Deer Hunting in Illinois: A Guide
The Prairie State is known among the well-informed for being a hunter’s haven, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ridiculously easy to find game out there. In fact, Illinois’ deeply forested regions as well as its open fields can challenge even long-time experienced hunters. Although deer are among the State’s most common kind of big game, with the native white-tailed buck being a local favorite, you shouldn’t expect your hunt to be child’s play just because of that.
There is an almost gut-wrenchingly high number of variables to take into account, from the geography, which can vary from county to county more than you can imagine, to the behavior of the indigenous deer populations, which, again, is so extremely localized it’s hard for someone who’s never went on a hunt in Illinois before to find their bearings. Don’t worry, though, as we’ve assembled this helpful guide which will teach you two of the most important tips to make that deer hunting trip a successful one. They may be simple, but they’re deceivingly effective.
Okay, so first things first. Illinois doesn’t always equal Illinois. There’s a good reason it’s called the Prairie State, you know. Originally, most of it consisted of flat, arid plains where bison, jackals and coyotes lived aplenty.
Native Indians hunted these ritually, especially the bison and deer, eventually leading to the former’s extinction and the latter’s displacement. All that’s no more, though, with the natives gone and only a fraction of the original prairie landscape remaining. Instead, most of the state is now a relatively more humid, colder, rural and forested place. The north is dominated by large cities like Chicago and Springfield, so you’re not likely to find any stray deer there simply due to urbanization. The south, meanwhile, has been a historically popular hunting spot, no matter the kind of game. It’s almost a complete mirror image to the industrialized, overly modern north, with open, wide and large sections of unrestricted, unaltered nature abounding. Or, in other words, there is a very high concentration of buck and a low concentration of humans, so the cards are in your favor. The most popular places for deer hunting in this region, which is often called Little Egypt as a reference to its former desert-like geography, are Franklin county and Jackson County, but any of their neighbors are a great choice, too.
However, the far western parts of the state are where you should focus your attention if you really want to win the jackpot with buck hunting.
They may not be as rural as the south, they may not even have that dense of a population of deer to be truthful, but they are famous for their hunting potential and widely known for countless stories of success by various hunters from all across the globe. Okay, to be even more precise, there are three counties, just three of them in the western portion of the state, that may just be your best bet when it comes to hunting buck. They are Pike, Adams and Brown County, often referred to as the Golden Triangle by enthusiasts. With the Mississippi River running straight through them, you’ll not only increase your chances of getting some buck to shoot, but there’ll also be quite the beautiful scenery to look at.
Remember, though, that words gets round quickly about these states’ popularity with hunters, and in response, hunting in any of the Golden Three will arguably cost you more than anywhere else.
Having chosen a good locale, you’ve already taken the first great step towards a successful hunt in Illy, but there’s another thing you should consider: How are you going to find your bearings, wherever you’ve chosen your hunt to take place? After all, no matter where you’re from and what you’re used to, this is a state full of undiscovered country and deer that, same species notwithstanding, can and will behave very differently from the populations in other states and countries. The simple solution? A guided hunt.
These are extremely popular, especially among newbies, and it’s easy to imagine why, but for any newcomer to the state, they’re a great option to get acquainted to the challenges of the environment and the behavior of the local game. A talented guide will teach you all the necessary tips and tricks, but still let you take the wheel and do your own thing as long as they think you can handle it.
Guides are more prominent within and around the Golden Triangle (11,000 Acres in Pike, Brown, Adams & Schuyler Co. Illinois), obviously, but they’re available all across the state. Most guided hunting tours also take place on private land to avoid strict regulation, and you can expect some food, maybe even lodging provided either on the house or at a premium of some sort. You’ll most likely be traveling in a mixed group of pros and beginners, so there’s always someone to learn from and someone willing to learn from you. You should probably start with tours that last a few hours, maybe a full day. These are generally very inexpensive and give you a good idea of what a guided hunting tour is really like. After that, you can move on to more complex and interesting tours that can span upwards of five days, in some cases even more than a full week.
After hunting in a group and with a good guide for some time, given the right location, you’ll have amassed enough experience to go solo should you wish. Then, the entirety of Illinois with all its little quirks and intricacies will be open to you to explore. Well, not quite. As previously mentioned, most guided tours take place on private ground, and the main reason for that is tough regulation in some parts of the state. Understandably, Illinois wants to keep its animal populations and not let them succumb to the wishes and needs of their many hunters, but depending on what county you’re in—the Golden Triangle can get especially complicated in some cases—it’ll probably take some wrestling with bureaucracy and some reading up on the awfully convoluted rules before you’ll be able to really hunt what you want, where you want. You’re sure another guided hunt or two could really do any harm?