Hunting has long been the primary tool for safely and ethically managing the deer population in Illinois. Hunting is necessary because Illinois settlers extirpated the primary predators of deer—wolves and cougars. Harvesting deer during the regular archery and firearm deer hunting seasons helps keep deer from becoming overabundant.
Benefits of Hunting
Well-regulated hunting in Illinois provides these benefits:
- outdoor recreation to thousands of sportsmen and sportswomen every year
- millions of dollars annually for wildlife restoration efforts and outdoor recreation in Illinois
- millions of dollars in retail sales, providing an economic boost to Illinois businesses
- a reduction in the amount of damage caused by deer
- reduced number of deer–vehicle accidents
- locally-sourced meat, at an average of 75 to 125 pounds of meat per deer
- deer populations with a reduced risk of contracting disease
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Hunt Illinois website provides information about:
- season dates
- licenses and permits
- harvest reporting
- hunter safety and education videos
- where to hunt
Bow Hunter Safety
Although Illinois is not among the states requiring bow hunters to take a mandatory education course, voluntary participation in the course provides valuable tips for safe and effective bow hunting. The National Bowhunter Education Foundation offers the course in two options:
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Online Self-study course
Students may take the online self-study course material at their own pace, completing chapter reviews along the way. At the end of the course material the student will be required to pass an exam. Student certification will be mailed by the course provider.
Learn more about bow hunting in Illinois from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources encourages hunters to attend a Hunter Safety Education class and have a safe and fun hunting season.
On January 1, 1996, a state law was passed that anyone born on or after January 1, 1980, may not be issued a hunting license unless he or she presents a valid Hunter Education Certificate of Competency issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Safety Education Division, or another state.
Many states now require adult hunters to furnish evidence of having completed a Hunter Education Course prior to issuance of a non-resident license.
Honorably discharged Illinois veterans may receive a Hunter Safety Card by completing the online self-study portion of Hunter Safety requirements, without taking the field-day portion of the course. To obtain a Hunter Safety Card, veterans must provide their online hunter safety voucher, military duty documentation (DD214), and proof of Illinois residency. Mail to: IDNR Safety Education Section, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL 62702-1271.
The Illinois Hunter Education Program consists of a minimum of 10 hours of instruction. The educational material is written at a sixth-grade reading level. These courses cover the basics of a number of topics:
- Bow hunting
- Field safety
- Firearms and ammunition
- First aid
- Hunter responsibility and ethics
- Muzzle loading
- State regulations
- Tree stand safety
- Wildlife conservation and identification
Those who complete the minimum 10 hours of instruction and successfully complete the final examination will receive a State of Illinois Certificate of Competency and a graduate patch.
The traditional and preferred hunter education method is through a 10-hour instructor-led class and demonstrations. The class schedule may be a few hours a night for 2 to 4 nights or a full weekend. The final class will end with a test to pass the course. Interested individuals may call 1-800-832-2599 or check the List of Education Courses by county.
Online Self-Study Course
Students may study course material online and complete each section of the course. They must attend a field day which includes hands-on participation and a final exam.
Effectiveness of Blaze Orange or Pink
Failure to identify the target is one of the leading causes of firearms-related hunting incidents.
The Effectiveness of Blaze Orange video shows how wearing fluorescent orange makes it easier for hunters to be seen. It also shows how different patterns, fabrics, and amounts of blaze orange can affect visibility.
In 2018 a law was passed in Illinois that legalized blaze pink hunting gear. While people can easily see orange and pink clothing, deer are believed to be nearly colorblind to orange or pink.
Every hunting and trapping incident involving serious personal injury (death, internal injury, broken bones, loss of an appendage, disfigurement, etc.) including falls from elevated tree stands, a gunshot, or archery wound must be reported to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources within 5 days. Persons involved in a hunting or trapping incident must render assistance to the person affected by the incident provided they can do so without serious danger to themselves and others.
All persons involved in a hunting incident are required by law ILCS 520 5/3.40.40 to file a report whenever a serious personal injury or death occurs from any action directly involved in a hunting activity.
To report an emergency, call 911 or your local State Police District Office dispatch center. For non-emergency accidents, call your regional office or the Springfield office at 217-782-6431.
Tree Stand Safety Course
The free online Tree Stand Safety Course provides tips for the safe and effective use of a tree stand for hunting.
Illinois Recreational Access Program
The Illinois Recreational Access Program uses resources from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Voluntary Public Access Habitat Incentive Program to connect youth and families to the land through a lease with the landowner.
Available seasonal activities include the following:
- archery deer hunting
- spring turkey hunting
- small game hunting
- fall waterfowl hunting
- shoreline fishing
- non-motorized boat access on public waterways
- birding activities
Barriers to Access
Opposition to hunting
Some people close their land to hunting in an effort to protect deer. However, since adult deer have a limited number of natural predators in Illinois, this decision allows local deer populations to become too large (i.e., to exceed their carrying capacity). When deer become too abundant, they can damage property and cause a decline in biodiversity (the number and variety of living organisms).
Concerns about liability
Research has shown that liability concerns significantly impact a landowner’s decision whether to grant hunters access to private property. The fear of being sued for injuries sustained by hunters keeps many landowners from allowing access, even if they would like help in managing the deer population on their property.
Landowners can create liability for themselves if they charge a fee for access, but if no money is exchanged and a permission form is signed, there is no liability.
Residential and industrial development increases the proportion of the Illinois deer population that is inaccessible to hunters. Municipal annexation that precedes development often brings restrictions on the type of weapons that can be used to hunt deer, sometimes well before any construction begins. Often parks, nature preserves, and private refuges are closed to hunting. Deer population management becomes more difficult as the percentage of the deer population that is inaccessible to hunters increases.
Misconceptions about hunters
Some landowners are reluctant to allow hunters onto their property because of prior experiences or a belief that all hunters fit the negative stereotypes.
The majority of hunters are respectful of the landowner, respectful of the land on which they hunt, respectful of the deer before and after it is harvested, and respectful of the non-hunting public with whom they come into contact.
Guidelines for Landowners Conducting a Hunting Program
Individuals attempting to use hunting as a deer management tool should recruit safety-conscious, dependable hunters that are willing to shoot female deer. Try to have one hunter for every 10 to 15 acres of wooded habitat.
There are several aspects of conducting a hunting program that are important to success:
- Have all hunters complete their scouting and stand installation activities several weeks before the season.
- Hunt from elevated tree stands and refill productive stands. During the firearm seasons, four or five deer may be taken from a single stand in one day.
- Encourage hunters to hunt from their stands throughout the entire day.
- Maintain hunting pressure (number of hunters in the field each day) throughout the season.
- Encourage neighbors to adopt similar hunting techniques on their property.
- Monitor the hunting effort (number of hunters per day for each hunting season), and record the number and sex of the deer harvested as well as the names and addresses of all hunters.
The Recreational Use of Land and Water Areas Act (745 ILCS 65/) allows private landowners to grant permission for hunting or other recreational activities on their property, and in most instances landowners shall not be held liable for injuries to individuals granted access to the property. Waiver of liability under this Act is void if a monetary fee is charged for access. Requiring each hunter to sign a permission form is recommended. The form is available here: https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/Documents/PermissionCard.pdf