The first portion of Illinois' shotgun deer season is this weekend, and if the success so far this year of archery hunters is any indication, the slug-gunners could be in for a nice harvest.
"We're seeing some big-bodied deer with nice racks, tall and wide," said Jack Hoffarth Jr., manager at Town Hall Archery in Belleville. "It's probably better than we've seen in the last few years."
Hoffarth said the archery season, which began Oct. 1, got off to a slow start.
"The first part of October was terrible. But since about a week before Halloween, it started picking up," he said. "The quality of deer coming in for our contest has been really good -- some really nice deer."
The best bucks shown off at Town Hall this year include a 14-pointer, harvested not far from Scott Air Force Base.
Temperatures have dropped, which won't hurt anything, Hoffarth said. But the big factor is the rut -- when bucks start chasing does for breeding.
"The rut's on. The rut's been on since at least before Halloween," Hoffarth said.
It's a little early this year, he noted. But the supplier of doe-in-heat urine for Town Hall also reported that his captive does are in an early cycle this year.
Hoffarth said early hunters reported finding a number of dead deer, possibly due to the brutal summer or to Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources reported an EHD outbreak this year that caused deer deaths in 51 counties, but the disease has now run its course. EHD can be more common in drought years.
Hoffarth said this is his best advice for deer hunters: "Be safe. Use a safety harness."
About a quarter-million hunters participate in Illinois' firearm deer seasons. The shotgun deer season runs Friday through Sunday, then resumes Nov. 29 through Dec. 2.
Hunters in Illinois harvested 98,820 deer during the seven-day firearm deer hunting season in 2011. So far this season, approximately 334,000 permits have been issued. For information on remaining permits, check the IDNR website at this link: www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/deer.
The legal hunting hours for the firearm deer season are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
Hunters successful in taking a deer during the firearm season in most counties must register the deer they harvest online through the IDNR website at http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/Pages/HarvestReporting.aspxor by phoning 1-866-IL-CHECK (1-866-452-4325). Hunters using the online or phone-in system must register their harvest by 10 p.m. on the day they take the deer.
Other upcoming firearm hunting seasons in Illinois include the three-day muzzleloader-only season on Dec. 7-9, and the seven-day split late-winter firearm antlerless-only deer season and special CWD deer season on Dec. 27-30, 2012 and Jan. 18-20, 2013.Hunters are reminded that 10 fewer counties will be open for the late-winter season in 2012-13.
For more information on Illinois deer hunting regulations, check the IDNR web site at this link: www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/deer