The face of Illinois’ youth deer hunt: A record year

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Joey Conrad puts a face to Illinois’ record youth deer hunt in 2016.

And it is a face that is happy, under a backwards florescent orange hunting cap, next to a mighty fine nine-point buck.

You might say he iced it.

We’ll get to hockey talk with this deer story.

Illinois has had a youth deer hunt since 2001. It is now over the three-day Columbus Day weekend. This year, the youth hunters harvested a record 3,259 deer. The previous record was 3,123 in 2012. Last year, the total was 2,841. Click here for that breakdown.

The record youth hunt this year is notable because bowhunters are well behind the pace of 2015 with only 6,235 deer through Wednesday, since the opening of archery season on Oct. 1 in Illinois. That is well off the same period in 2015 when the total was at 8,868. Click here for that breakdown.

But, at least for the Conrads, and apparently many others, this was a fine youth deer hunt.

Joe Conrad told this story of his son’s hunt when I called Thursday.

I find it notable because the story includes real impacts of modern life on outdoor pursuits for young people.

The youth deer season is three days: the Saturday before Columbus Day to Columbus Day.

Joey, 10, could not make it down to the family farm in Brown County until well into Saturday. Here’s the reason, he is a goalie for the Orland Park Vikings. And his team had a game Saturday morning. But this year was better because the team has two goalies and Joey Conrad did not have to be there for the Sunday game.

Throw in the 3 1/2-hour drive to Brown County and it was Saturday afternoon until they were in the blind and watching the clover food plot.

There was a couple hours of waiting before the does came out. Then came a big buck, a nine-pointer. Joey said it was bigger than the first deer he ever shot and he wanted to take him.

“He steadied the gun on him,’’ Conrad said.

His son was shooting a 20-gauge shotgun, apt enough for a 10-year-old.

“He was breathing hard,’’ Conrad said. “Then I heard him catch his breath. It was kind of funny.’’

With his breathing controlled, Joey Conrad squeezed out a long shot. And it was a good hit.

“First thing he said was, `Let’s go get Mom,’ ‘’ Conrad said.

Not to worry, Conrad said that his wife, Cindy, was already texting, “Was that you? Did you guys shoot?’’

She came out and helped them load the buck for carrying back in.

As Conrad and I talked, the realities of getting kids in the 21st Century world with other activities out hunting and fishing came.

My daughter has wanted to go on the youth deer hunt for a couple years. But that is the same weekend I am covering the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for the Sun-Times.

Conrad has an older son, Tristan, 20, who is playing junior hockey in Canada before going to college.

“He was really an outdoorsman,’’ Conrad said. “But he usually could not hunt until the fourth or fifth season of [spring] turkey season.’’

That’s reality of modern youth hunting. It’s juggling as much as hunting.

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