While deer totals were down statewide during the opening weekend of the Illinois firearm season, the numbers were generally up in area counties.
Hunters bagged 47,147 deer during the Nov. 20-22 period, down from 50,173 during the same period in 2019.
Area hunters brought in more deer during the first season than last year, led, as usual, by Vermilion County, where they bagged 329 deer during the first season compared with 323 in 2019.
Other area counties and their 2020-2019 totals: Champaign, 162 (133); DeWitt, 220 (206); Douglas, 115 (88); Ford, 79 (73); Iroquois, 321 (339); Livingston, 279 (275); McLean, 409 (347); Piatt 89 (83).
Peter Schlichting, deer project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said he believes wet weather in southern Illinois might be the cause for the lower statewide numbers.
He said it is difficult to know if the COVID-19 pandemic has had any impact on the deer-harvest totals.
“We have a call-in system to check these totals,” Schlichting said, “so we don’t have much direct interaction” with hunters.
The second firearm season is set for today through Sunday, and hunting-permit sales “are up a little bit, so maybe people are more interested this time because they have more time” to hunt, Schlichting said.
He said in three area counties, IDNR wants to increase the deer population — Champaign, Piatt and Douglas. That’s why it issued “antlers only” permits for the first 15 days of the archery season in those counties to protect does. (Archery season runs Oct. 1 to Jan. 17.)
In 20 other counties, however, IDNR would like to reduce the numbers and offers an additional firearm season at the end of December and in January. During that season, hunters can only shoot does. None of those counties is in this area.
Schlichting said the agency bases its decision on whether to raise or lower the deer population on the number of deer-vehicle crashes, which is furnished by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Paul Geurts, owner of Sangamon River Taxidermy in Foosland, said he saw the number of deer brought to his business increase as the fall progressed.
He said in October, only “one or two deer” were brought in, but come November, archery hunters fared better.
“The two weeks preceding the gun season, the archery hunters did real well,” Geurts said. “The firearm season, I didn’t get inundated with deer all at once like I usually do. This year, three or four came in Saturday, five or six Sunday. It was not a whole bunch.
“Firearm season might have been a little slow — slower than last season — but the archery more than made up for the numbers I got in.”
Geurts, who started the taxidermy business 30 years ago, said most of his customers come from the areas around Fairbury, Chatsworth and Onarga. There aren’t many who come from Champaign County.
Geurts said the coyote population seems to be on the increase.
“I’ve had multiple clients tell me coyotes have gotten to their deer before they did,” he said. “By the time they’ve found the deer that they’ve arrowed, the coyotes have already eaten part of it. The coyotes are active during the day now.”