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Deer Vehicle Collision Chart

Data courtesy of Illinois Department of Transportation / Chart by Janelle Schroeder/MEDILL

The large deer population in Illinois causes problems, including vehicle collisions. The falling number of accidents after 2008 reflect the fact that deer accidents since 2009 only need to be reported if damages exceed $1,500.

Oh, deer: Open season for complaints

by Janelle Schroeder
May 22, 2011


Janelle Schroeder/MEDILL


Deer hunting requires a permit in Illinois. 

Deer spring across roads, fields and urban backyards.

But how should Illinois deal with the deer? Management currently comes in the form of hunting, science, culture and even poaching. The population is slightly down, though it's hard to keep count of these graceful grazers.

The state deer herd is estimated to be between 750,000 and 800,000, according to Tom Micetich, deer project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Accidents, deer feeding on crops and complaints follow the deer population.

But the census for the deer herd is tricky. The population model the state uses is “archaic,” Micetich said. “It’s user-unfriendly and time has not allowed us to update the model.”

The numbers are constantly changing and it becomes somewhat useless because of the abundant antlerless deer permit availability. The state defines antlerless deer as deer without antlers or having antlers less than 3 inches long.

In addition, some of the criteria in the model have changed, making it more difficult to use. Micetich said that one of the most variable aspects of modeling involves the habits of Illinois hunters.

“They are waiting for the bigger bucks because they can,” said Micetich.

Littleton farmer Jerry Swanger agreed that hunting outfitters only want their customers to shoot the big bucks. “A lot of them are trophy hunters,” Swanger said. “I guess that’s what they’re paying the big money to do.”

To counteract the problem, Swanger suggested implementing a program that requires hunting outfitters to shoot an antlerless deer before shooting a trophy buck.

The annual number of hunting permits is determined by hunting data from prior years, as well as accident rates and the number of complaints about too many deer. Recent surveys of landowners and hunters indicate where those people would like to see the deer herd numbers compared to three to five years ago, according to Micetich.

Wildlife biologists also work with the Department of Natural Resources to determine which way they feel the population should be driven.

“Some people think we have way too many deer everywhere, but that isn’t quite true,” Micetich said.

Swanger said that due to the areas deer can no longer occupy, such as wetlands, they are pushed to where crops are growing.

“They eat their share of it and there’s really nothing you can do about it,” Swanger said in reference to crops. He regularly sees deer in his fields, but knows that there is nothing legal he can do to keep the deer from eating the corn and other crops he grows.

Nuisance permits are available for deer that are a problem and are available by contacting an Illinois Department of Natural Resources District wildlife biologist. The permits are good for female deer only.

While hunters legally harvested approximately 189,000 deer during the 2010-2011 hunting season, the established numbers are carefully calculated. There are some elements that cannot be fully accounted for, such as poaching and deer vehicle collisions.

Poaching is commonly associated with exotic species such as elephants and rhinoceroses, but game animals also fall victim to poachers, especially antlered animals such as deer. Poaching in Illinois means illegally taking or possessing a game animal, hunting out of season and at night with spotlights, possessing more than the legal limit or hunting from a moving vehicle.

In a recent poaching case, an Aledo man was recently charged in Mercer County Circuit Court with five felony and 21 misdemeanor counts of conservation violations including killing a deer by running over it multiple times with an ATV. If found guilty, he could face between three and seven years in jail for the Class 3 felony and one to three years for each of four Class 4 felonies. Each misdemeanor carries the possibility of up to one year in jail.

Swanger said he has not seen anyone illegally shoot a deer because it has infiltrated a farm, but he said that he does not like the idea of someone doing that.

“If they are going to eat it that’s one thing, but if they are just shooting it for fun, that’s just wrong,” Swanger said when asked about his thoughts on poachers.

Deer vehicle collisions also play a large role in the struggle between animals and humans. As of 2008, motorists were required to report a deer vehicle collision where damage exceeded $500. Starting in 2009, the value increased to $1,500, causing a skew in the number of accidents collected by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Cook County had the highest number of collisions in 2010 with 516, but ranked second to last in terms of accidents per miles driven, with 1.7 accidents per 100 million miles driven. Calhoun County in west central Illinois, which borders the Mississippi River, had the highest accident rate at just over 300 per 100 million miles driven in 2010. With a population of just over 5,000, that breaks down to approximately one deer accident for every 42 residents.

Even after looking at all the factors from the prior year, the Illinois DNR realized that the idea of a biological carrying capacity has long passed. According to Micetich, the department now looks to find a cultural carrying capacity. He said it is now about what the Illinois residents will tolerate.

“Our goal is to manage the herd and keep it at a level to minimize the negative defects of the deer herd – so you have hunters on one side and farmers would like to see none at all,” Micetich said. “Most citizens benefit from somewhere in between.”