UTICA, Ill.–Talk about small world. Jerry Hilton was first to pull up with a deer at 8:31 a.m. Friday at the LaSalle County check-in by the Buffalo Rock State Park maintenance shed.
Years ago, I hunted ducks with Hilton and the irascible late Dominic “Big Knobs’’ Culjan at the “Wide Waters’’ above the Starved Rock dam.
Hilton had shot a trophy eight-point buck that was going on the wall, so he didn’t want the neck cut to sample for chronic wasting disease.
“I rattled him in,’’ Hilton said. “This year he crossed the power lines. The last two years he would not cross.’’
I spent opening day of Illinois’ first firearm deer season at the LaSalle check-in. The three-day first season draws more than 200,000 hunters afield. It looked like a good opening day, maybe because of activity ahead of the storm.
Illinois has 16 counties –Boone, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Jo Daviess, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, Livingston, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Will, Winnebago–with positive results for CWD. Fourteen of those have have firearm hunting (DuPage and Lake do not) and 12 have mandatory check-in (Kankakee and Livingston have voluntary this year).
Staffing the LaSalle check-in were Tom Micetich, deer program manager; Rob Miller, a district fisheries biologist; Greg Fretueg, a district wildlife biologist; Randy Timmons, a district forester; and Kent Boyles, a district wildlife biologist.
The procedure was well-practiced. Hunters circled into two lines separated by orange cones by the maintenance shed.
“Then they are assaulted by the crew,’’ said Micetich, who checked map placement and entered data inside the shed.
The crew put an orange leg tag on the deer. Hunters were asked if they saw any wild turkey, bobcats or feral hogs. The deer’s sex and age (wear and stains on teeth) were checked. Hunters were given a deer pin. With animals older than 1 1/2 years, the crew asked to take a sample. Roughly half allowed sampling. Those keeping trophies rarely allow sampling because of the high neck cuts.
For samples, “the surgeons’’ cut the retropharyngeal lymph node from below the jaw, then put it in a Formalin specimen container. The jars go to the Illinois Department of Agriculture lab in Galesburg for CWD testing. The tip of the tongue was cut and put into a numbered plastic bag. Those go to the University of Illinois for an ongoing DNA study on whether there is genetic resistance to CWD.
“Those who say wildlife is not brain surgery, never worked a check station,’’ Micetich said.
Hunters who allowed sampling showed on a plastic map where their deer was killed. Micetich thanked them. Then it was the next hunter.
Notable stories included a pair of thick 11-pointers by Tom Rowe and Josh Biffany; 10-year-old Kellie Peters smiling as her first buck, a fine 8-point, was checked in; and Bill Puetz, who shot a 12-point he had seen five or six times on trail cam and watched for “an hour and 50 minutes’’ the first week of November while bowhunting.
Kim Boe shot his biggest eight-point, but he said, “I would have needed a bigger trailer for the one I saw this morning. I watched it for 20 minutes, but he was with his girlfriends.’’
That’s the stuff of deerhunting dreams.