Illinois Hunters Riled Over Trophy-Production Plunge

Doctors have it easy. They want to measure a pulse, they slap two fingers on your wrist or neck, count the beats in a minute, and bang--they've got a gauge of heart performance.

But there are lots of ways to take the pulse of deer hunting. Animals seen. Success rates. Hunting opportunity. And yes, the number of trophy (mature) bucks in the annual kill. My friend Tim Walmsley is not only a respected measurer for the Boone and Crockett Club, but the man who founded the Illinois Deer Classic (now the Illinois Deer & Turkey Expo deerinfo.com/illinois) in 1990. Walmsley has been measuring big Prairie State bucks for years, and using just the sheer number of trophy entries as a pulse for Illinois deer hunting, he feels the state is one sick puppy.

Tim's recent blog in Heartland Outdoors tallies the precipitous drop in B&C-qualifying trophy entries at the Expo, which reached an all-time low of 13 this past year. That number was at 56 as recently as 2005 and has been dropping steadily, every year since. "That number pales in comparison to the entries we had when we first started the show," Walmsley told me. "But it's probably a good thing I can't find those stats. Recent history is bad enough."

Walmsley's disgust with the state's deer management policy is clear in his post. And it's no secret that across much of the Midwest, Walmsley has plenty of company. Hunters from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, and Indiana have all complained about a dramatic drop in deer numbers and a general decline in the hunting experience. But few have used such a simple barometer for gauging the deer-hunting experience. For many years, Illinois was the go-to place for a record-book buck--and now that reputation is fading.

I can guess what some of you are thinking: You don't care about trophy bucks, which is perfectly fine. Or you look at the 13 Booners that were hauled in to the Illinois Expo this winter and say "Cry me a river, pal. We don't have that many Booners alive in our state."

But hold on a minute. Suppose you lived in a state that once produced 50-inch muskies on a regular basis, and now fishermen are lucky to catch one per year. I'd understand your frustration that your once-stellar fishing took a nose dive. It's no different here.

Of course big bucks aren't all that deer hunting is about. But in a state like Illinois, they've been a part of the experience for many years. And now they're getting harder and harder to find, which says something about deer management in the Prairie State. It's something that Tim Walmsley and a growing number of Illinois whitetail hunters don't like very much. And I don't blame them one bit.