Spent a short period of time at the Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic today and, as near as I could tell, the most interesting deer-related thing going on in Springfield was the Illinois Whitetail Alliance.
Members of the new deer advocacy group had a 2.5-hour meeting with Department of Natural Resources director Marc Miller on Friday. While I don’t know what will come of that meeting, I can say the Alliance is on its way to shaking things up in Illinois.
Let’s face it, Illinois deer hunters are an unhappy lot in the wake of a 2013-14 hunting season that saw the deer kill decline by 18 percent.
This year’s preliminary kill total of 148,569 for all deer seasons was down 32,242 and marked the eighth straight season of population decline. It was also the lowest gun season total in 23 years and lowest total deer harvest since 1999.
Faced with those facts, a group of Illinois hunters has formed the Illinois Whitetail Alliance. The goals of the organization, whose founding members include former Department of Natural Resources Director Brent Manning, are outlined in a proposal recently released to the public.
Manning praised the DNR for a recent announcement about possible regulation changes. But he added, “Many other recommendations have been made with the best interest of Illinois’ deer herd in mind. The entire Alliance proposal is well thought out, and deserves consideration.”
Alliance member Kevin Chapman, a past Illinois Bowhunters Society president and Springfield conservation legislation watchdog, said one goal is to be proactive, instead of reactive.
“In the past it seems like everyone has wanted to sit back and complain about what the DNR did,” Chapman said. “I don’t think an organized group has wanted to take the initiative to make suggestions.
“Many in the Alliance have been involved with Illinois deer management issues for over 20 years, and have witnessed the rise and fall of Illinois deer hunting. Most hunters are passionate about the future of one of the state’s greatest natural resources. That’s why some of the best deer management ideas in the past have come from the hunting public, including the current statewide two-buck limit.”
Hunter’s passions have not been lost on DNR upper management. As Manning noted, in a recent press release the DNR said it “plans to revise deer population objectives for more than 40 counties beginning with the 2014-15 deer season, following a two-year review of Illinois deer management.”
“In these counties our strategy is shifting from deer herd reduction to maintaining or increasing deer populations,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller.
DNR is also considering limiting over-the-counter firearm permits and seeks hunter input at www.surveymonkey.com/s/IDNRdeerSurvey.
But the Alliance is asking for greater changes, as outlined in a presentation Chapman will make Saturday (4:30 p.m.) and Sunday (11 a.m.) at the Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic.
He is also scheduled to speak March 2 at 12:30 p.m. at the Elmwood All Outdoors Show in Elmwood.
Chapman believes in parts of Illinois the deer herd may be down by as much as 50 percent with a statewide average of 30 percent.
For proof he points to the continued decline in deer harvest totals and in deer-vehicle accident totals (DVAs). Based on 2012 numbers, DVAs are down 25 percent or more from the peak in 2003 – which Chapman notes, “was really before we even started seeing the effects of EHD in 2012 and 2013).”
“I know DNR has to balance this between all stakeholders, but whatever the magic number is, I think hunters are taking notice that the herd is below the acceptable level they want to see,” Chapman said.
Alliance members were scheduled to meet with Miller after Heartland Outdoors went to press.
The plan outlined by the Alliance heading into that meeting included the following five points:
1) Enact an immediate five-year moratorium on any new legislation or administrative rule change that could result in the expansion of any deer hunting season, add any additional weapons, or increase the deer harvest in any way. After five years, an independent review of the deer management program would be performed by a qualified source.
2) Reduce the pressure on the overall deer harvest, particularly on female deer, by implementing the following:
a) Eliminate the current late winter deer season (LWS)
b) Move all future antlerless-only (A-O) seasons to mid-September
c) Implement a one-buck and one-doe limit in counties where an additional A-O season is not needed
d) Eliminate all over-the-counter (OTC) gun permit sales, and OTC archery sales after November 1
3) Implement a statewide one-buck limit, all seasons combined.
4) Implement new regulations on non-resident (NR) permits including an immediate elimination of the OTC A-O permit, unless the NR has purchased a regular combo permit.
5) Enact stricter penalties for deer hunting violations that involve “willful intent” which would result in a two-year suspension of hunting privileges for the first offense, five-year suspension for the second offense, and permanent loss upon the third offense.
Members of the Illinois Whitetail also include outdoor writer Les Davenport, whitetail habitat consultant Don Higgins and biologist/forester Lee Mitchell.
Hunters in Illinois took a preliminary total of 74,355 deer during the 2013 firearm season, 3,546 deer during muzzleloader season and 3,012 during the youth season. All totals were down from 2012.
Bowhunters shot 57,290 deer, compared with a harvest of 59,805 in the 2012-13 archery season. Late-winter and special CWD deer seasons had a combined harvest of 10,366, down from 14,723 in 2012-13.
Chapman concedes many other Midwestern states experienced similar harvest declines this year.
“I think everybody kind of adopted the same principles. It’s the same story everywhere,” he said. “All the other DNRs are just realizing we did a little too much and now we need to tweak it back the other direction.”
Chapman said he hopes the Alliance can help the Illinois DNR reach the same conclusions as it reviews deer management.
Alliance members urge hunters to contact their local legislators. The group also has a Facebook page with 1,615 members.