Bowhunting deer in Illinois: As season opened, a COVID-19 question, the usual updates and a historical note

Coming off a season with a record harvest, Illinois bowhunters are back with a question about COVID-19 and deer, and the more usual questions and updates on deer season; plus a delightful historical note.

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A mature Bureau County buck in a field this fall. Credit: Jim Snaidauf

A mature Bureau County buck in a field this fall.

Jim Snaidauf

It’s not surprising, COVID-19 impacts even deer hunting. In mid-summer, the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories “announced confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in wild white-tailed deer in Ohio.”

That came ahead of bowhunting for deer opening Oct. 1, as usual, in Illinois, where 2020-21 produced a record bow harvest of 75,544. With deer hunting underway, I checked in with Dan Skinner, forest wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, on COVID-19 and other topics.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced results of a research study and gave advice on what COVID-19 and means for deer hunters.

“The information provided by USDA states that `There is no evidence that animals, including deer, are playing a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to people,’ “ Skinner emailed. “ ‘Based on the available information, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low.

“ ‘Regardless, hunters should continue to use normal recommended food safety measures when field dressing and cooking their deer.’ “

As in, don’t handle or eat animals that appear ill or act odd; use gloves when field dressing; clean, dry and cool the abdominal cavity until processed; wash hands thoroughly after handling; wash and disinfect any equipment used in handling; and cook until juice runs clear and meat is no longer pink.

Details are at aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/stakeholder-info/stakeholder-messages/wildlife-damage-news/deer-sars.

COVID-19 impacts life around the world. On a much smaller scale, the legalization in Illinois of general crossbow use in 2017 impacted deer hunting. That includes for me. I am not alone in crossbows opening up bowhunting and expanding my world outdoors. I also understand hardcore bowhunters who prefer compound or traditional bows over crossbows.

In the 2020-21 season, Illinois bowhunters virtually split between the use of compound bows (approximately 49.6 percent) and crossbows (49.3), with use of traditional bows at 1.2, according to Skinner.

A file photo of a crossbow in the field in 2018; bowhunters are evenly split on use of crossbows or compound bows in Illinois. Credit: Dale Bowman

A file photo of a crossbow in the field in 2018; bowhunters are evenly split on use of crossbows or compound bows in Illinois.

Dale Bowman

As to the deer herd, he emailed, “Generally speaking, populations will be similar to those we observed going into the last hunting season. The Department will likely be adding two counties to the late-winter antlerless-only hunt in an effort to decrease populations that have continued to grow despite increases in permit quotas. We will continue to monitor the archery harvest and may need to consider additional changes to Administrative Rules in future years, especially if antlerless archery harvests continue to increase.”

In recent weeks, more reports came of hemorrhagic disease, generally called EHD.

“As of [Wednesday], our biologists have received reports from approximately 24 counties in central and southern Illinois,” Skinner emailed. “The combined total reported mortality from all counties is approximately 80 deer.”

Skinner had an aside on the changes since white-tailed deer reestablished enough to reopen deer hunting in Illinois.

According to the history of management at deer.wildlifeillinois.org, “Many newspaper reports of the day cited John Force of Chandlerville as the first person to legally kill a deer since 1900 when he bagged a 200-pound male with bow and arrow at 7 a.m. on October 1, 1957.”

That sets this up from Skinner.

“Just some trivia from 60 years ago: I was going through some old files and found a paper copy of our 1961 deer hunting rule,” he emailed. “We reinstituted the deer hunt in 1957, so 1961 represented the fifth modern deer hunt in Illinois. The shotgun season ran from December 1st to December 3rd and was open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pike County’s 1961 deer harvest total? 39 deer.”

In the two firearm seasons in 2020, Pike County harvest was 1,871.

A mature Bureau County buck on a trail cam this fall. Credit: Jim Snaidauf

A mature Bureau County buck on a trail cam this fall.

Jim Snaidauf

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