Chicago Hunter Tags First Legal Whitetail in City Limits Since 1865
Wildlife officials with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources hope to replicate the pilot program in other parts of Chicago
A hunter made history on Sunday, October 2, when he became the first person to legally harvest a deer within Chicago’s city limits since 1865. Jose Guzman was hunting with a crossbow in a climbing stand about 25-feet up a tree on the South Side of the Windy City when the deer approached from behind. “I set up my stand the day before and got up at 4 a.m. so I could be in there by 5:19,” Guzman told Field & Stream. “A big doe walked under my tree, and I took a good shot from 7 yards away.”
Guzman took the deer at the William Powers State Recreation Area, a 160-acre state park sandwiched between massive oil refineries, automobile manufacturing complexes, and densely-packed residential areas. Now a state park that hosts anglers, hikers, bikers, and dog walkers, the recreation area was once used by the U.S. Army to develop anti-aircraft missiles.
According to IDNR wildlife biologist Nicky Strahl, who piloted the new deer hunting program at William Powers, Chronic Wasting Disease has been detected in the county where Guzman killed his deer, and poaching is an ongoing issue at the park. Intermittent gang and drug-related activities have caused problems as well, Strahl told F&S, and she hopes that the presence of archery hunters during the new deer season will help alleviate some of these problems. “It’s going to put more eyes on the ground from responsible, ethical hunters that actually want to encourage the proper utilization of the resources at hand,” she added. “We’re hoping this will diminish poaching and other less scrupulous activities.”
Strahl said she lobbied hard for the new urban hunting program, and she hopes to replicate it in other parts of the Chicagoland area. “Waterfowl hunting has taken place since the inception of the wetland there,” she said. “So I asked the powers that be: ‘Why don’t we allow archery hunting for deer if we have people hunting waterfowl with shotguns?’ And pretty much everyone said: ‘Well, because it might look bad.’ So I said, ‘Prove it,’ and no one could.”
Guzman said he considered it a privilege to participate in the first-ever sanctioned deer hunt in Chicago’s modern history. “It’s a real honor but also a responsibility because I have the power to set the tone for how the public perceives this program,” he said. “That first deer had to be taken ethically and with minimal disruption to the surrounding community. I field dressed the doe and loaded her up out of sight so as not create an unpleasant experience for an older lady that was walking her dog.”
While urban archery hunting is a new wildlife management tool within the city limits of the Chicago, it’s harldy new to the state of Illinois. Other metropolitan areas in the Land of Lincoln enlist the help of bowhunters and crossbow hunters to knock back city deer numbers when herds become overpopulated. In Sangomon County, for example—home to the state capital of Springfield—937 of the 1,517 deer harvested during the 2019 season were taken with archery equipment.
According to Guzman, the IDNR went above and beyond in its efforts to facilitate Chicago’s first urban hunt. “Nicky and her team did a great job informing hunters about the ground rules,” he said. “We were provided with windshield cards and keys to the gates to retrieve deer out of sight. They helped the participants understand that wildlife management is a tool that keeps deer herds in check and ensures their long-term survival.”
Guzman was one of just eight applicants awarded permission to hunt the William Powers Recreation Area this fall. The archery-only hunt began on October 1 and will run through January 15.