When a female bank teller chatted me up about deer season it hit me. This one still has zing. Opening weekend of the Illinois firearm deer season still gets people talking, still sends boys and men to bed dreaming. While most hunting openers fly under the radar, shotgun season looms large.
When a female bank teller chatted me up about deer season it hit me.
This one still has zing.
Opening weekend of the Illinois firearm deer season still gets people talking, still sends boys and men to bed dreaming. While most hunting openers fly under the radar, shotgun season looms large.
Friday, in small towns across Illinois, kids skipped school, men skipped work and the same question was asked repeatedly: “Did ya get your deer?”
That’s one big difference between Peoria and towns like Elmwood. In Peoria, I was rarely asked about hunting. In Elmwood, it’s rare hunting doesn’t come up in conversation — particularly with gun season approaching.
Then again, where outfitters hold sway, the gun hunt lags behind bowhunting. There’s more money to be made in the longer archery season, more five-day hunts to package.
That creates weird ironies. In parts of Pike County, the epicenter of Illinois deer country, vast stands of woods will be fairly silent this weekend.
Not most places, though. Where there are deer, there will be hunters. Where there are hunters, shots will ring out.
We are told often how many shots hunters need to bag a dove. What I’ve never seen is the slugs-per-deer average. Two? Three? My guess is higher.
After all, this weekend attracts people who will not hunt at any other time. That they head into the timber with a shotgun underlines the need for safety. Illinois has already suffered two tree-stand deaths during bow season. And in recent weeks news services have carried several sad stories of accidental shootings in other states.
So be careful. And be vigilant. If not to avoid stray shots then to watch for wandering monsters like the 319-inch buck reportedly shot by Roger Jarvis. The Boone and Crockett Club lists the deer as possibly the largest non-typical ever shot by a hunter. Others claim the buck was shot behind a high fence.
In time the truth will come out. Deer-hunting fanatics will make sure of that.
What I love about gun season is that even casual hunters have a real chance at the buck of a lifetime. Read the Big Buck Stories on prairiestateoutdoors.com and you’ll find gun hunters much more likely to mention the word “luck.”
That’s why this weekend makes bowhunters cringe.
Not me. Sure gun season is less pure than archery hunting. It’s still enjoyable. It’s still hunting.
And in terms of managing deer, gun hunters play a huge role.
Biologists hope at least 80,000 deer die this weekend and another 40,000 fall in the second firearm season. Given good weather that’s doable, even if the firearm hunt is late.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a late harvest in terms of offering deer a sanctuary. But corn harvest is nearing an end and hiding places are disappearing daily. Wednesday night, The Farmer chased three deer out of the last few rows of corn he combined.
Beyond that, the rut is not over. Past peak, but not over — at least not in the Peoria County timber I passed at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. There in a bean field near the road stood a doe. As I pulled over to watch her, three bucks exploded out of nearby trees and gave chase.
She ran. They followed. All this at close range. By the time it dawned on me to grab the camera and big lens, the deer had moved into the field — bucks still in hot pursuit.
Here’s hoping I see the same scene repeated this weekend with camera, and gun, close at hand.
DEER DETAILS: Thanks to legislation introduced last year by State Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, gun hunters can shoot one-half hour before sunrise until one half-hour after sunset.
If you shoot a deer there are two ways to register your kill. Visit dnr.state.il.us/admin/harvest.htm or call 1-866-ILCHECK.
And take time to share your story with us at prairiestateoutdoors.com, since that’s the only way to enter our drawing for free Lone Wolf tree stands. Or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with your pictures and stories.
Finally, firearm harvest pins have been distributed to most license vendors.
WHOOPERS MOVING: Whooping cranes are finally on the move in Illinois.
After days of delays, the 14 birds following ultralight aircraft entered LaSalle County on Tuesday. Crews have been grounded since but could fly today depending on weather. Next stop is Livingston County.
A viewing area has been set up to see the birds when they leave LaSalle County. Sightseers can gather at East Si Johnson Avenue and East Pleasant Street in Sheridan.
Another group of free-flying whoopers was also spotted in Illinois on Thursday.
Visit operationmigration.org to follow the whoopers’ progress.
DUCK DATA: As if the below-average duck count wasn’t enough cause for worry, now waterfowlers must fret about ice.
Some clubs had one-half inch of ice already this week. By this morning some will be frozen solid.
Also troublesome is Tuesday’s survey showing 184,780 ducks on the Illinois River — more than 100,000 below average. The count of 140,300 mallards is nearly 70,000 off normal. Top totals were at Douglas Lake (50,000) and the Emiquon Preserve (48,895).
Things are slightly better on the Mississippi River where the count of 256,695 is only 10,000 below average.
A positive note for waterfowlers is that white-fronted geese are fair game starting today in the Central Zone. Several flocks have been flying over Fulton County this week. But you’ll have to wait until Monday to target Canada geese in the Central Zone.
Et cetera: The Toluca Sportsman’s Club has a big-buck contest for youngsters 16 and under. Call (815) 228-9695. ... Wade Walling of Romeoville won the World Goose Calling Championship last weekend in Easton, Md. ... Snipe hunting season ends today.
Jeff Lampe can be reached at email@example.com or (309) 686-3212.