Photo by Steve Beltran

August 1, 2023

Restricted Archery Zones a Deer Management Tool

Responsible white-tailed deer management is of upmost importance to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) – Division of Wildlife. It is our mission to manage deer populations towards county specific goals, in some counties we try to increase populations, in others we aim to decrease them. We monitor deer populations indirectly by annually evaluating information about where the population is trending and including biologist recommendations. Population trends are measured by several relative abundance indices including Deer Vehicle Accidents (DVA, the number of accidents with greater than $1,500 damage/billion miles driven in that county), hunter success, hunter effort, and crop damage in each county.

A chart by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources showing the Deer Vehicle Accident (DVA) Rate per billion miles driven from 1989 to 2020. The DVA rate was lower during the 1990s, increased throughout the early 2000s, decreased from 2012 to 2017 and then began increasing again.
Figure 2. The Deer Vehicle Accident Rate (DVA/Billion miles driven) from 1989 to 2020. Chart courtesy IDNR.

While managing deer populations, first we also consider hunter opportunity in management decisions and try to provide chances for all types of hunters to harvest deer. Historically, firearms have been the primary method of harvest in Illinois and population goals were met by manipulating the amount of firearm permits available. Antlerless-only permits, although they can be used to take male fawns, primarily result in harvesting does who are the drivers of population growth in white-tailed deer. In counties where we’d like to increase deer populations, we would decrease the availability of antlerless-only permits. Deer populations in some counties, however, have remained well below goal even though total firearm permit numbers have been reduced and antlerless-only permits have been set to zero. Growing deer populations in these counties will require a reduction in doe harvest, yet firearm hunting opportunities are already restricted. For the sake of balance, we must look at changes to other seasons if we are to grow deer populations toward county goals.

The popularity of archery hunting in Illinois has steadily increased through time. Statewide archery harvest peaked at a record high of 75,106 deer harvested in 2020, representing 46 percent of the total harvest (Figure 1). This increase in harvest is partially due to archery permits being sold as a combo (either-sex and antlerless-only) and the fact that permits are unlimited for in-state hunters. Additionally, as a result of 2017 legislation that removed restrictions on their use, crossbows are treated just like any other type of bow during hunting seasons. Crossbows now account for more than 50 percent of archery harvest and anecdotal evidence suggests that many firearm hunters are switching to crossbows.

A chart showing the percentage of archery deer harvest from 1991 to 2022. The lowest harvest was in 1991 and the highest was in 2020, at 75,106 deer harvested. Archery represented 46 percent of the harvest in 2020. Chart courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Figure 1. Percentage of archery deer harvest from 1991 to 2022. Chart courtesy of IDNR.

The increase in archery harvest, however, has not been uniform across the state. In some counties deer populations are well below goal yet traditional management practices are ineffective because increased archery harvest is compensating for the restriction in firearm permits. County specific archery regulations that protect antlerless deer were needed to both grow the deer population and continue to provide opportunity for firearm hunters.

A map of Illinois Deer Management Restricted Archery Zones (RAZ). All 102 counties are shown in light blue with the five counties in the RAZ appearing in darker blue. Those counties are Champaign, Piatt, Macon, Moultrie, and Douglas.

IDNR-Division of Wildlife initiated the Restricted Archery Zone (RAZ) in 2018 to address these management needs. The RAZ consists of five east-central Illinois counties (Champaign, Douglas, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt) where limited habitat makes the deer population vulnerable to overharvest. Hunters in these counties are prohibited from harvesting antlerless deer during the first 15 days of the Illinois archery deer season with no restriction on antlered deer. The prohibition on antlerless harvest is designed to protect female deer while not reducing the opportunity for hunters to take to the field and hunt. Since 2018, the proportion of bucks in the harvest has increased and relative abundance indices have increased (DVA, Figure 2) suggesting that the deer population is growing in the RAZ. This has allowed deer managers to increase firearm and muzzleloader permit quotas in three of the five RAZ counties for the 2023-2024 hunting season. While still in early stages, limiting harvest on antlerless deer for part of the archery season may be helping increase deer populations and balance hunter opportunity.

IDNR-Division of Wildlife is contemplating expanding the RAZ to include counties exhibiting similar trends in deer population and archery harvest in subsequent years. Counties of concern include Tazewell, Mason, Logan, Morgan, Scott, Greene, Edwards, Wabash, Alexander, Pulaski and Massac. These counties have already had their antlerless-only permits cut to zero with no response in population indices. There will be no changes to the RAZ for the 2023-2024 hunting season.

Follow IDNR’s deer website and Hunt Illinois for information and updates about deer hunting in Illinois.

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

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Question: My neighbor in(Kane county) lets some gutters hunt deer coming out of the forest preserve nest to his house. Is this legal. I know he got a buck last night. And has killed coyotes too

Question: The hunting information sheet that comes with permits says changes are being considered to the restricted zones the first 15 days and to check back…….so were there changes?