Time for Drastic Measures? What Happened to This Once-Great State?

deer hunitng in Illinois

Illinois was once considered the premier destination for deer hunting. Not so much anymore, says the author. (photo courtesy of Don Higgins)

At the risk of my own words coming back to bite me in the butt, I’m going to admit that I don’t know everything about everything. Sometimes, numbers have a way of flying above my head and to understand those means pouring over them relentlessly for lengthy periods of time.


By Keri Butt

I mean no disrespect, but I wasn’t alive to see the deer population in Illinois literally rise from almost non-existence. I was 10 years old in the mid-eighties, which saw the deer population explode to what Don Higgins, another outdoor writer from Illinois, brilliantly cited as being the greatest whitetail herd on planet earth. I was a self-absorbed teenager probably trying out the vegetarian lifestyle just to irritate my poor parents by the time the Illinois’ deer herds had come full circle and were considered to be a thriving entity thanks to a top-notch management.

All things considered, this is why in order to be even the tiniest of voices advocating for deer in Illinois, it’s vital that I ask tons of questions, and conduct equally as much research. I admittedly and happily have depended on numerous occasions for the input of kind folks who have witnessed ups and downs in all their forms. I came to realize long ago these are the hunters who should be listened to.

Before writing this column, I thought long and hard about my position on the DNR and its ongoing sharpshooting agenda which apparently shows no end in sight. I find myself pondering why I spend so much of my time contemplating, researching, interviewing, and just plain worrying about what the future may hold for Illinois’ most precious renewable resource — the whitetail deer.

At least, I used to think they were a renewable resource. Now, I’m not sure.

Heaven knows it’s not because I have unlimited time on hand. Heaven also knows that pulling all-night research sessions leaves this Antler Addict with grizzly-like tendencies, more than normal, that is. So, the question remains: why do I continue?

The truth is I’m a hunter who loves the whitetail deer more than any other species on this planet. I can honestly say I hold them in higher regard, and respect them more than I do most humans. But, you know what? This means nothing. Opinions and emotions have no place here. I think if deer had the ability to speak they would offer this advice, “Yada, yada, yada … now actually do something!”

What hunters CAN control

I can’t single-handedly change the DNR’s agenda and neither can anyone else, but one thing is certain — the blame game is worthless, as is begging the DNR for answers to questions that continue to go unanswered, a waste of perfectly viable breath. Do I think late-season hunting should be tabled, for the time being anyway? Absolutely. Do I think unlimited doe tags need to be obliterated? You bet I do. Can I control either of those? Not a chance.

The simple fact is the numbers don’t lie, and the numbers in question are painting a more disparaging picture with each passing year.

If the drastic decline in harvest numbers between 2012-13 and 2013-14 isn’t enough to alarm even the most gentle of deer-loving souls, perhaps the collective statistics will. The DNR doesn’t have much choice but to be upfront about the harvest numbers, although this year it appears as if they’re being hesitant to do so. However, while the permit numbers are not necessarily kept secret, they are definitely not among information likely to be divulged, directly beside the harvest numbers.

While I personally might not have the pull to alter the DNR’s decisions, I know there are a couple things that can: money and politics. Of those two, I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg.

2005-06 570,811 201,209 35.2
2006-07 589,811 196,241 33.3
2007-08 611,545 199,611 32.6
2008-09 621,014 188,901 30.4
2009-10 650,459 189,634 29.2
2010-11 631,830 182,270 28.8
2011-12 628,896 181,411 28.8
2012-13 634,166 180,811 28.5
2013-14 Conveniently Unavailable 148,569 N/A


We’ve always known that hunting keeps deer populations in check, thus resulting in a healthier deer herd and preserving not just a legendary animal, but its heritage as well. But now, I believe it may be time to worry more about preserving than hunting. Whew! That’s hard to say! I’ve always known the two to go hand-in-hand. I live for deer hunting, as do thousands of others. October 1 is a sacred day, and begins the time of year when every waking minute is spent thinking about deer and many of life’s other demands fall by the wayside.

Now, here’s the way I see it. The decline in numbers isn’t because of the sharpshooting program, CWD, EHD, coyotes, poaching, hunting, unlimited doe permits, late-season hunting, population control permits, nuisance permits, urban sprawl, traffic accidents or the weather! Plummeting deer numbers are a culmination of all of these factors.

Perhaps it’s time hunters, me included, in Illinois take a long look in the mirror and accept that we’re also at fault here. We’ve watched harvest numbers and abundance numbers decline for several years running. We’ve rallied together and raised our voices in an attempt to show our concern…and yet we still buy licenses and permits. We may not have the ability to control the amount of deer permits the DNR makes available, but we can deem how many permits are purchased! This means that as hunters in Illinois, we collectively hold the power to have a direct and substantial impact on the current state of our deer herds as well as their future.

I’m not buying a deer permit in 2014

My course of action is that I will not be purchasing a hunting permit this year, at all, and that makes me physically sick. It contradicts everything I’ve ever learned and known about hunting.

Call me dramatic if you want to. Tell me I’m not a biologist, therefore I have no clue what I’m saying or haven’t thought over what ramifications might ensue should other hunters follow suit to my “anecdotal suggestion,” taking the same course of action as myself-to basically boycott hunting licenses and permits in the state of Illinois for 2014.

Millions of deer have paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to feed our faces, satisfy our passions, and adorn our walls, so maybe it’s time for us to make sacrifices as well. Believe me; I’ve spent many hours deciding whether I wanted to voice my thoughts in print! Why? I can’t go back on my word after I’ve broadcast them to all of Illinois. But, the thing is, for me, this is the right thing to do. And besides, sacrifice is only sacrifice if that’s what you make it. I’m choosing to look at giving up a year or two of hunting as a way to give back to the deer that have given so much to hunters and non-hunters alike.

For anyone who might think about bringing to my attention the economic impact that a permit/license boycott would have on the state, I’ll just say this; sometimes, things have to get worse before they get better and in order to make situations better drastic measure must be taken. Sometimes, you just have to take a stand, and this is mine.

For those who may argue that there are still plenty of deer and I’m simply being dramatic, I’d invite them to do a little research and find out what led the Illinois’ whitetail to near extinction by the early 1900’s — liberal hunting practices. For anyone who thinks we won’t end up there again, there’s little for me to say to their debate other than they’re wrong.

As hunters, we should always give back more than we take. In 2012, at a Kane County Forest Preserve meeting, DNR biologist Ray Eisbrener said deer populations were down to what they were in the mid-1980s. If 10 years of sharpshooting and unlimited permits coupled with everything else I mentioned has set us back almost 30 years, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the trend and where another decade of allowing Chicago politicians to control the fate of our deer herds in Illinois is going to end up. It’s not good.

Purchase an Either Sex Single Archery Tag in August

I realize completely giving up on hunting for an entire season is not necessarily for everyone. This is why I want to share a tidbit of valuable information recently brought to my attention about a permit I didn’t know existed anymore and it’s not publicly advertised, for obvious reasons.

During August only, you can visit the DNR’s website and print off an application for an either sex single archery permit for $15. The application must be mailed in by the end date. I would encourage every hunter in Illinois to utilize this permit.

What do I plan on doing with the money I won’t be spending on tags this year? I think I’ll use it for a couple new memory cards since my camera is the only piece of equipment I’ll be hunting with this year.

Keri Butt of Illinois is a longtime hunter and contributor to Deer & Deer Hunting. This column reflects her opinion.

What do you think about the deer management and populations in Illinois and the Midwest? Some hunters are saying that what once was “the” place to hunt is not the same anymore.










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