LATE SEASON DEER STALKING IN SHAWNEE NATIONAL FOREST   Leave a comment

Early settlers to Illinois country found the diminutive Virginia white-tailed deer.  It supplied food and the hides provided shelter.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, the deer were fewer and more difficult to find.  The transplanting of whitetails from other states and a wise use of the resource strengthened the deer gene pool during the 21st century.

The deer of Illinois began as an experiment in wildlife management that took place in the Shawnee National Forest.  Wisconsin deer transplanted in the forest bred with the smaller Virginia subspecies.  The Biologists of the then Illinois Conservation Department transferred their progeny to other areas of the state under controlled conditions.

Illinois has major river bottomland country that is typically very fertile.  The silt deposits result in good soil.  The rough ground along drainage is difficult to clear for agricultural purposes and thus remains good deer habitat.

Deer hunting in the Shawnee National Forest is great and the public access is extensive.

Stretching from Cave-in-Rock on the east to Grand Tower in the west, Shawnee contains parts of some ten counties.  The hills of Bald Knob (elevation 1,048) and Williams Hill (elevation 1,064) cap some 277,000 acres of hardwoods and pines.  In fact, the forest area is a transition zone between North and South, East and West.  It consists of a variety of habitat.

Deer typically travel river bottomland corridors.  The travel forces them together for a good genetic mix.

Good phosphorous content in the soil of the western part of Illinois coupled with the availably of forage in the Shawnee National Forest, affects antler growth.  For deer, grasses, weeds, browse, fruits and mushrooms are as important as acorns and other nuts.  Most hunters neglect weeds as food sources for deer.  But, they digest easily and provide high levels of protein and phosphorus.  The same is true of mushrooms a popular springtime food for deer.

In winter deer seek high carbohydrate foods such as corn and acorns.  The Shawnee has a high number of oak trees combined with scattered agriculture fields often containing corn and soybeans left from agricultural practices.

All of these food sources are in abundance in the forests of southern Illinois.  The additional factor of mild winters leads to a low winter kill.

The Shawnee is the largest tract of public hunting land in Illinois.  Its appearance is more like the Ozark Mountains to the west than the flat agricultural fields usually associated with Illinois.

Trophy potential of the area is good and each year provides several Boone and Crockett bucks.  However, the general body size of the deer is slightly less than one would find in central or northern counties.  This is simply because they do not have as easy access to corn and soybeans that the deer in those agricultural areas.

Counties such as Pope in the Shawnee can be as much as 70 percent wooded with rolling grass and crop fields intermixed. The large expanse of wooded wilderness means that a hunter will have to walk as much as two or three miles before coming to a road.

Hunters do not usually experience crowded conditions after the end of the firearms season.  Leasing of private ground around the forest is becoming more common.  If a hunter spends time in the area knocking on doors, they might find landowners receptive to hunting.  Orchard farmers take a beating from deer populations and are anxious to rid themselves of some of the animals.

For more information about the Shawnee National Forest and the hunting regulations of the State of Illinois, contact Illinois Department of Natural Resources, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois 62702-1271.  For information about the forest contact the United States Forest Service Office, Harrisburg, Illinois 62946 or 800-699-6637.

 

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