Jeff Lampe: Some big bucks are still out there
The peak of deer hunting season is long past.
And any thought of a record archery harvest for the 2007-08 season appears to be over.
But there's still time to enjoy a happy New Year while hunting, as archer Eric Jepson of Putnam, Ill., proved on the first day of 2008. Hunting in Putnam County while others watched a slate of college football blowouts, Jepson shot a 10-point buck that's his biggest in 21 years afield.
Most other archers, though, have hung up their bows.
"Once we get past the second deer season, there are slim pickings," state deer biologist Paul Shelton said. "Daily harvest figures since then have been real low on the weekdays (low of 80) and don't go much over a few hundred on the weekends (high of 415 last Sunday)."
So barring an unexpected late-season surge between now and the Jan. 17 end of archery season, there will be no record bowhunting harvest.
Through Jan. 3 hunters had shot 60,267 deer. Statewide harvest ratios have hovered near 65 percent does.
The top five counties are: 1. Pike 3,474, 2. Fulton 1,509, 3. Jefferson 1,355, 4. Peoria, 1,254 and 5. Adams 1,236. Visit prairiestateoutdoors.com for a complete county-by-county harvest.
The overall harvest is down 3 percent from last year's total of 62,129 at this point and is farther behind the pace than in mid-December.
"The past few weeks have not exactly been the most conducive for making up ground," Shelton said.
Even so, there are still big bucks to be found.
That's good for Jepson, 43, who manages the Senachwine Duck Club and doesn't start deer hunting in earnest until the end of duck season.
Not that Jepson expected to shoot a big buck when he set out in the snow and wind at mid-morning on New Year's Day with friend Robert Freil of Tiskilwa.
"I walked some deer to him first, and this buck was in the bunch that went by him but wasn't close enough to shoot," Jepson said. "So he walked for me the next time and the buck came trotting by about 12 to 15 yards away."
The buck's rack had an inside spread of 22 1/2 inches and is the sixth Jepson said he has shot while hunting on the ground. That's one concession late-season hunters often make, since climbing tree stands in the snow and ice can be particularly dangerous.
Many late-season hunters also target field edges or food plots.
Whatever the strategy, bow season is rapidly drawing to a close. With the Oct. 1 season opener a long way away, now's the time to brave the cold or suffer through a long winter wishing you had.
Jeff Lampe is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News
Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org