This weekend marks a big day on the calendar of outdoorsmen everywhere. This morning, thousands of hunters will take to the woods as the first weekend of shotgun deer season opens up here in Illinois.
Those of us that participate in deer hunting know that the weekends before and after Thanksgiving mark the time when we can put the bow down and pick up the shotgun. But for those who are not deer hunters, they may ask, what is the big deal?
I was talking to a couple of guys at work just this week about the upcoming weekend. One of them asked the very question mentioned earlier. He was under the assumption that you could hunt whitetails with a gun in Illinois anytime that you wanted during the season.
In our state, bow season starts October first and runs through mid-January. If you are a bow hunter, that information is wonderful. Most of the season is available to you. If you do not carry a bow, your options are much more limited.
The weekend before Thanksgiving is open to shotgun slug season, and the weekend after Thanksgiving is also open. Between these two seasons, a gun hunter has seven total days they can hunt. In January, they may also hunt during a special Chronic Wasting Disease season or late firearms season. All total, they have very few days they can actually participate in the sport they love so much.
This is quite different from other states around us and throughout the country. Many places allow gun hunting with rifles, not just shotguns. They also have a much-expanded season in which they can use firearms.
I’m not debating whether or not our states laws are appropriate. That could take pages to discuss. What I am letting others know, though, is that this is why shotgun deer season is such a big deal here in Illinois.
It may be the only time many people get to the woods all year. This weekend you will see blaze orange clothing all over the place. Gas stations, retail stores, stoplights, country roads — all of these places will be flooded with hunters. You may also see more deer being carried in the back of pick up trucks the next couple of weeks.
Shotgun season is absolutely critical to the states management of the deer herd. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, there were 181,451 deer harvested in 2011. Almost 100,000 of these were taken during the seven-day gun season. To put these numbers in some sort of perspective, Grundy County had a total harvest last year of 1,039 deer.
If bow hunting were the only method in which deer could be taken in Illinois, the harvest numbers would be far lower. A gun just has a greater range and can be used by younger and older hunters that may not be able to pull a bow back.
Shotgun deer season is also a rite of passage for many. This is the time of year when one generation passes down their knowledge and experience to the next. Young children anxiously await sunrise and sit close to their dad or granddads and soak in the years of experience. This is where the future generation of hunters finds their passion for the sport.
This is also where that passion starts to bloom into conservation. A natural resource needs to be taken care of. We have learned from our mistakes in the past that misuse of resources, such as deer, has disastrous results. For many, shotgun deer season is the start to a lifetime of caring for wildlife and the environments around us.
Hopefully the mass of hunters this weekend will be safe, ethical and considerate of others around them. Public hunting areas often can be sites of some tension as larger than usual numbers take to the woods. Keep in mind that we are all there for the same reason. We all enjoy pursuing whitetails and hope to do so for many years to come. Be safe and good luck.