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Illinois Department of Natural Resources
November 2019
November 1, 2019
Photo by Chris Young.

Preparing for the Deer Hunt

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By Eric Bumgarner

Whether you are a beginning or seasoned deer hunter, the preparation process is the same. There are certain things that you should do prior to the hunt if you expect to be successful, safe and legal. The off season is the perfect time to make sure all the boxes are checked off prior to your deer hunt.

Consider an Apprentice License

Two hunters in blaze orange hunting gear walking down a path in a prairie. Trees are in the background.
Photo by Chris Young.

Tagging along with an experienced deer hunter will shorten your learning curve considerably. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources offers an Apprentice License program which extends an individual interested in learning about hunting sports limited hunting privileges in lieu of obtaining a valid hunting license. Such licenses are one-time, non-renewable licenses costing $7.50 issued to a person of any age, although youth under the age of 18 must be supervised by a validly licensed resident or nonresident parent, guardian, or grandparent. Those 18 years of age or older and holding an Apprentice Hunter License must be supervised by a validly licensed resident or nonresident hunter who is 21 years of age or older.

Start with a Deer Hunting Course

The Illinois Learn to Hunt program has an online Deer Hunting learning module. In this 60- to 90-minute session you will learn about deer ecology and behavior, scouting techniques, hunting tactics, field dressing, regulations and much more. As you navigate the module, feel free to pause then resume taking the course as your schedule allows.

Looking for a traditional course? The Illinois Learn to Hunt program also offers one-day workshops, including a Learn to Hunt deer workshop that teaches new hunters why, how and where to hunter deer in Illinois. Workshop topics include hunters as conservationists, deer ecology, hunting regulations, hunting tactics, equipment, archery 101, archery target practice, and field dressing and processing. Visit the Learn to Hunt Calendar page for information on upcoming workshops. Advanced registration is required for all Learn to Hunt workshops.

You also may find the Learn to Hunt Deer Resources page useful.

The IDNR Deer Hunting website is an excellent source of information on licenses and permits, regulations and hunting on public lands.

A female deer is standing among vegetation.

Learning to Understand Deer

If you are not an experienced deer hunter the most important thing is to educate yourself about deer—how and when they move, eating and bedding habits, their anatomy, and their amazing sense of self survival. I also highly recommend that you speak and learn with veteran hunters who are experienced and know what they are talking about. Do your research long before hunting season and you will have a greater understanding and appreciation for deer hunting and all that it involves.

Off Season Prep Work

A free-standing deer stand is on the edge of a prairie.

Regardless of your experience, the off season should be occupied by securing permission to hunt a specific location, scouting for deer, choosing the right stand location, acquiring the necessary equipment and erecting your stand properly so it will provide you a safe and enjoyable hunt. Be sure that you place your stand in a healthy tree and that the trees around it do not pose a danger from falling limbs.

Reviewing the current regulations is imperative to ensuring you are up to date on hunting regulations prior to hunting. Learn the deadlines for submitting applications for hunting state sites. You are able to obtain all of the legal information, and more through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) including information on Hunter Safety Education classes that are required for everyone born after January 1, 1980. Hunting licenses and deer permits also may be purchased online at IDNR or in person at any Point of Sale Vendor.

Equipment Needs

As deer season nears its time to make final preparations. Make sure you have the proper clothing and gear for the weather. Pack your gear in a manner that it is easily accessible and that you always know where to locate it. Make sure you have the appropriate accessories: flashlights, range finder, maps, weapons, bow release, tree stand harness, weapon hoist, processing equipment, etc. Get out to the range, sight in your gun or bow and practice to make sure you are proficient with your weapon to make a humane shot. Above all, know your limitations; don’t be the person that slings arrows or lead in hopes of hitting something.

Making a Checklist

Think ahead of the hunt and have a plan. Utilizing a checklist is always a great idea to eliminate forgetting equipment and steps that are vital to your hunt. Field dressing the deer requires some knowledge, work and the right tools. Are you taking your deer to a processor or processing yourself? Know what steps to take before, during and after the hunt. By preparing for the hunt, the time and effort that you invest will pay great dividends toward a safe and successful harvest.

Let someone know where you are hunting and when you will return and as always, enjoy the hunt and be safe!


Retired Lieutenant Eric Bumgarner spent 24 years with the Illinois Conservation Police. Eric is an avid outdoorsman and has a passion for protecting the natural resources.

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