Imagine this: you spend all summer and fall preparing for the hunting season, scouting your properties, checking your gear, and making plans for opening day and beyond. But once the alarm goes off on the first day of rifle season, once you get out to your treestand and start looking for bucks, you run into a problem that you hadn’t expected: the deer are nowhere to be found. As the days roll on and the brief rifle season rapidly wastes away, things don’t get any better. You wonder where all the deer have gone and why all of your normally bountiful hunting spots have run dry. By the time the season ends, you’ve seen few deer and harvested fewer of them. You can’t remember a more discouraging season.
For Illinois deer hunters, the above scenario became a sad reality this year. In fact, the Illinois 2013 firearms season could well end up going down as one of the most disappointing and anticlimactic hunting seasons in the state’s recent history. Worse, no one can quite put a finger on just what went wrong.
One of the suspected culprits is the weather, which was cold and wet during the Illinois firearms season. Since the state’s gun season is so brief – running for a grand total of seven days on the weekends of November 22-24 and December 5-8 – it stands to reason that just a few unusual weather patterns could greatly hinder harvest numbers and deer sightings. Single digit temperatures, freezing rain, and a wealth of ice build-up likely gave most whitetails little reason to leave the comfort of their bedding areas. That appears to be exactly what happened, with many hunters reporting fewer than usual deer sightings and almost no sign whatsoever of bucks.
But the Illinois firearm season lull doesn’t just apply to a few unlucky hunters. The state’s Department of Natural Resources notched firearm season harvest totals at just over 74,000 in a preliminary report – a number that seems reasonably high until you consider that it’s over 25,000 fewer deer than last year. If those preliminary numbers hold true, the 2013 firearm-hunting season will stand as the worst Illinois has seen since 1990.
The Department of Natural Resources doesn’t think the low numbers were entirely a result of the weather either. Marc Miller, the organization’s director, says there are plans to do a biological investigation into Illinois deer herds once the remaining hunting seasons have subsided. If the DNR finds anything suspect, they could revamp Illinois deer management strategies, which would in turn lead to more regulation for next year’s deer hunting season. In other words, there is virtually no good news available right now for Illinois deer hunters.
Interestingly enough, bowhunters have reported harvest numbers for whitetail deer that are on track to match previous years. As of December 1, bowhunters had reported around 51,000 deer harvests, a number only a hair below what it was at the same time a year ago. If there is something going on with the deer populations in Illinois, it wasn’t effecting bowhunting trends in the earlier parts of the season.