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Guest Blog

Will things change for Illinois deer?

Tue, February 17, 2015

wyoming muley
This is Scott Schumacher of Washington, Illinois, with a mature eastern Wyoming mule deer buck.

By LES DAVENPORT

Over the last half-dozen years I’ve glassed from numerous Wyoming canyon tops at sunup attempting to spot mature mule deer bucks meandering from valley grasslands back to wide, rocky terrain breaks where they bed for the day.  In late afternoon the process reverses. Rarely have there been zero sightings. The best bachelor group I’ve spotted in the morning was fourteen bucks, more than half shooters! During an evening hunt my wife had sixteen bucks standing in an alfalfa field, all grouped within 20 yards of her ambush site. I watched Connie arrow a great old buck that dropped within sight. I thought to myself, It doesn’t get any better than this!

Over the same period here in Illinois I’ve sat in uncountable tree stands on numerous properties and thought, It can’t get any worse than this! But it does, year after year. Both the quantity and the quality of our herd are circling the drain with no end in sight. The anticipation of hunting Wyoming grows every year. Expectations of hunting Illinois wane more every year. I hunt harder to see less.

During the past decade and a half, I’ve stated in magazine articles that effective deer management can’t be solely performed with deer/vehicle collision statistics. But, in fact, that’s what our DNR has attempted to accomplish. Instead of regulating this natural resource with county-specific permit allocation using multiple factors, our deer program managers have elected to please Corporate America and politically-motivated bosses as opposed to the consumers…responsible deer hunters.

Ongoing disease, the over-glut of permits, and the open floodgate of non-residents have become a major detriment to this state’s deer herd, yet our DNR has shown absolutely no move toward accountability. They undoubtedly recognize the cash cow aspect of the resource and sport, but clearly have not comprehended how ill that cow has grown. I liken our past DNR to a bad outfitter. They’re clueless about the resource and its management, thinking it can’t ever be depleted. They rape it for profit (that’s not put back into the resource), and then when things dry up they’re so bold as to lie to potential clientele, spouting nothing but the resources’ enduring greatness.

Wyoming at one time exactly mirrored Illinois’ present situation; they had a notion that game populations would sustain significantly more pressure from non-residents, bringing in tourism dollars literally by the truckloads. CWD, EHD and BT grew worse, and the glut of permits, still available, dropped populations to alarming levels. 

Many ranches in Wyoming have been family owned for three or more generations. These ranchers are true survivalist, hearty in every way; they are conservation-minded and frugal, because it’s the only way to avoid bankruptcy. Income provided by outfitting non-resident hunters is essential to their ongoing financial stability. Most of these operations quickly recognized the problem with dwindling populations two decades ago and adjusted their game management to emulate cattle rearing mentality.

The owners of all four ranches I’ve hunted in the last decade, ranging from 22,000 to 54,000 acres, stated they managed for age structure both in does and bucks. They regulate the coming year’s harvest quota by evaluating the previous year’s harvest and the severity of winter and disease. Droughts causing poor fawning and loss to predators may cause a rancher to eliminate all doe harvests and cut buck harvest in half. A single bad year of disease loss may shut down hunting on the ranch altogether.

Though Illinois and Wyoming are quite different in terrain and population, I will never be convinced that some of this same management mentality can’t be used for managing Illinois whitetails. Like the “Colonel” commented in a previous HO article, it can’t be “Garbage in, Garbage out” to obtain adequate results for the future wellness of a resource. The IDNR needs to appoint and hire personnel that formulate a management plan that is both proactive and flexible enough to react to yearly variations.

Is getting rid of Quinn and having Rauner take over the helm going to help resource management of whitetails deer? Everybody, including the IWA, is watching the new Director, Wayne Rosenthal, to see if we made the right polling decision…or not. I think everybody understands that things can’t be fixed by a new administration in one year. But saying the right thing upfront and beginning to act on it shows the deer hunting public that things have a chance of improving.

morgan county buck
Great bucks like this one taken by Scott Whittington in Morgan County are getting fewer and farther between due to ongoing poor deer management and diseases in Illinois.

(17) COMMENTS

Rauner needs to clean house at DNR

Thu, January 15, 2015

Bruce Rauner has taken over the reins of Illinois government and hopefully will bring the kind of change many of the state’s residents have waited too long to see. One of the first things he will do is appoint people to various positions on his staff. Of great interest to Illinois sportsmen will be the appointment of a new DNR director.

I remember very well the appointment of Marc Miller as DNR director by Governor Pat Quinn. I was privileged to be invited to a meeting at DNR headquarters during the first few weeks of Miller’s tenure. Illinois Whitetail Alliance president Kevin Chapman was also present at that meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the late-winter antlerless seasons which IDNR was looking to expand. Those of us representing Illinois deer hunters at that meeting were offering sensible proposals regarding the antlerless season and controlling an expanding deer herd in a way that was more beneficial to the herd while also offering quality recreation opportunities for Illinois deer hunters.

As the meeting wound down one could literally see the anguish on Director Miller’s face. He had no argument to counter any of our proposals and yet he had a team of biologists wanting to go in a totally different direction. He was going to have to make a decision and it was clearly going to be a tough one for him. I left that meeting knowing that this one decision would set the tone for Miller’s entire tenure as leader of IDNR. He would either follow the common sense plan laid before him by his constituents or he would give the ball to his biologist and let them control the game for his entire time as head of IDNR. He chose the latter and under his watch the wheels fell off the bus that is the Illinois deer herd.

To be fair, I honestly believe that Marc Miller is a very decent human being who happened to be in a political position with pressures the rest of us will never fully understand. Like many of us, Director Miller had a boss. To some degree he had to do what his boss told him. While he will long be known as the DNR director who let the deer herd fall apart under his watch, Miller really did nothing more to make that happen than the directors who came right before him. He simply left the management of the state’s deer herd to a team of biologists who proved over and over again that they are in over their heads and totally clueless regarding solid whitetail management on a statewide level as well as in dealing with the public.

When governor Rauner names his new IDNR director that person will also face the same question that Director Miller faced when he took over that position; will he (or she) continue to allow the same team of biologists to manage Illinois deer herd? How that question is answered will likely set the tone for his/her legacy. It will also instantly set the tone for how the public views their new IDNR director.

All one has to do is get on any Website discussion forum where the topic of the management of Illinois deer herd is being discussed and it becomes very clear that the public has lost all trust in the biologists who have been managing the states deer herd for the past 20+ years. Not only are many Illinois deer hunters disgusted with the condition of Illinois deer herd, they are also disgusted with the biologists managing it. To leave any of those individuals in their current positions puts the new director in a precarious position. The public is likely to cut the new director some slack and give him some time to right the ship if he is willing to come in and clean house. Sticking with the same old individuals will make the lights shine brighter and the magnifying glass more intense as every move regarding deer management is closely scrutinized.

Let’s be clear that I am not suggesting anyone be “fired”. Instead a “reassignment of duties” would be in order, but that’s not my call. Leaving even one of the current “whitetail management team” in place would lessen the public’s trust in the new IDNR director and destroy their hope that positive changes are coming. These biologists have had their chance and all they did was turn the best whitetail herd on the planet into a pathetic mess. When a cancer surgeon removes a tumor he doesn’t leave part of it behind. He removes it all.

With my finger firmly on the pulse of Illinois deer hunters I can confidently say that they don’t really care “who” Governor Rauner places in charge of IDNR. Instead they are much more concerned with how that person deals with the whitetail biologists in charge of the states deer herd. How that one question is answered will not only set the tone for how the new director is viewed by Illinois deer hunters but also in how they view Governor Rauner. Many of them voted for “shaking up Springfield”, now they want to see it start with the whitetail biologists working at IDNR.

(9) COMMENTS

Deer hunters helped Rauner win

Fri, November 14, 2014

By DON HIGGINS

As I sat in my stand in the pre-dawn darkness on Nov. 5, waiting for the sun to rise on another day in the whitetail woods, I felt the familiar vibration of my cell phone. Getting a text message from another deer hunter in the early morning hours is not uncommon but this time it was still dark. I knew the message must be urgent.

I retrieved my phone under a couple of layers of clothes to find that my good friend Kirk Kvitle of Quincy had sent me a very special message indeed; “Got a new governor!!!! Yahoo!!” When I had gone to bed the night before Governor Quinn was leading the race over Bruce Rauner and I figured it was Illinois politics as usual.

WRONG! This election has the potential to be a very positive game-changer on a lot of fronts, including Illinois deer hunting.

As I mentioned in an article earlier this year, Gov. Quinn had a real opportunity to appease a state full of angry deer hunters by implementing some much needed regulation changes before the hunting season started and before the election that would decide his fate. For whatever reason, he and his administration ignored Illinois deer hunters and they continue to lead our deer herd down a path to ruins. It is a mistake that surely cost him votes.

While it would be impossible to say just how many votes were cast on the issue of Illinois pathetic deer management, make no mistake, the typical Illinois deer hunter did not cast a vote for Quinn in the election.

I have been involved at various levels with the political side of managing the Illinois deer herd for nearly 20 years. I have gotten my hopes up in the past when we had a changing of the guard at IDNR. In fact I attended two meetings with current Director Marc Miller in the first weeks of his tenure. The first left me very hopeful while the second left me concerned. In the end I was highly disappointed.

I have a feeling this time is different because Rauner is different. When a candidate has those in his own political party trying to undermine his attempts to get elected even after winning the primary, you know he is not your typical politician. He represents the kind of real change that some politicians from both parties don’t want to see.

I truly hope governor-elect Rauner is the real-deal. Time will tell.  I am honestly tired of writing negative articles regarding the management of Illinois deer herd. I want so badly to write something positive and give IDNR a well-deserved pat on the back; the key words here are “well-deserved”. When that praise is finally earned I will be there to give it. It has been a long time coming and a lot of Illinois deer hunters long ago gave up hope of ever seeing the kind of change that is needed.

I sincerely hope that governor-elect Rauner and his new IDNR director, whoever that may be, realizes the tremendous opportunity that lies before them in regards to the Illinois deer herd. With some bold regulation changes during his first year in office, Illinois hunters could realistically be hunting the best managed whitetail deer herd on the planet in four years when Rauner seeks reelection. Illinois has some great whitetail habitat growing on some of the earth’s richest soils along with some great whitetail genetics. All that is lacking for Illinois to be the envy of the entire deer hunting world is some wise management policies and regulation changes. It really is that simple.

Governor-elect Rauner promised to “shake up Springfield”. If that includes the whitetail management staff working at IDNR, then Mr. Rauner can count on an army of deer hunters supporting him at the ballot box again four years from now. I trust him to get the job done and will be anxiously waiting for the opportunity to write my first positive article regarding the management of Illinois deer herd.

If you are not yet a member of the Illinois Whitetail Alliance, you can sign up for free membership on their website – www.ilwhitetailalliance.com. Some of the leaders of IWA met with governor-elect Rauner while he was on the campaign trail last summer. I expect IWA will have an opportunity to voice their concerns and desires with the new IDNR leadership at some point in the future.  By becoming a member of IWA you have the opportunity to voice your concerns and give clout to the organization working to improve the Illinois deer herd for everyone.

(6) COMMENTS

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