Deer Management

After near extinction in the 19th century, the deer population of Illinois has rebounded such that deer are disruptive to the natural forest regeneration at Allerton Park. With virtually unlimited food and milder winters with less snow, there is no saturation point in sight where the herd size will naturally stabilize.

In early spring, deer feed on emerging wildflowers and seedlings in the Park. Wildflowers then begin to disappear because they cannot grow to maturity to reproduce. The tree population also ages with little reproduction, since the deer eat the emerging saplings.

In Fall 2004, a deer management program to reduce the size of the herd was initiated at Allerton in the form of an archery hunt. All hunters were required to harvest one antlerless deer before they were permitted to shoot a buck. In 2005, a doe-only shotgun hunt was also allowed. Initially, sharp shooting was conducted and the meat from the deer harvested was donated to local food banks and homeless shelters.

In February 2005, 669 deer were counted in the Allerton Park survey area. Three years later in 2008, 300 deer were counted. Not only has the deer management program at Allerton been successful in reducing the deer population, but the number of vehicle collisions with deer on the adjacent county roads has been reduced from 22 in 2004 to only 4 in 2006. Farmers are also reporting substantially higher yields from their fields near forest edges.

The Allerton deer management program will continue in the foreseeable future with a 16 week archery hunt from October through January. Permitted, approved hunters are required to volunteer 30 hours of their time to Allerton Park (as well as pass a proficiency test) in order to obtain the right to hunt. Hunters must also harvest an antlerless deer before harvesting an antlered deer. In addition to the antlerless requirement, Allerton hunters are required to follow specific rules that include having identification on all of their arrows, not using any flagging or marking tape, and not using any screws or nails on any of the trees from where they hunt.

The deer management program is closely tied to research initiatives that examine deer health and assess ecosystem regeneration. To ascertain deer health, all deer harvested at Allerton are tested for chronic wasting disease. Other wildlife diseases that have been tested for in the past include Lyme disease, West Nile virus, tuberculosis, and epizootic hemorrhagic disease.

Sampling plots have been established throughout the park where botanists from the Illinois Natural History Survey monitor spring wildflower diversity and abundance as they are released from browsing pressure. In the summer of 2005, a research project was initiated to document the abundance of deer ticks and Lyme disease in the Park and their relationship to white-tailed deer density. The deer research currently taking place at Allerton is the most significant research on deer in central Illinois since the early 1980s.

During the annual archery hunt in remote woodland areas of the park, all trails are open for hikers to enjoy. As always, normal park rules apply: stay on marked trails, keep all pets leashed, and no bicycling on unpaved paths.

For more information about our deer management program, please contact:
John Griesbaum (217) 333-3287 x 208 | griesbau@illinois.edu