It's no secret to anyone who knows me, that when the temperature drops and the leaves start to change color, it's time to get into the woods. Chasing whitetail deer through various counties of Illinois is something that I long for and a passion that helps me rest and recharge the batteries of life. There is nothing that equals being able to silently enter the woods and have the wild slowly wake up around you. Hearing the first birds chirp in the soft morning light, followed by the crunching of leaves as two squirrels battle for the supremacy of their domain, I am able to see nature in a way most can't imagine. The vast majority of time spent deer hunting in Illinois consists of hours of motionless observation, with 5 minutes of heart racing excitement. I decided that this year I would note where I saw both live deer in the field, and a variety of deer sign, in order to map out the information and see if it helped in harvesting a mature deer.
I diligently kept track of different deer sign that I saw during the weeks prior to and during the hunt. I added them into the map via Esri's Collector Application. When I talk about deer sign there are a few main things that I am concerned with; game trails - easy to notice trails that have deer tracks stamped into the mud, rubs on trees - this occurs when an antlered deer uses a tree to help remove the velvet that surrounds their antlers during growth which helps harden the antlers, as well as deposit scent from glands on top of their head, and finally scrapes - areas where deer use their hooves to scrape away leaves and excess vegetation in order to deposit scent via glands on their legs or via using the restroom on the area. By tracking these signs throughout the farm, I am able to start to zero in on where I think the deer are actually traveling to and from.
Before the hunt, I asked my two brothers and dad to try to keep track of all the deer that they saw including the following information; time of day, sex of deer, size of deer, and location. My theory was that by tracking this information, we could start to identify areas of the farm that were being used as passage ways onto and off of the farm, as well as where we could potentially hang a stand in the future to ensure better success rates.
Without getting into the gory details, I will say that as my dad, brothers, and I hunted over the weekend, we were able to bag 4 bucks ranging from 6 to 11 points. The 11 pointer was the largest deer taken on the farm in over 20 years. Following the hunt, I got with my siblings and father to have them go over the locations of the various deer that they saw and added them to the map. Although we were unable to utilize the data during the first weekend as it was still being collected, we are able to use the map for the second weekend of firearm season, as well as hunts in coming years.
I am excited to see how this data can help our success rates and to be able to incorporate two of my passions into one endeavor. I am constantly telling people during presentations and speeches about the versatility and the power of viewing data in space via GIS. I know how powerful this tool can be, and I am ecstatic to see the results of this application moving forward.
I'll be sure to keep you posted, but until then, shoot straight, hunt hard, and be safe.