 harvests in both parts of the season. In 2012, Illinois hunters harvested 72,111 deer during the first season and 27,435 deer during the second season. This year, hunters took 55,708 deer statewide during the first part of the season — a 22.8 percent decline compared to the first part of the 2012 firearm deer-hunting season — and 18,483 deer during the second part of the season — 32.6 percent fewer deer than were taken during the second part of the 2012 season.
The 25.5 percent decrease in the 2013 Illinois firearm deer harvest follows a 1.5-percent increase in the harvest between 2011 and 2012. Last year, shotgun hunters took 99,324 deer; in 2011, the firearm deer harvest was 97,820 deer. Firearm deer hunters bagged 98,700 in 2010.
The counties with the five highest total firearm deer harvests in 2013 are Pike County with 2,269 deer, Jackson County with 1,931 deer, Fulton County with 1,886, Jo Daviess County with 1,870 deer and Randolph County with 1,786 deer. In all five of these top deer-harvest counties, the 2013 deer harvest was less than the 2012 harvest.
Hunters in Ogle County harvested 877 deer, a 22.1 percent decrease in the number of deer harvested compared to the total 2012 firearm harvest. Winnebago County hunters experienced a 41.6 percent drop in the deer harvest — 534 deer taken in 2012 and 312 deer taken in 2013. Stephenson County hunters killed 1,059 deer in 2012, but only 743 deer during this past season. This was a 29.8 percent decline in the harvest.
In the 100 Illinois counties where hunters can use firearms to harvest deer, 2013 firearm deer harvests declined compared to the previous year in all of those counties, except one — Alexander. In Alexander County, the deer harvest increased from 453 deer in 2012 to 475 deer in 2013. The decrease in the deer harvest in some counties was large. For example, in 2012, hunters in Clay County harvested 1,219 deer but only 863 deer in 2013 — a 29.2 percent drop.
Deer harvest data for the other counties are available online at http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/news/Pages/FirearmDeerSeasonPreliminaryHarvestTotals74,191.aspx. Wildlife experts estimate the size of the Illinois deer herd at between 700,000 and 750,000 animals.
IDNR Director Marc Miller believes factors other than unfavorable hunting conditions were responsible for the poor deer harvest. Diseases such as chronic wasting disease (CWD) or epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) may have played a role in the poor deer harvest.
However, people have not reported finding large numbers of dead deer during the spring and early summer. Poaching, deer-vehicle collisions, poor reproduction and fungus in the deer’s diet may have contributed to the decrease in the number of deer. This year, hunters reported seeing fewer hunters in the woods and field and hearing fewer gunshots than usual.
If the winter is mild and food for the pregnant is abundant and accessible and no deer disease outbreaks occur, there will probably be an excess of deer in the summer and fall in Illinois. The surplus deer will likely result in an increase in crop destruction and more deer-vehicle collisions. The low harvest during the 2013 deer-hunting season may result in more deer available to be harvested in 2014.
Illinois deer hunters still have opportunities to put venison in their freezers. The archery deer-hunting season is open until Jan. 1, 2014. A late deer season and CWD season will take place Dec. 26-29 and Jan. 17-19, 2014.
Following are the firearm deer harvest changes in selected Illinois counties:
Alexander County — 453 deer harvested in 2013, up 4.9 percent from 2012;
Boone County — 74 deer harvested in 2013, down 50 percent from 2012;
DeKalb County — 135 deer harvested in 2013, down 31.1 percent from 2012;
Jo Daviess County — 1,879 deer harvested in 2013, down 25.7 percent from 2012;
Lee County — 551 deer harvested in 2013, down 29.7 percent from 2012;
Ogle County — 877 deer harvested in 2013, down 22.1 percent from 2012;
Stephenson County — 743 deer harvested in 2013, down 29.8 percent from 2012;
Whiteside County — 639 deer harvested in 2013, down 26.5 percent from 2012; and
Winnebago County — 312 deer harvested in 2013, down 41.6 percent from 2012.
Dr. Dom Castaldo is a biology instructor at Sauk Valley Community College and an avid deer hunter. He welcomes comments and questions via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Dec. 18-24, 2013, issue