Illinois Department of Natural Resources
February 2020
February 1, 2020

Deer Hunting Seasons Are Over – Now What?

By Nancy Donaldson

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) preliminary figures out in January 2020, deer harvest numbers were up this year from the 2018-19 season for archery and firearm seasons combined. The three-day youth season was particularly successful at more than twice the number of deer harvested compared to last year. Now that the deer hunting seasons are over, what can you do with that extra time on your hands?

A group of deer in a forest.
Photo courtesy of Nancy Donaldson.

Our most recent deer hunting seasons have ended but that shouldn’t stop you from getting out to observe our most popular big game in Illinois. Deer can be as much fun to watch as they are to harvest. It’s never too early to let your local herds teach you about their behaviors. Winter is a time when deer typically slow their movements, staying bedded down in smaller areas and for longer periods to conserve energy and warmth. As their territories shrink and hunting pressure is reduced your chances of seeing deer in their natural habitat may increase considerably.

Illinois has many public lands and parks where it’s possible to find quiet places to sit and watch the wildlife that wanders by. Deer that were separated during the mating season will have returned to being social and their interactions can be quite educational if not downright entertaining. Enjoying nature can be a perfect balm for the soul, and it can also give you some ideas for your 2020-2021 hunting strategies.

This time of the year is great for shed hunting and presents some fine opportunities to take that puppy out to practice finding antlers. Shed hunting makes for an excellent outing with the youngsters, too. Leave those electronic devices in “Do Not Disturb” mode and breathe some fresh air. If you’re going to public lands, research the rules that address taking materials. Most state parks and nature preserves prohibit the removal of natural items from the grounds. Current regulations may be found in the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.

A shed deer antler is surrounded by leaf litter on a forest floor. A old log is on the bottom left side of the antler.
Photo by Lynn Hawkinson Smith.

If you were successful in 2019-2020 another good after-the-season activity is to get out those venison recipes, inventory the freezer packages and dig the grinder and sausage making supplies out of the pantry or basement. Share your harvest with others who weren’t as successful this year. When you gift wild game include a card or note to show that it was legally harvested and gifted to the recipient. For details, review the Illinois Compiled Statutes 520 ILCS 5/2.35, Ch. 61, par. 2.35), which states that no person shall receive or have in custody any protected species belonging to another person, except in the personal abodes of the donor or recipient, unless such protected species are tagged with the hunter’s or trapper’s name, address, total number of species, and the date such species were taken.

Take time to carefully inspect your hunting gear; clean it up and replace anything that is no longer serviceable. Take down that tree stand and put it in a dry place for storage. Leaving a stand up all year can be very dangerous; squirrels like to chew on straps, tree limbs can weaken, and metal parts may corrode from winter to fall. If you’re not too concerned about having the newest equipment on the market next year, keep your eye out for end-of-season bargains for sporting goods.

A hunter holds up the antlers of a successful deer harvest. The hunter kneels next to her harvested deer.
Photo courtesy of Nancy Donaldson.

Schedule some classes or practice sessions with your weapons of choice before your schedule fills with the regular stuff of life. Shooting skills are perishable and you can never spend too much time building confidence and practicing safe, ethical shots. Waiting for perfect weather to practice won’t help much as you might be hunting in poor conditions next year. Take your friends and family with you to the range, if they are approaching the right ages, so they start to learn about safe handling and shooting skills. Well in advance of the hunting season is a great time to enroll possible new hunters in a Hunter Safety Education course

Don’t forget to spend some time just enjoying the memories you made. Share them with your family and friends, check out the photos you took and get started on your plans for next season. Fall of 2020 is just around the corner.

Nancy Donaldson is a U.S. Army Vietnam Era Veteran, earned an MBA from North Park University and retired as an ARAMARK Executive. She serves as a volunteer shooting coach and is an avid hunter.