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Firearm deer season is here

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Updated: December 17, 2011 8:30AM



A photo arrived of what looked like a big eight-point buck in Will County.

‘‘Got him on a trail camera, now I’m hoping to get him on the ground,’’ David Green e-mailed.

Deer hunting is dreams, hopes, fantasies and, well, venison. And few things spur dreams like trail cameras.

And now is the time. The biggest event in Illinois outdoors is the first firearm deer season from Friday through Sunday. More than 200,000 hunters will take to the field.

I found utter joy Friday in my kids traipsing along to check the deer stand. We swept out the raccoon scat. We drove a few spikes into loose boards. The kids loved cutting low branches, leaning weeds and brambles on the path in.

I can’t wait.

There won’t be a record harvest, though.

Dave Olzeski, an avid deer hunter and real-estate agent from Park Ridge, texted Tuesday while bowhunting in northwest Illinois: ‘‘Property owners indicated the heavy snows thinned the herd. They would see 50-plus deer in the wintering herd in prior years. This year, only a handful at winter’s end.’’

Illinois’ firearm record was set in 2005 with 123,792 deer. That was part of the combined-record deer harvest of 201,301 in the 2005-06 seasons. In 2010, firearms hunters harvested 98,944 deer.

‘‘Harvests [from all seasons combined] during the past several years seem to have been getting the job done for us, so as long as we’re in the range of 100,000 or so [for both firearms seasons], we should be in good shape,’’ forest wildlife program manager Paul Shelton said.

‘‘No, I don’t see any chance for a firearm record. Ever since we changed the rules to allow for the use of unfilled firearm tags during the late-winter deer season [in counties open to that season], it’s clear that there are a number of hunters that put off harvesting does until the later season, whereas they previously took them during the regular firearm season. As a result, that 2005 record harvest should be quite safe.’’

The good news is the rut, though firearm season will be on the downside by that time.

Through Sunday, Illinois bowhunters had harvested 45,069 deer, near the 45,268 taken in the same period last year. More important, the percentage of male whitetails taken in the previous week by bowhunters shot up to 65 percent. The rut was on, and it was still going Tuesday.

‘‘Bucks are chasing throughout the day,’’ Olzeski texted.

The rut will be tapering by Friday, but Shelton said deer activity still should be very good.

Other than a bitter cold at the start Friday, the forecast looks good.

‘‘Temperatures should stay at or below the mid-60s for highs everywhere in the state all weekend, which will be good,’’ Shelton said. ‘‘As long as winds don’t pick up too much on Saturday and the rains are mostly restricted to Saturday night, we should be good to go.’’

More than 327,000 permits have been issued so far. Check on remaining permits statewide at dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/Pages/Deer.aspx.

Nearby, the best last-minute chance is standby at Heidecke Lake for hunting Heidecke, Morris Wetlands and Goose Lake Prairie. There will be at least 12 slots for standby. Hunters fill in all day — it’s a $5 permit — as others leave. Be at Heidecke by 4:30 a.m. to register for standby.

Shooting hours remain a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.

Firearm deer hunters in Boone, DeKalb, Grundy, JoDaviess, Kane, LaSalle, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties must bring their deer to mandatory check stations by 8 p.m. on the day harvested. Others must register their deer by 10 p.m. online or by calling (866) IL-CHECK.

Stray cast

Watching a big loss stuffed in the smirking maw of Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz is as satisfying as foul-hooking a bighead carp and tossing it in the weeds.



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