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BOWMAN: Hunting’s a blast, even when it’s slow

One man’s view Illinois’ firearm deer seasons. The highlight was buck  taking rest with smaller buck just outside thground

One man’s view of Illinois’ firearm deer seasons. The highlight was a buck taking a rest with a smaller buck just outside of that ground blind during the first season. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 20, 2013 6:20AM

After grazing on rye shoots for a few minutes, the 8-point buck laid down to rest. The 4-point with him followed suit.

All this happened within 75 yards of the ground blind I was hunting from on the Sunday of Illinois’ first firearm deer season. And all I had was an antlerless permit for Will County.

That image defined how my deer season went. I could have bemoaned my fate. Instead, I laughed. I snapped photos — cautiously — in the hour-plus they lay there. A half-dozen does hung on the tree line at 110 to 125 yards, farther than I was comfortable shooting. They never came closer.

I documented the scene for Joe McCartin, who had to perform emergency dental work that afternoon and missed it.

Deer hunting in Illinois is about opportunity, and the weather this fall provided more opportunity than usual. That applies to the bow season, too, where early harvest numbers look solid.

The first firearm season was about as perfect as I ever remember: light winds and cool enough to make for good hunting. The second firearm season was the warmest I can remember, though I don’t know that anybody compiled the comparative data.

Firearm harvest reflected the effect of the weather. Hunters harvested a solid 99,324 deer for the two seasons, compared with 97,820 in 2011.

The breakdown for the two seasons shows the effect of the weather. The harvest in the first season (Nov. 16-18) was one of the best — 72,111, compared with 66,501 in 2011. The harvest in the second season (Nov. 29-Dec. 2) was 27,213, well off the 31,259 in 2011.

From talking with hunters and from Buck of the Week submissions, the quality of bucks strikes me as being up. That won’t be known for a couple of years — until data from Boone and Crockett Club (big game) and Pope and Young Club (archery) can be compared with those of other seasons. If quality is up, it would be from a combination of good weather and results from selective harvest.

Opportunity in Illinois is about access. Illinois ranks among the bottom three states for public access, so I was grateful McCartin had permission to hunt a farm his friend owned.

McCartin and I have hunted and fished all over, but this was our first time deer hunting together. For those unfamiliar with deer hunting, know that sitting quietly is important. As much as I love deer hunting, I can’t sit still. McCartin is the first guy I have deer-hunted with who is even antsier than I am. The two of us deer hunting together was like two teens with ADHD trying to wade through War and Peace. But I loved it.

I thought Ed Majchrzak, whose 14-point from elsewhere in Will County was the Buck of the Week on Dec. 5, summed it up perfectly when he emailed: ‘‘Special thanks to the farmer and his family for giving us the privilege of hunting.’’

That’s the reality in Illinois.

Hunting notes

Guide Jeff Norris of Fox Valley Guide Service texted, ‘‘Flyin’ meat.’’ Geese are all over the suburbs. . . . Duck hunting in Illinois’ central zone ends Christmas Day. . . . As for the duck season in the north zone, which ended Tuesday, it looks like William W. Powers State Recreation Area on the Southeast Side had its poorest season on record. That might end up being indicative of the duck season in the north zone overall. . . . If snow comes Thursday, as predicted, that will be the latest small-game hunters have had for the first snow cover.

Stray cast

Who would have guessed that when the Bears’ boat tipped it would be Brandon Marshall sounding like a guy readjusting his fly-fishing vest and Brian Urlacher sounding like a guy grubbing up his spilled stinkbait?

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