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Illinois deer hunting: Bowhunting season opens Thursday and comes with questions on harvest

If the trend in Illinois’ deer harvest from 2019-20 continues, bowhunting harvest will surpass firearm harvest in 2020-21; but there are mitigating reasons why that might not happen.

A combine works a Downstate field Thursday evening. Credit: Dale Bowman
A combine works a Downstate field Thursday evening.
Dale Bowman

A seismic shift, with mitigating factors, came during the 2019-20 deer hunting seasons in Illinois. If a similar shift comes in 2020-21, harvest by bowhunters would surpass harvest by firearms.

Archery harvest jumped to 67,743 deer during the 2019-20 season from 61,096 in `18-19, while harvest during the tradition firearms seasons fell to 75,417 during ‘19 from 80,957 in ‘18.

Bowhunting for deer in Illinois opens Thursday.

“Last year, the difference between archery harvest and firearm harvest was 7,674 deer, and it’s important to note archery hunters set a new record in the 2019-2020 season by harvesting 67,743 deer,” emailed Dan Skinner, Illinois’ forest wildlife program manager. “Meanwhile, Illinois firearm deer hunters harvested 75,417 deer last fall – the lowest total since 2013.

“While archery season harvest certainly appears to be trending up over the last few years, the firearm harvest had not been trending down leading up to 2019, in fact, it was pretty level for the previous three years. I believe the widespread standing crops going into firearm season and the late season start last year both played a role in the lower firearm harvest we saw.”

Crop harvest this fall is rolling with the dry weather.

Weather helped bowhunters in 2019.

“Last year, good weather during the weekends in November likely got more hunters out in the field during the rut, resulting in weekend harvest totals of 5,000 – 6,000 deer statewide on November 2-3, November 9-10, and November 16-17,” Skinner emailed. “Ultimately, time will tell; if 2020 has taught me anything, it is to expect the unexpected.”

Truth for all things deer and dear.