PIKE COUNTY, ILLINOIS DEERHUNTING
Pike County Dreams
Bob (Griz) Cramer
Dreams! We all have them. Some of them invoke our greatest desires while some of them invoke our greatest fears! We tend to remember the good ones and try to forget the bad ones.
As a child who grew up hunting, the hardest night of the year for me to sleep was the night before deer season opened. I would try to fall asleep, but just couldnít get that giant 12-point buck to disappear. Every time I closed my eyes, he would be standing there, broadside at thirty yards, looking the other way, offering me the perfect shot. The anticipation of what could happen is what keeps whitetail hunters going. That is what drives us to leave that nice warm bed, at ridiculous hours to go out and sit in sometimes-miserable conditions for days on end. Sometimes to no avail, but the driving force behind all of this is to fulfill a dream! A giant whitetail!
Whitetail hunting today has gone high tech with its move into the 21st century. We now have an arsenal of gear, designed to attain maximum predatory success. Camoflauge patterns match every condition. Clothing designed to eliminate human scent. Bionic hearing aids that allow us to hear every detail of whatís going on in the woods around us, even Ariel photography so we can decipher the major places to concentrate our hunting efforts, before we even walk on the property. Around every corner there is a bow or gun dealer, selling their ultimate weapon for whitetail hunting. Deer calls, scents and just about anything you can think of, are only as far away as the local sporting goods shop At times, it seems to me that hunters are convinced that if they spend enough money on the gear and gadgets involved with the sport today, they will guarantee their success, but a lot of them forget the very first rule to killing a giant whitetail. Hunting where they are! That place is Pike County, Illinois.
Famous Deeerhunting Locations
As a kid, all of the famous places I knew to hunt were located on our immediate property. The place where they crossed the river, or the fence behind Aunt Lizzieís chicken house where they came out to feast on the apples was as good as it got!
Todayís hunter has a totally new world to hunt in. A hunter can be sitting in an office in New York City at noon one day and at daylight the next morning, be sitting in a tree stand in Iowa. Our world has evolved and the world of whitetail hunting has evolved with it. One of the outstanding spots in our nation to hunt the buck of your dreams has evolved in West Central Illinois. Pike County, Illinois! Over the past 50 years, Pike county has evolved from a place where just seeing a deer was a rare occurrence, to one of the best spots in the world to harvest a trophy whitetail! The very reasons for Pike County, Illinois being successful with their trophy whitetail deer herd will be discussed in this narrative.
Location, Topography and Habitat!
Pike County is located in West Central Illinois. It is bordered by the Mississippi river on the west and the Illinois River on the east. Pike county is the largest county in the state of Illinois with a landmass of well over a half million acres. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources considers well over half of that to be core deer habitat. That figure is determined removing the acreages, taken up by towns, businesses, houses and farm dwellings and buildings, roads, waterways and anywhere else a deer couldnít exist!
One of the outstanding habitat features of Pike County is the topography of the land. When you get into the midwestern part of the country, it doesnít take too long to realize there is a lot of flat land out here. In the Eastern part of Illinois, you can oftentimes see as far as the curve of the earth, without seeing a single hill anywhere but as soon as you cross the Illinois river that all changes. When you cross the Illinois river, you enter rolling hill country that continues all the way through Pike County, Illinois until you reach the Mississippi river bottoms on the western side.
Throughout these rolling hills, you will find a little bit of everything. Tillable crop land and pasture accounts for around 60% of the land with the rest being a mix of timber, bottomland and river bluffs. Corn, soybeans and wheat, as well as alfalfa for hay make up most of the agricultural crops grown there. There are also a few apple orchards and vineyards in the mix. Most of the crop fields are fairly small compared to mid-western standards and are separated by creek bottoms, brushy, overgrown fields and woodlots. Most of the woodlands appear to be fairly young stands of timber consisting of oaks and various other hardwoods like hickory. If you didnít know where you were, you would swear youíre in Pennsylvania farm country instead of the Midwest!
Pike County, Illinois and the entire Mid-West region of the country was greatly influenced by the mechanization of farming. Before the tractor came onto the scene, most of the farms were small parcels of land that the families grew crops on to sustain themselves and their livestock If they had any excess crops, after their needs were met, they sold them. Because of the rough, hilly ground in Pike county, anything that was to steep or rough to plant, became a hog lot and all the vegetation within those confines disappeared. Pork became king and Pike County was promoted as the Pork Capitol of the World during the early 1960ís. ďPig DaysĒ was one of the largest events held annually in the county. As the pork business grew, so did the demand for corn, so the tractor and the ability to farm more ground became more important. Small family owned farms, which always struggled to survive, were combined to make parcels of land totaling hundreds of acres, to provide the needed acreage for the corn. Most of the tillable land in the region responded well to fertilizer and the crops flourished. The need to grow more corn also motivated farmers to make ground, that wasnít really suited for crops, into crop fields. Steep hillsides and fields bordering streams were stripped of their vegetation and turned into producing crop fields. Meanwhile, erosion was feeling the effect of the tractor and the hog lots on the hillsides. The mid-west section of the country has always been famous for their strong, summer thunderstorms and the farmers literally could stand there and watch their soil wash away, through their crop fields and hog lots into the streams and drainages that flowed into the Mississippi and the Illinois rivers. The sedimentation of the river systems became enough of an issue that the federal government got involved in the 1980ís and instituted the CRP program. CRP means Crop Reserve Program. What this meant to the farmers, whose pork prices were going down, was the fact they could make as much money on their land by putting it in the CRP program, as they could raising hogs on it. Only difference was they didnít have to do the work or depend on the market to be good. CRP pays the landowner to refrain from planting crops to maximize the laws of supply and demand.
Evolution of the Whitetail Deer in Pike County, Illinois.
Sighting a whitetail in Pike County Illinois, in the 1950ís was a rare occurrence. If it did happen, it was usually in one of the overgrown river bottoms areas that werenít being farmed or didnít have hogs running on it. The main problem was lack of habitat. With the hog lots dominating the normal haunts of the whitetail, there just was very little place for the animals to exist. Eventually though, the deer started to adapt to the changes and by the late 1950ís there were enough for the county to hold itís first whitetail season. The first official season was on Nov. 1st 1957. It was three days long and was limited to shotguns only and the use of slugs. The first official harvest numbers for Pike county was a staggering 19 deer. That was only 50 years ago. What has happened since then is amazing. I donít think anyone at that time would ever had imanged that a short 35 to 40 years later, it would be the 2nd greatest county in the nation to hunt trophy whitetail bucks. For the first eleven years of the season, a total of 698 deer were harvested in Pike County. For a number of years, the seasons were tinkered with by the state. They had split seasons that lasted three days each. Then they went to a straight, six-day season and zone hunting and in 1968, settled on the split season. It continues to be that way. First gun is a three-day hunt. The season is then ceased for 10 days only to re open for an additional 4 days or the second firearms season.
The real explosion of the whitetail herd really occurred during the early 1970ís.and 1980ís. With the increase of available habitat from the CRP program and a reduction in the number of hogs produced in the county, more cover was made available. The new habitat assisted not only the deer, but also for numerous other species of wildlife, including the coyote. Once the coyotes found the ready supply of pigs, it became almost impossible to raise hogs outside. That fact, along with a depressed market for the hogs made for a lot of unusable land that was allowed to grow up into thickets and eventually return to its natural state. The deer herd started growing by leaps and bounds. In 1971, 238 deer were harvested and by 1973, that number had almost doubled. It still wasnít a place to be recognized by the world, but it was coming on fast. For the first 17 years in Pike County, less than 2500 deer were taken. In 2004, the harvest figure rose to an all time high of 4251 animals.
I personally take my hat off to the foresight of the individuals in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources during this period. Without them, Pike County would still be just an average place to hunt. The DNR in Pike County, Illinois strictly imposes game laws through thorough law enforcement efforts.
Pike County, Illinois is and will continue to be one of the best-managed deer herds in the nation. For the serious trophy hunter, the shotgun / muzzloader season means one thing thatís really important. Every deer that sticks his nose out of the woods isnít going to get shot. Effective range on modern shotguns and muzzleloaders is only about 150 yards. Shots outside of that range are unethical.
The ability to survive several seasons gives the bucks the chance to mature. To put it in terms that are easy to understand, lets compare the life cycle of whitetails to the life cycle of a dog. Experts claim that a dog ages seven years for every year a human ages. That means a one-year-old dog is equivalent to a seven-year-old child. Since a nine-year-old whitetail is considered to be ancient, they must have a similar life cycle as the dog, aging six or seven years for every human year. Most humans donít reach physical maturity until their early to mid thirties. Using this reasoning, whitetail bucks arenít going to start reaching their physical maturity until they are four years old or more. As they mature from there, Mother Nature starts playing a role in what happens to them, but a buck thatís between 4 and 7 years old is going to be in the best physical condition of his life. Age is a major factor when it comes to harvesting trophies. Combined with that is diet, habitat and climate conditions. In conclusion of firearm restrictions one might surmise in ďshotgun onlyĒ states deer live longer thus greater quantities of record book whitetails exist.
To contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources one may view:
Illinois DNR : www.dnr.state.il.us
Illinois Department of Natural Resourses
One Natural Resourses Way
A Bow Hunters Paradise
Nothing is harder than getting a shot at a record book whitetail with a bow. Mature whitetail bucks are the most elusive big game animal to harvest with a bow. Many bow hunters will spend their whole life pursuing them without ever having a chance at killing a record book whitetail buck.
In the early 1990ís, the word started getting out about Pike County, and the tremendous opportunities at trophy class whitetails. We also had an explosion of outdoor magazines, video companies and outdoor writers, eager to attach themselves to Pike County. To this very day, itís hard to pick up a whitetail or bow hunting magazine, without there being an article about Pike County, Ilinois in it!
At this same time that the bow hunting industry really kicked into gear. No longer was the bow, just a stick and string that required almost daily practice to become proficient. Bow manufactures began designing compound bows that were fairly easy to shoot and were incredibility accurate. They also had the media vehicle to announce the endeavor. Magazines, television, and video. Tree stand manufacturers, scent companies, call manufacturers and camo patterns sprung up everywhere. Archery hunting became an approachable sport even to the novice outdoorsman or outdoorswoman.
With all of the Attention Pike County was getting from the media, it didnít take long for the bow hunting world to start paying attention. By the early 1990ís the focus on hunting the monster bucks had shifted from the shotgun and was rapidly becoming focused on archery hunting. The simple fact that the monster bucks were there was all it took. The archery season was also much longer than the gun season and afforded the archers more time to pursue them. Archery hunters in Pike County, Illinois harvest almost three times the number of deer than any other county in the State of Illinois.
The demand to hunt here created the need for available places to hunt. As a result professional outfitting business were birthed. Prior to 1990, there were only a few outfitters on the scene. By the 2005 season, there were over seventy registered outfitters in Pike County. The outfitters range from small, family farm operations of a couple hundred acres, to commercial operations, hosting hundreds of hunters each season, hunting thousands of acres of leased land. IMB Outfitters seen at www.imbmonsterbucks.com is a quality outfit to consider who has won several outdoor awards in the hunt industry.
This has become big business in Pike County. Landowners, that were financially challenged are now living comfortably. With current lease rates of $40 to $70 dollars an acre being the norm, a landowner with a five hundred acre farm can bring in an extra $20,000 to $35000 a year, according to the cover and location of their farm. A lot of the older landowners lease out their hunting rights and also lease out their crop rights to other farmers. This opportunity affords the landowners to live comfortably on the income from their leases. Land values have skyrocketed! Property that was deemed useless 15 to 20 years ago has become the most sought after land in the county. Itís not a bit unusual for unfarmable, steep tracts of woodland to sell for $3000 to $5000 an acre, land that you couldnít give away thirty years ago.
The rise of the outfitting business in Pike County has also brought along some controversy. Local residents, who used to hunt the properties, now being leased by the outfitters, are upset because they canít hunt the properties anymore but outfitters lease only about 25% of the area considered to be core habitat by the DNR. Maybe it just means that the local resident hunters no longer have the freedom to hunt wherever they want. The State of Illinois offers many public hunt areas to meet these nees however the challenges of hunting public ground can be very difficult. Another positive aspect, or influence of the outfitting business is that most of the outfitters have a minimum size requirement for the bucks being harvested on their properties. Most of the minimums are in the range of 120Ē/ 140Ē inches of antler. Hunters who harvest a deer below the minimum are required to pay a penalty fee. These fees usually run in the range of $400.00 to $1000.00 dollars and are a definite deterrent to killing small bucks. The majority of the time, for a buck to reach 120 inches, he is in his second or even third year of life and stands a good chance of living until he is four or five years old. No doubt, Hunt Outfitters have increased the quality of the Illinois whitetail herd with strict deer management programs.
In conclusion, the affect of the outfitting business on the residents of Pike County; we need to look no further than the dollar bill. It just depends what side of the fence your looking from. If you are a landowner who is willing to lease out your hunting rights, itís great. If you are an outfitter, own a resturaunt or store or run one of the motels, lodges or B&Bís in the county, itís great. But if you are a local hunter thatís got booted from the land you love to hunt, it stinks. I understand both sides.
One of the great things about the mid west is the buck to doe ratio. There are still within reason and during the rut, the bucks still have to compete for the does. There are places in this country where the doe to buck ratio is probably around 20/1. In these areas bucks have all the does they can handle during breeding season. The buck to doe ratio in Pike County, Illinois is an estimated 4 to 1. Itís not a bit unusual to see as many bucks during a days hunt as you do does and during the rut you may see as many as three or four bucks competing for the same doe. If your not from this area and havenít hunted here before, be prepared. All of the gadgets I mentioned at the beginning of the article will work here. Rattling horns, deer calls, scents and even decoys will work in the right situation. Itís all a matter of catching them in the right mood!
Boone and Crockett Buck Quantities
Some hunters claim the day of the Monster buck in Pike County, Illinois is on the decline due to hunt pressure. Statistics prove otherwise. Of the 51 registered Boone & Crockett bucks from Pike county, 12% were harvested before 1985, 33% were taken between 1985 and 1994, and 55% were harvested between 1995 and this past season. The pressure placed on them has just made them harder to kill. Once again they have adapted to humans.
During this past season, I saw seven Boone & Crockett bucks in Pike County along with dozens of Pope & Young bucks. I know of nowhere else that this is possible on free ranging whitetails. Iíve hunted for over forty years in a number of different places and was always thrilled to see a 140-inch buck. Most hunters will spend their entire hunting career and never see a Boone & Crockett buck. One thing is for sure! If your not hunting where the big bucks are, your chances of ever taking one are slim. Thatís the great thing about Pike County. Anything can happen and the monster of your dreams could step out in front of you at anytime to turn your dream into reality. Currently Pike County, Illinois is the #2 location in the United States of America responsible for number of entries in the Boone and Crockett Record Books as well as Pope and Young Club Record Books. In a word, ďheavenĒ.
Expectations of a Pike County, Illinois Outing
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the outfitting business. When you purchase a hunt with an outfitter, thatís what you should get. A quality hunt, on quality ground, a knowledgeable guide that knows the properties and cares about your hunt, a decent place to lay your head down at night and good food. On free ranging whitetail anywhere, there are no guarantees! I recommend that you check references and make sure you get your questions answered to your satisfaction. I talked to one guide last season in Pike County, Illinois that told me that he and a buddy of his were guiding twenty two hunters that week. Iím not sure how they did it but those are things you need to ask about. Acreage, available stand sites, transporation and licensing requirements are all vital information. Also ask about the lodging. Make sure it is adequate, because you could wind up sleeping in an outbuilding if your not careful. Check out the hunt outfitters photogallery of his or her lodge accommodations.
Also, make sure you are the best hunter you can be while you are there. Be prepared. If you are serious about harvesting a Pike County, Illinois trophy whitetail buck, hunt hard! Some of the best hunters I know are guys that accept hunting for what it is. Dedication to the sport and preservence!
The state of Illinois, currently sells 20,000 non- resident hunting permits. Bow permits are good statewide but gun permits are county specific. These permits are applied for in a lottery. Applications must be sumitted between June !st and June 31st.
Gun tags are applied for on July 1st and August 14th.. If you are hunting with an outfitter, ask the outfitter for his outfitter ID number. 7500 of the non-resident permits go to outfitters clients on a preferential treatment program. A vital mistake is made when a hunter elects to refrain from hunting with a professional credible hunt outfitter and try to hunt without privately owned ground and instruction.
In the Fall of 2005 we had scouted a whitetail on our Pike County, Illinois property for the better part of the summer and fall. We knew the bruiser was a double drop tine monster that was going to score over 200 inches. The opening morning of the Illinois Gun Season we placed Larry Adams up to ambush the giant. As a result Larry collected a monster 208 inch double drop tine animal. The result of hunting the dream location of Pike County, Illinois.