America is overpopulated with deer – or so the argument goes.
In November, the city of Rock Island allowed bow-hunting within its boundaries because, officials believe, the community has too many deer.
But the state recently released preliminary numbers that show fewer deer were killed this year during the 7-day firearm deer season on Nov. 22-24 and Dec. 5-8.
Statewide, the deer harvest dropped by a quarter – from 99,546 in 2012 to 74,191 this year, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
That trend applied to every county in Illinois where deer hunting is allowed, except Alexander County in southern Illinois, which saw a small increase.
In the Sauk Valley, Lee and Bureau counties saw the biggest drops – about 30 percent. Ogle County fell 22 percent, while Whiteside and Carroll counties decreased by about a quarter.
Even Rock Island County, with the perceived overpopulation problem, saw its harvest plunge by more than 25 percent.
Part of the reason for the drop, according to IDNR, was unusually cold weather during the second part of the firearm hunting season. Frigid temperatures lingered throughout that weekend, with single-digit lows. Outbreaks of disease also may have been a factor, officials say.
“Clearly, this year’s preliminary firearm season harvest numbers are below previous seasons, and while bad weather conditions throughout the state played a role, it cannot be the only factor,” IDNR Director Marc Miller said in a statement. “Once all deer seasons are complete, our biologists will evaluate deer management goals on a county-by-county basis.”
Ed Branch, an employee at Rigler’s Shooting and Sports Supply in Rock Falls, said the numbers reflect what has heard from customers.
“Most guys I talk with haven’t seen as many deer as they used to,” he said. “They don’t know why. Maybe it’s bluetongue disease.”
Starting in 2008, the state adopted deer herd management goals based on recommendations from a legislative task force.
The panel called for a 14 percent reduction statewide from peak levels in the rate of automobile accidents with deer. Many counties have met their goal, while other counties are close to meeting it.
The late-winter firearm deer-hunting season will be Thursday through Sunday and Jan. 17-19, which is allowed in 66 counties, including those in the Sauk Valley.
The state allows the late-winter season in only those counties that haven’t met the 14 percent goal.
After IDNR’s biologists examine the data, IDNR spokesman Tim Schweizer said, the agency will determine which counties will be open for the late-winter season next year.
“The deer population is based on our estimates,” he said.
The bow-hunting season will continue through Jan. 19.
Deer harvest decrease from firearm hunting season:
Listed by: County; 2012; 2013; % change
Bureau 1,402 983 -29.9%
Carroll 1,151 827 -28.1%
Lee 784 551 -29.7%
Ogle 1,126 877 -22.1%
Whiteside 869 639 -26.5%
Source: Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Other deer seasons
• Archery deer season: through Jan. 19
• Seven-day split late-winter firearm antlerless-only deer season and special chronic wasting disease deer season: Dec. 26-29 and Jan. 17-19