Illinois Deer Hunting
To many people, Illinois consists of "Chicagoland" – and maybe "some points south." Illinois is far more than just Chicagoland. And regardless of what some say, those who live in Illinois are far from just "Flatlanders." There are wide and plentiful wildlife hunting acreage, very beautiful wilderness topography and scenic beauty – plenty of inland water - -like in lakes and rivers, and large, diverse groups of hunting enthusiasts.
One special hunting opportunity is the revered whitetail. And you can believe it when we tell you that Illinois ranks right up there with both Boone & Crockett (firearms) and Pope & Young (archery) whitetail records and listings. Plenty of trophies. Varied seasons. Good harvest (including trophies), each year.
The Illinois DNR (IDNR) is to be commended for its newly revamped website: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov. In all of our research we have yet to come up with anything from any other state that comes even close to the excellence of this new site. Simple and easy to navigate. Chocked full of essential information. Plenty of references to whatever it is that a hunter might want to know. And frankly, we were impressed by the lack of self-serving bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo on the site. In addition we were figuratively blessed by being able to discuss deer hunting in Illinois with a dedicated IDNR person named Tom Micetich, Deer Project Manager. Tom is not only a great source for "plain talk" info, but is an enthusiastic and dedicated deer hunter, as well. He "thinks" like a hunter, not some "above it all" bureaucrat. We will provide all the IDNR contact info at the end of the article.
Here are some basic facts that you'll want to know. The Illinois whitetail population is "guestimated" to be between 750-800K. While not a management goal, the statewide availability of high quality, antlered deer is a by-product of sound deer management practice. Annual harvest varies, but generally comes in just a little less than 200,000 per year. A little more than half of that is from firearms, about a third from archery, and the balance from muzzleloader, youth, and late winter hunting. There is a multitude of public hunting acreage all over the state - -and yes, private landowners also allow deer hunters to use their property.
There's a youth hunt, special regs and opportunities for the disabled and you can generally do some type of deer hunting from the beginning of October to about mid January. And yes, that means that archery season. starts a little later than some other neighboring states. Seniors 62 and older and special permitted disabled can use crossbows. So in effect, all bases are covered in Illinois. If you want to hunt deer, Illinois will be able to provide that opportunity for you. It's that simple – and Illinois, to its credit tries to KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Oh yes- - not to worry (pun intended) - -you will have to deal with 102 different counties- - with different regs, different seasons, different quotas, etc. For instance you can archery hunt in all 102 Illinois counties, but firearm hunting is prohibited in Cook, DuPage and Lake counties, as well as the approximate easterly half of Kane County - -(Chicagoland et al).
So. . . it's the usual "jumble" of regs, BUT, having said that the IDNR website discusses pretty much everything- - and we've got an even better idea: Use this site and select one of the super-good deer hunting guides or businesses that partner with us – they'll KNOW what you can or cannot do in any particular area they guide in, and you want to hunt in. Simple and easy -- and yes, they can and will be able to give you your best chance for a trophy.
One somewhat, but not totally unique reg, is the one which says that all firearm and muzzleloader permits are issued by lottery (resident and non-resident). All are issued for a specific county, or special hunt area. So "zero in" on where you want to hunt, and go from there. Don't do it "a** backwards."
We were also told that Illinois is so proud (and rightfully so) of its special hunting seasons for those with disabilities and youth, outside of the regular hunting seasons. It's all pretty much on the website.
By the way, our experience is that Illinois has all the infrastructure you want - -anywhere, anytime, anything. And there are all kinds of local organizations and affinity groups that value deer hunting as much as you do. The IDNR will be able to supply you with contact info for just about any area.
One final thing - -we noted that there isn't much discussion or reference to "toll roads" which Illinois uses, and contiguous states, don't (e.g. Wisconsin and Minnesota as examples). We believe that those types of facts should be disclosed - -they add to the cost of a trip, and while not a major "deal breaker" for hunters we feel our readers should be made aware of such information.
Public Land For Deer Hunting In Illinois:
Illinois Deer Hunting Stats
2008 Illinois Deer Hunting Tag Fees:
$15 resident/ $30 nonresident
|Estimated IL deer population:
2007 IL deer harvest:
198,670 Deer Harvested
|Illinois Deer Hunters:
Public hunting land in Illinois can be tough to find. Many public grounds offer limited access for deer hunters and the lands that are available get hit pretty hard during deer season. With that said, there is some still some great public land available for those that don't mind a little hard work both scouting and getting to the stand. Any public land deer hunter in Illinois should give serious consideration to the Shawnee National Forest. The shawnee National Forest is located in the southern tip of Illinois and features oak and hickory covered habitat which compared to much of the rest of Illinois is quite rugged.
Another public hunting ground which should be on every deer hunters list is the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie located in the northeastern part of Illinois. When compared to the Shawnee National Forest, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is relatively small—but still offers 6,409 acres that are open to public hunting. The Midewin does not offer any drive-in access, but for those hunters that don't mind a bit of a walk the reward can be small areas of land with less hunting pressure then the easy accessible areas.
Pike County in Illinois has a well deserved reputation as the mecca for the pope and young huntes. In my opinion some of the best odds of harvesting a large antlered deer are with an outfitter or guide service in a closed or leased option area. It is possible ot shoot a nice buck on public land in Illinois but every time I have been invited to an area that has less pressure or better managed, the results have been dramatically better. Consider an outfitter or guide service if you are looking for that big buck of a lifetime.