No COVID bump for gun hunters as deer totals drop
By JEFF LAMPE
Weekly Post Staff
Any thoughts that the COVID19 slowdown was going to spur a big increase in the number of deer shot in Illinois ended during the first shotgun season.
Illinois hunters shot a preliminary total of just 47,147 whitetails during the first weekend of shotgun season, Nov. 20-22.
That’s well below last year’s total of 50,173 deer and is one of the lowest for the opening weekend in decades. To find a lower first-season total you have to go all the way back to 1990, one year before the state increased shotgun season from six to seven days and began selling secondseason only permits.
Shotgun hunting continues today through Sunday (Nov. 3-6). Muzzleloader-only hunting is Dec. 11-13 and the late-winter seasons are Dec. 31-Jan. 3 and Jan. 15-17.
Archery season continues through Jan. 17. And while bowhunters have stayed ahead of last year’s record harvest pace, that was certainly not true of gun hunters.
Crop harvest was basically finished statewide, which is unlike last year, when there were still crops in the field when the orangeclad army took to the timber.
Weather was not perfect first season, with a rainy Sunday morning keeping some hunters in bed. But overall, conditions were such that it would not explain a major drop in harvest.
And while the rut was not hot and heavy everywhere, many hunters reported seeing bucks chasing does.
That leaves two likely answers. 1. More hunters are shifting to archery; and, 2. There are fewer deer in the wilds of Illinois. The archery factor is a big one. Legalizing crossbows has created more bowhunters and has increased the efficiency of those who switched over from compound bows, recurves or stickbows.
Crossbows were first legal for all in 2017, when they accounted for 30.2 percent of the archery harvest. Last year that total climbed to 44.8 percent. Expectations this year are that more than 50 percent of the archery harvest will be by hunters using crossbows.
And while shotgun hunters once accounted for up to 75 percent of all the whitetails shot in Illinois (as recently as 2007), nowadays bowhunters are shooting 40-45 percent of all deer and shotgun hunters account for about 50-52 percent – or possibly even lower this year, depending on results this weekend.
Locally, hunters shot 1,193 deer in Fulton County (down 50 from last year), 682 in Knox County (down 22) and 539 in Peoria County (down 32).
Top counties in Illinois for the first shotgun season were: 1. Randolph 1,340, 2. Adams 1,301, 3. Jackson 1,227, 4. Fulton 1,193, 5. Jefferson 1,080, 6. Hancock 1,052, 7. Pike 1,029, 8. JoDaviess 1,027, 9. Macoupin 987, and 10. Williamson 947.