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Deer season’s greetings in Illinois

Tree stands ground blinds such as this one will be occupied by hunters Friday through next Sunday for first firearm

Tree stands and ground blinds such as this one will be occupied by hunters Friday through next Sunday for the first firearm deer season. | Dale Bowman/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 18, 2013 6:32AM

Deer memories stick from last year.

A decent buck stood broadside at 10 yards one day. Another day, I watched from my blind as an even bigger buck and a smaller one bedded down in a field. Not that bucks mattered for me; I had an antlerless-only permit.

This year is different. I have an either/or and an antlerless permit for Will County.

Reality is that every year is different. One constant is that memories and dreams make up deer season as much as meat.

Illinois’ first firearm season is Friday through next Sunday when more than 210,000 hunters take to the woods and fields. That is the latest possible opening date for firearm season, which means the rut will be nearer the end. The second firearm season is Dec. 5-8.

During the rut, trophy bucks are stupidest, like any other male on a conquest.

Big bucks have made Illinois one of the world’s top destinations for trophy whitetails. But Illinois seems to be dropping from that peak. Whether that proves a statistical blip or a long-term slide is yet to be known.

A few days ago, I asked Paul Shelton if he worried that Illinois might be slipping from being the top destination.

‘‘No,’’ said Shelton, forest wildlife program manager. ‘‘There has always been a wide range of places you can go if you want a trophy. Illinois has been a major player in that. While it is nice to have those sorts of accolades, that is not a major reason of why we are in the business.’’

He pointed out that by age structure and sex ratio, Illinois’ deer herd has not been slipping.

‘‘Opportunities are there,’’ he said.

He said for those who manage their herd to provide a framework, ‘‘a byproduct will be you are producing some very nice deer.’’

Within my question is an inherent dichotomy within deer hunters themselves. The majority of us simply want to shoot a deer, while an active and significant minority want a trophy and want the herd managed for that.

That split will always be a tug-of-war.

Size of harvest will be an eternal concern, too. Shelton expects harvest for all forms of hunting to be near the 180,000-182,000 it has been the last three years.

‘‘That is perfectly adequate,’’ he said.

He expects harvest during the two firearm seasons to be in the 95,000-100,000 range it has been the last several years.

Every week so far, harvest by bowhunters has lagged behind last year. I asked Shelton if he was concerned.

‘‘By the time we hit gun season, we should be flush, depending on how heavily the rain comes [over the weekend],’’ he said. ‘‘Rain during rut never helps.’’

On the chronic wasting disease front, the procedure remains the same with check-in sites for 11 of those 12 counties. Only a handful of cases were confirmed so far during archery season.

The Illinois Natural History Survey/University of Illinois study ‘‘The importance of localized culling in stabilizing chronic wasting disease prevalence in white-tailed deer populations’’ found Illinois’ approach by governmental culling is more effective than Wisconsin’s recent efforts without governmental culling.

Reports of epizootic hemorrhagic disease are well below last year but more significant than expected. More than 60 counties have confirmed EHD. Hardest hit were northwest areas and counties around Peoria.

A more significant number is the 4.42 days out of the seven possible that firearm hunters spend in the field.

‘‘Another few days and it will be on us,’’ Shelton said.


Twitter: @BowmanOutside

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