University of Illinois Extension

Population Control

Hunting can be used as a deer management tool by recruiting safety conscious, dependable hunters who are willing to shoot does. Photo courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

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To help limit deer damage, some form of deer population control is typically necessary. Well-regulated hunting through the state permit system, conducted in a safe manner, provides outdoor recreation to thousands of sportsmen and sportswomen in Illinois every year. Regulated hunting helps provide funding for other wildlife restoration efforts and outdoor recreation in Illinois, and is the primary method of achieving population management goals for Illinois’ white-tailed deer.

Hunting

The effective use of the legal hunting season is the best way to control deer populations. Harvesting deer during the regular archery and firearm deer hunting seasons may not solve problems completely, but it will be an important step toward long-term damage control. A very important goal of a hunting program on private land should be to harvest the maximum number of adult female deer (does). Killing male deer (bucks) accomplishes little to control the deer population. In addition to the reduction in deer densities, hunting can cause the dispersal of large, local concentrations of deer.

Individuals attempting to use hunting as a deer management tool should recruit safety conscious, dependable hunters that are willing to shoot does. If hunters have shown that they are helping to effectively harvest does, allow them to shoot deer with exceptional antlers, but request that hunters pass up "ordinary bucks" in favor of does. 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:

  1. Have all hunters complete their scouting and stand installation activities several weeks before the season.

  2. 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.

  3. Encourage hunters to hunt from their stands throughout the entire day.

  4. Maintain hunting pressure (number of hunters in the field each day) throughout the season.

  5. Encourage neighbors to adopt similar hunting techniques on their property.

  6. 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.

Landowners and tenants (with 39.5 or more acres) are eligible for free deer hunting permits from the IDNR. These permits will allow deer to be hunted on owned or leased agricultural property with a firearm and/or bow. Any family member living under the same roof is eligible for the same privilege, as long as they meet eligibility requirements as a hunter (i.e., hunter safety course graduate, Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card, etc.)

In some counties, due in part to the large number of deer, Late-Winter Deer Hunting (formerly called Handgun Deer season) is offered. Landowners should allow hunting during this season in open counties, as all deer harvested must be antlerless. It is this antlerless harvest (i.e. harvest of female deer) that is needed to reduce overall deer numbers.

Other Control Methods

Other deer population control methods, such as sterilization or relocation, are not viable options. If the deer population in a given area is already high, merely sterilizing the deer that are already present will do nothing to reduce deer numbers in the short-term and is typically expensive. Use of surgical sterilization and immunocontraceptive (IC) vaccines continues on an experimental basis in some areas of the country. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may register the new IC vaccine, GonaCon, for use on free-ranging white-tailed deer. However, the highest effectiveness achieved (in stopping does from reproducing) during two field trials was 88 percent during the first year post-treatment on one site, and the effectiveness fell to 46 and 47 percent during year two on both sites. The EPA registration may specify that GonaCon must be hand-injected. Although it has been demonstrated that ICs can be used to prevent reproduction by individual animals for multiple years (in captive settings), not enough animals can be captured and treated in wild deer populations to have any significant population reduction effect.

Relocation of white-tailed deer in Illinois is no longer a viable option due to potential for spreading unwanted wildlife disease (such as CWD) and/or parasites. Additionally, the stresses of capture and transport lead to low survival of the deer.