Williams Barrett sent this wonderful photo of a buck he caught on his trail cam in northern Lake County. Archery season opens Monday. | For the Sun-Times
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:32AM
Outside of Crete, a band of bowhunters began group target practice a couple of weeks ago. Hunters from the Chicago area have been watching trail cams for months from Pope County in southern Illinois to northern Lake County.
Bowhunting for deer has grown into the second-most popular hunting sport in Illinois, behind only firearm deer hunting. In 2010, almost 162,000 individuals bought archery deer licenses. In the same year, Illinois had about 274,000 individual deer hunters overall (bowhunters and firearm hunters overlap).
Advances in equipment, including trail cams, help. So does a healthy deer population accessible to urban and suburban hunters.
Archery season for deer in Illinois opens Monday. Here is an email Q&A with deer project manager Tom Micetich:
How big is the estimated deer herd in Illinois?
‘‘We no longer conduct deer population modeling to estimate each county’s individual population size, and haven’t for some time, as it is very time-intensive and not necessary for proper management. Our staffing levels and work priorities just wouldn’t allow for it. However, based on population trend information from other sources (such as the rate of deer/vehicle collisions), Illinois’ deer population size is down somewhat from its peak when it was in the range of 750,000-800,000. I would have to place it in the range of 700,00-725,000, which would be much more in line with goals set forth by the Illinois General Assembly’s Deer Population Task Force. As recommended by the Task Force, Illinois’ deer population goals are based upon the rate of deer/vehicle collisions (number of collisions taking into account for the amount of traffic).
What total bow harvest are you anticipating? Hoping for?
Archery deer harvest should remain comparable to the past several years, remaining in the range of 60,000-65,000.
How many counties have had reports of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) so far? Do you have an estimated kill so far?
There have been at least 73 counties reported to our staff with at least one probable EHD death. We have asked staff for the most recent data, and there will be an update through the end of September coming soon. We only tally the mortality that is reported to us to provide information about apparent distribution and relative intensity compared to other years — this does not constitute an ‘‘estimated kill.’’
How big of an impact do you anticipate that having on hunters — bowhunters in particular?
The measurable effect of EHD tends to be local, since a number of environmental factors must come together to produce optimal conditions for an outbreak. As a result, an area with relatively high mortality may be surrounded by other areas with very little or no mortality. It’s rare for an entire county to be impacted at a measurable level, let alone the entire state. However, there is no question that those hunting on or near farms/locales where several animals have died will likely see fewer deer while hunting.
Have hunters — bowhunters in particular — gone too far toward trophy hunting for a healthy herd?
Harvest sex ratios (male:female) during the archery season have been running 50:50, a far cry from what archery harvest sex ratios were prior to the introduction of the ‘‘combination ES/AO archery deer permit’’ in 1995. Sex ratios in the overall deer harvest are also normally about 50:50, with the ‘‘antlerless’’ component of harvest (primarily does plus button bucks) in excess of 60 percent for several years. That is a healthy ratio of harvest.