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KC's Corner

Late Winter Antlerless Deer Seasons Announced

Tue, August 23, 2016

After five consecutive years below the agreed-upon deer population goals (as of 2014 accident data),Pike County will finally be removed from the late-winter antlerless deer season (LWS) this year.  Three other counties will also be removed (Marshall, Edwards, Saline) while Perry County will be added back to the LWS this season.  Read below for more info…

From IDNR…

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Illinois’ Late-Winter Antlerless-only Deer Hunting Season will be open in 24 counties, while the state’s Special CWD Deer Hunting Season will be open in 14 counties for 2016-17, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) announced today. 

The Late-Winter season provides additional hunting opportunities in counties with surplus deer, while the Special CWD season allows hunters to help combat the spread of chronic wasting disease in Illinois’ white-tailed deer herd.

Season dates for the split 7-day Late-Winter and Special CWD hunts will be Dec. 29, 2016-Jan. 1, 2017 and Jan. 13-15, 2017.

Counties open previously during the Late-Winter season that will be closed for Late-Winter hunting in 2016-17 are Edwards, Marshall, Pike and Saline.  Perry County, which was not open to Late-Winter hunting last season, will be open for the Late-Winter hunt in 2016-17.

There is no change in the list of counties open for the Special CWD season in 2016-17.

IDNR biologists recommended the changes for the 2016-17 seasons following analyses of deer data including hunting harvest, deer-vehicle accidents, deer disease reports, and other factors.

Hunters in Illinois harvested 4,537 deer in 27 open counties during the Late-Winter season and 1,825 deer during the Special CWD season in 14 open counties in 2015-16.  Hunters harvested 155,229 deer during all firearm and archery seasons in Illinois last year.

Open counties for the 2016-17 Late-Winter Antlerless-only Deer Season and Special CWD Deer Season are listed below.
Late-Winter Season Open Counties:
Rock Island
CWD Season Open Counties:
Jo Daviess


Time running out for deer changes.

Sun, August 14, 2016

The clock is ticking.

As the days inevitably get shorter and the evening locusts tell us that fall is just around the corner, I start getting that itch.  Time is running short.  I still have several hundred arrows to release at a foam target that’s still sitting in my garage.  Stands need prepared.  Cameras need checked.  Equipment needs gathered (and possibly found).  Seems like opening day always slips up on me.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that IDNR deer managers in IL ever feel that same sense of urgency.

Nearly a decade ago, IDNR biologists convinced us (well, some of us) that deer vehicle accident (DVA) rates were a good method to measure deer population size in a county.  I’ve written quite a bit on this subject, but DVA’s have been a good indicator of the decline of the IL deer herd that we’ve seen over the last several years.

It sounded like a good plan.  But continued delays in getting DVA data from IDOT has made managing deer on DVA rates challenging.  Recently, I was told by an IDOT employee that it would be “sometime in November” before 2015 accident data would be finalized.  November?!?

We started out with DVA’s being ready sometime in June.  Even that wasn’t ideal, since the early firearm lottery would have taken place by the time this data comes out.  Every year the data has gotten later.  But November?

Consider this math.  Let’s assume we had another serious EHD outbreak in 2014.  Just like we saw a couple of years ago… when EHD hits later in the year, the true impact usually doesn’t show itself in the DVA rate until the following year (in this case, 2015).

But by the time we see that data, the 2016 season will be in full swing… no time for changes.  The first chance to make any management adjustments would come in the 2017 season.  But wait… IDNR has told us that one year of low DVA data isn’t enough to make changes, even if they know an outside influence (like EHD) proves it’s not just a “data blip.”

That “rule” would delay any changes another year, pushing any POSSIBLE change off until the 2018 season… 4 years after an “event” that caused the issue in the first place!  Every other state in the Midwest published IMMEDIATE permit/harvest reductions following their EHD outbreaks in 2012.

Regardless of how the data comes out for 2015, significant changes could have been made already.  Not necessarily changes in specific counties, but with how the data is analyzed and used.  Illinois Whitetail Alliance has been asking for these changes since 2014.

First off the DVA rate, like any “target statistical rate, should be set as a range… not a single data point.  While the DVA rate is a good indicator of population, the margin of error in the data (like exactly how many miles are driven in a given county) simply doesn’t allow that level of accuracy to hit a single rate.  IWA’s suggestion was to have a +/-10% margin above or below the target.  If a county is within that range, then the population would be considered “at target” and no changes would be needed.

The second suggestion was to implement some herd growth strategies for counties “significantly” below goal (more than 10% below the target range).  This would go above and beyond simply removing the county from the late-winter antlerless season (LWS).  This would require some meaningful harvest limits in order to grow the herd back to target levels.  This is THE biggest challenge… in getting IDNR to commit to growing the herd in some areas.

As of 2014 DVA data, 38 of the 85 counties being managed on DVA rates were more than 10% below their DVA goal.

But all of these plans fly out the window if biologists don’t have access to TIMELY DVA data.  Working from 2-3-4 year old data, and ignoring outside factors like disease, can’t continue.  Hunters are still waiting for meaningful changes after the state’s biggest EHD event in 2012 and 2013.

Again, the clock is ticking… and not just for hunters.


2016 Deer Season Changes?

Sun, July 17, 2016

It’s been a while since I’ve written on HO about deer issues.  The legislative session was pretty quiet for a change.  And honestly… I think a lot of people are simply tired of hearing about the same deer management issues over and over.

As the 2016 season gets closer, we still don’t have the deer-vehicle accident (DVA) statistics from last year.  Last I heard from IDOT, it would be sometime in August before that data is finalized. This is the main source of data used to estimate deer densities at the county level, and determines county management plans.

With that being said… once again, I don’t anticipate any big changes in terms of managing towards these county-specific DVA goals.  Firearm permit quotas have been set, we’ve been through several lotteries, and I’m sure the hunting digest is close to complete.

So far, the only proposed changes to the IL deer program simply allow for expanded seasons and permits.

These changes come via the administrative rule process.  That’s the set of rules that IDNR administration puts in place that further defines some regulations, inside the framework provided by statute.  In other words, it allows IDNR to make changes that don’t require changes to the law.

This year, there are 2 changes being proposed that are of significance for the upcoming season.

The first is a change that would allow archery equipment to be used during the firearm season… on private property.  Lawmakers have tried this numerous times, and the legislation has always failed due to lack of hunter support.  Past IDNR wildlife division employees opposed this change.  Now, Director Rosenthal is making the change via ad rule, which is within the agency’s authority.

This has always been a divisive issue, and I won’t go into the long history here.  I simply wonder how this issue rose so high on the priority list.  Is this the right time to expand seasons?  With so many biological questions unanswered (or unaddressed), is does it make sense to do this now?  We can’t help counties below their population goal 4 years after EHD, yet we can implement this quickly?

The way the proposed rule is worded, bowhunters would have to purchase a firearm permit to do this.  Normal archery permits are only valid during the archery season, and that season would still be “closed” during the open (firearm) season.

I communicated with a hunter from Moultrie County last year.  IDNR cut their firearm AO permits to zero last year, leaving most gun hunters with a single either-sex permit… if they draw it in the lottery.  Bowhunters in that county can still shoot two bucks, have access to an unlimited number of AO permits, and can be afield for 100+ days.  Would it be fair to have a bowhunter also take away the only permit a gun hunter could have received?

The last time we saw numbers, there were about 30,000 bowhunters who did not purchase a gun tag in IL.  If all of those hunters now chose to enter the lottery, who are they going to displace?  Recent permit data shows that we sell about 99% of the “available” either-sex firearm season permits statewide… with most counties being at 100%.

My bigger fear is that when gun hunters start losing access to the only season they hunt, IDNR will simply raise the number of available permits to meet demand.

We can debate this issue all day, but that’s not really my intent.  I know other states allow it.  I have friends who have made solid arguments in favor of it.  I’m just not sure where this is coming from now.  This hasn’t been an issue that IDNR has brought up recently in their surveys.  In fact, the last time the issue was brought up in an official INHS survey, only 1/3 of bowhunters supported bowhunting during the firearm season (the question wasn’t asked to the gun hunters they could displace).

With all of the concern from IL deer hunters about how the deer herd is being managed… coupled with the fact that most bowhunters aren’t in favor of hunting during the firearm season… how did this become such a hot topic that it needed to be changed all of a sudden.  And with little communication?

The second proposed change is basically the resurrection of an issue that will certainly be an unpopular one.  Through the ad rule process, IDNR is bringing back the unlimited non-resident (NR) antlerless-only (AO) deer permit.  The permit was abolished last year, although the cutoff didn’t take effect until mid-October.

The main difference now is … the permit will cost $100 instead of $25.  However, the permit will remain $25 for those who buy the more expensive $400+ combo archery permit first.  IDNR did keep the rule in place that disallows a NR from buying a combo permit after September 30th, if the person has already purchased the AO permit.

Law enforcement knows that this permit gets abused.  Other officials know it’s abused.  Outdoor groups and hunters have long called for the permit to be abolished.  Yet here we have it back again.  Why?

Looking at last season’s data on this permit, the number of NR AO permits decreased from 6,544 in 2014 to only 1,684 in 2015 (a 74% decrease).  However, the number of the NR combination archery permits increased from 14,788 to 16,600.  In other words… of the roughly 4900 NR’s who couldn’t get the AO permit, more than 37% of them switched back to the expensive combo permit.

This marked the first increase in NR combo permits since they peaked in 2008.  Altogether, the move generated about $620,000 more in revenues last year for IDNR by getting rid of the cheap AO permit.  That revenue will now be at risk since NR’s will be offered a cheaper alternative than the combo permit again.  If permits go back to the same level as 2014, revenues will drop by more than $130,000.

Those are the only changes that have been proposed via ad rule.  Neither change will help the deer herd in areas that are below their population goal.  Nothing helps areas that remain overpopulated, although not from a lack of trying to sell permits.

I guess there’s still an outside chance that changes could be made yet for this season, but the clock is definitely ticking.


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