Photo by Chris Young

August 1, 2023

2023-2024 Illinois Deer Hunting Forecast

During the 2022-2023 Illinois deer hunting seasons, hunters harvested a total of 157,854 deer, up from 146,438 in 2021-2022. The 2022-2023 harvest was the second highest harvest total in the last 10 years.

The 2023-2024 Illinois deer season is predicted to be strong with weather and crop timing potentially influencing deer numbers. After a wet spring, large portions of the state have seen limited rainfall and are currently abnormally dry or in moderate drought conditions (United States Drought Monitor). If this trend continues there could be negative implications for deer body condition and changes to deer behavior. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) has not been detected yet this year (as of July 1), but drought conditions could increase its prevalence and severity. Hunters are encouraged to report any sick or dead deer to IDNR. Spring planting of agricultural crops is ahead of the 5-year average suggesting that most corn and soybeans will be harvested before the rut and will not limit firearm harvest.

Three female white-tailed deer in the woods. Two are looking to the right and one has her head down in the golden-colored leaves on the forest floor. There is a large tree and several smaller trees and underbrush behind them.
Photo by Nikki White.

Firearm season (1st: Nov. 17-19, 2023 and 2nd: Nov. 31-Dec. 3, 2023) will overlap with the backend of the rut, which peaks around November 12 to 14, 2023. Unsuccessful firearm hunters in Late-Winter or CWD counties can use any valid, unused permits during those seasons (Dec. 28-31, 2023 and Jan. 12-14, 2024). Valid permit types include firearm, muzzleloader, youth or Late-Winter/CWD specific permits can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC) in mid-December. Single-shot centerfire rifles can be used for deer hunting this year due to legislation that went into effect January 1, 2023. Centerfire rifles are considered a legal firearm and can be used in Youth, Firearm, Late-Winter, and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) seasons. Click here for further deer hunting information.

CWD remains the greatest management challenge for the Illinois deer herd. Successful hunters in CWD counties are required to physically check their deer at designated check stations during firearm season. Other hunters, even in non-CWD areas, are encouraged to have their deer tested to help IDNR monitor CWD state-wide. Hunters can either have their deer sampled at participating vendors or leave the head at CWD drop off stations.

A female white-tailed deer looks directly towards the camera as she stands in the fall woods. Vegetation surrounds the doe with bushes and brambles in the foreground and tree trunks visible behind the deer.
Photo by Nikki White.

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 (Oct.1-15).

Other 2023-2024 season dates of note are Archery (Oct. 1, 2023-Jan. 14, 2024, except firearm seasons), Youth (Oct. 7-9), and Muzzleloader (Dec. 8-10). Archery and youth deer permits are available OTC now. For hunters who did not receive a deer permit through the lottery this year, remaining firearm and muzzleloader permits go on sale OTC in mid-October.

Peter Schlichting is the Deer Project Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

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