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General crossbow usage builds change: Illinois deer hunting

The 57-year-old man, whose name has not been released to the public, was trying make the 86-mile trip across the Torres Strait from Australia to Saibai Island, an Australian territory near the coast of New Guinea, the Associated Press reported. | Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Crossbows have shifted deer harvest by Illinois hunters.

The question is whether it is a trend or an anomaly born of newness.

In the first two years of general use of crossbows for archery season in Illinois, deer harvest by crossbows increased rapidly.

Overall deer harvest during all seasons in 2018-19 was about what was expected at 151,577, up slightly from 147,695 in 2017-18.

One other stat of note: Overall harvest was 45 percent does and 55 percent males.

‘‘It was fine,’’ emailed Paul Shelton, the wildlife program section manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. ‘‘Keep in mind that in many parts of the state, we have cut back on the availability of antlerless permits. We’re issuing far fewer [antlerless-only] permits than we used to, which has resulted in fewer antlerless deer being harvested in those areas where we have reached goal.’’

Nearly all of the 2018-19 harvest spike came from archery season, which ran from Oct. 1 to Jan. 20. Bowhunters harvested 61,079 deer, up from 57,929 during the 2017-18 archery season.

For comparison, the two traditional firearm seasons in 2018 (Nov. 16-18 and Nov. 29-Dec. 2) produced a harvest of 80,896 deer, up slightly from 80,117 in 2017.

Some conspiracy theorists wondered if the IDNR was aiming to have archery harvest surpass firearm harvest.

I asked Shelton if he thought archery harvest might surpass firearm harvest, and he emailed: ‘‘Not in the near future. We can control harvest distribution through the season regulations in place and the permits that are available.’’

Of more real interest is what is happening with crossbow harvest. The rise in crossbow harvest in Illinois mirrors what has happened even more dramatically in Wisconsin. In the last two seasons, bowhunters in Wisconsin have harvested more with crossbows than with vertical bows.

Illinois is not quite there yet, but it appears headed there quickly.

2017

2018

Compound

68.7%

59.1%

Crossbow

30.2%

39.7%

Traditional

1.1%

1.2%

In 2017-18, the first season when general use of crossbows was allowed in Illinois, crossbows started at 30.2 percent of archery harvest. That jumped to 39.7 percent in 2018-19.

Compound bows, meanwhile, accounted for 68.7 percent of the archery harvest in 2017-18. That dropped to 59.1 percent in 2018-19. Traditional bows remained a fringe weapon of deer harvest: 1.1 percent in 2017-18 and 1.2 percent in 2018-19.

So far, I have not contributed to the percentage of hunters harvesting deer with a crossbow. But general legalization of crossbows has turned me into a beginning bowhunter.

I am not alone, obviously.

Will I ever evolve into a more traditional bowhunter? Not before all the kids have moved on. Even then, my becoming a traditional bowhunter is a maybe at best.

Don’t think I am alone in that, either.