Illinois Deer Season 2012: Hunting Forecast

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates the state deer herd at 700,000 to 750,000 animals, down slightly from 750,000 to 800,000 about 10 years ago. Credit more antlerless deer hunting for the moderate drop in deer numbers.

The Illinois harvest, too, has been trending down, from 199,600 deer in 2007 to 181,400 in 2011. Most of this decline has been seen in the seven-day firearms (shotgun only) season. As the number of deer permits sold has stayed at about 356,000 each of the last five years, the decline is suggestive of either the somewhat smaller deer population and/or fewer days spent afield by deer hunters.

Much of Illinois labored under significant drought this summer. That hit deer forage -- both natural and agricultural -- pretty hard.

"Agricultural crops are suffering from drought conditions throughout most of the state," said Tom Micetich, the DNR's Deer Project Manager. "A little rain may still help, except in the extreme southern and southeastern Illinois counties where farmers have begun to disc [under their] corn. Soybeans are more drought-tolerant, and timely rainfall throughout the remainder of the growing season will allow that crop to recover."

Those dry conditions helped contribute to an isolated outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) near Crete, Illinois, in the southern Chicago area, in mid August. Reports estimated just 30 deer dead from EHD. It was, however, quite early for the disease to surface, and state officials were concerned that EHD could pick up steam before the summer was over.

The other main health issue for deer here is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), found in ten counties in Northern Illinois. CWD is found at very low levels in most of these counties, generally at a two-percent or less rate of infection, but it has steadily expanded its range, moving south and east.

The Midwestern Regional Report
Winter in the Midwest was mild to nonexistent, and deer herds came into spring in very good shape. However, drought could be an issue in some states. "Hard and soft mast crops will likely be compromised, and clover and row crop production is threatened by dry conditions," says Iowa deer biologist Tom Litchfield. In parts of Indiana and Illinois, some farmers were forced to plow under failing corn or chop it up for cattle feed in midsummer. Deer numbers are stable to growing in most locales, though disease is taking a toll in several states. North Dakota is still reeling from last year's EHD outbreak, CWD is spreading within Illinois and Wisconsin, bovine tuberculosis is still a concern in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, and Nebraska and Missouri experienced EHD outbreaks this summer.

Top Trophy Zones
IL: Pike, Adams, Brown, and Fulton counties.
KS: Units 11, 12, and 16.
KY: Christian, Grayson, Hardin, Hart, Muhlenberg, and Ohio counties.
MI: Calhoun, Cass, Jackson, and Washtenaw counties.
MN: Zone 3. This fall will be the third year of antler-point restrictions here.
MO: Saline, Putnam, Calloway, Chariton, and Cooper counties.
NE: Since 2005, hunters have taken 44 record-book mule deer bucks in Cherry County, including a 171 2⁄8 typical in 2010 and a 210 4⁄8 non-typical in 2005.
OH: Muskingum County.
WI: Buffalo, Trempealeau, and Waupaca counties. Between 2005 and 2010, the Dairy State led all other states with 383 Boone and Crockett entries.