2020-2021 Illinois Deer Hunting Forecast
During the 2019-2020 Illinois deer hunting seasons, hunters harvested a total of 153,174 deer. While this total fell comfortably in the range of 144,000 to 156,000 deer that Illinois hunters have harvested every year since 2013-2014, the season breakdown told a more interesting story. On one hand, archery harvest (67,743) and youth harvest (3,774) set new all-time records, eclipsing the previous harvest records set back in 2005 and 2016, respectively. On the other hand, firearm season harvest (75,417) was down approximately 7 percent compared to 2018 and came in at the lowest level since 2013. The new archery record represents a continuation of a recent trend of increasing archery deer harvest that dates to the 2016-2017 season.
When looking at a graph of daily harvest figures, the first, second and third weekends of November stand out quite markedly in terms of deer harvested. Simply put, deer in Illinois were in the rut, and hunters took advantage of time off from work and favorable weather conditions to fill their tags and freezers. Also noteworthy is the steady uptick in crossbow use among successful Illinois archery hunters. In 2017, the first year crossbow use was allowed all season by everyone, crossbows accounted for 30.2 percent of the reported archery harvest. By last year that number had risen to 44.8 percent and another increase this year toward the 50 percent mark is likely.
What about the lower harvest seen during the 2019 firearm season? The weather across much of the state was favorable, with limited precipitation. There were likely a couple factors at play here. First, the Administrative Rule that sets the date for the firearm deer seasons is centered around Thanksgiving; “Season: 12:01 a.m. on Friday of the 3-day (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) weekend immediately before Thanksgiving to 6 p.m. on Sunday of the 3-day weekend before Thanksgiving, and 12:01 a.m. on Thursday of the first 4-day (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) weekend following Thanksgiving to 6 p.m. on Sunday of the first 4-day weekend following Thanksgiving.” Last year, Thanksgiving was the latest it could be (November 28), so the first firearm season had its latest possible start as well. The firearm season was, therefore, farther from peak rutting activities. Second, entering the first season of firearm hunting last year, approximately 20 percent of the Illinois corn crop was still standing, and in portions of northern Illinois, the percentage was likely larger than that. Standing corn can provide a refuge to deer in areas with hunting pressure.
Looking forward to the upcoming seasons, Illinois deer hunters will be provided with 108 total days of deer hunting opportunity. Archery hunters in east-central Illinois should be aware that the 5-County Restricted Archery Zone remains in place in Champaign, Douglas, Macon, Moultrie and Piatt counties. To reduce doe harvest and help grow deer populations to their county goals, archery hunters in these five counties are permitted to harvest only antlered deer during the first 15 days of the season (October 1-15). The Illinois Department of Natural Resources implemented a similar regulation in the late 1990s and early 2000s to successfully reduce doe harvest in east-central Illinois counties.
Youth deer hunters and their parents, guardians or hunting supervisors may be impacted by a recent change to Youth Deer Hunting Season rules; as part of an ongoing “Pilot Program” youth deer permits for at least the next three seasons will not be county-specific—the permit will be valid statewide. See the 2020 Illinois Youth Deer Hunting Information Sheet for more information.
Finally, Carroll County will have a Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) check station in 2020. CWD was first detected in Carroll County in 2017, and beginning this year, hunters harvesting a deer in Carroll County during the November 20-22 and December 3-6 firearm seasons will be required to stop at a CWD check station with their deer. The location will be at Mississippi Palisades State Park and the hours of operation are 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Large swaths of Illinois have recently appeared on the United States Drought Monitor as being either abnormally dry or in moderate drought. Fortunately, reports of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) mortalities in 2020 have been very low. The corn and soybean harvest has started in Illinois, and if the current dry conditions persist into the early weeks of the archery season, harvest may proceed rapidly, avoiding the large standing fields that were present last year late into the year. In anticipation of the drought situation continuing or worsening, deer hunters should do some extra scouting to make sure the normal water sources are still viable this fall. Some hunters may find it necessary to move stand locations or set up multiple locations to better position themselves along the path of a deer going to or from a watering hole.
For hunters who have not yet received an Illinois deer permit this year, there are still many opportunities. Remaining firearm and muzzleloader permits go on sale over-the-counter (OTC) beginning October 20; archery and youth deer permits are available OTC now. For more information including season dates, regulations, CWD testing locations, and hunting site info, check out the new Hunt Illinois website.
Dan Skinner is the Forest Wildlife Program Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife Resources.