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Fewer Deer Hunters Hitting the Fields

Numbers stable in Illinois, but most states are seeing declines in the number of hunters.
ROCKFORD -- Friday marks the beginning of firearm deer season, an annual tradition that appears to be shrinking in popularity.  Figures show there has been a gradual erosion of people who hunt.

It's why Patrick Riofredo stands out a bit.  He's a young person who hunts.  "Some of my friends do," he says, "but defintely some of them don't.  There's not as many I guess."

No there aren't.  For states for which deer season is already underway, hunting numbers are down this year.

In Minnesota, it's down 7% according to state officials.  In Missouri, the harvest is down 12%.  There are several reasons for that, including the fact the weather for the first weekend of deer hunting season was terrible in both states.

But across the nation, the U.S. Fish and wildlife service estimates 33 states have seen gradual declines in hunting license sales over the past 20 years.
   
In Illinois, the number of deer hunting licenses issues has remained fairly consistent recently according to the Illinois DNR.
  
2009 - 328,117
2010 - 321,844
2011 - 320,709
2012 - 321,431

But if hunting here isn't declining as fast as in many other states, it's not growing either.  Local hunter Todd Benesh thinks the loss of hunting areas is one reason.  "For your average guy living in town, I'm sure he has a hard time finding places to hunt."  He says farmers aren't as willing to allow hunters on their land as they used to be, and that suburban sprawl is also cutting into hunting acreage.

Observers see another trend, however.  Fewer kids picking it up from their parents.

Steve Greensides is the exception.  He plans on passing on hunting to his kids.  "We're going to go through the gun safety courses here.  My daughter and my son ... My youngest son." 

But others who come from families which hunt never caught the hunting bug.  As one man told us outside the West State Farm and Fleet, "Just never could see sitting out in the woods that early sitting around waiting for a deer to come by."

Stateline hunters who do go out this weekend will have to check their deer at stations for wasting disease.  Here's where you can go:
  • Boone:  Boone Co. Fairgrounds; 1/2 mi. N. of Rt. 76 and Bus. Rt. 20, Belvidere
  • DeKalb:  Shabbona Lake State Park; 4201 Shabbona Grove Rd., Shabbona
  • Grundy:  Gebhard Woods State Park/I & M Canal Trail; 401 Ottawa St., Morris
  • Jo Daviess:  Elizabeth Community Bldg.; 210 N. West St., Elizabeth - 1/2 mi. W. of business district on Hwy. 20, next to Highland C.C. Elizabeth campus
  • Kane:  Shabbona Lake S.P. (De Kalb Co.); 4201 Shabbona Grove Rd., Shabbona
  • La Salle:  Buffalo Rock State Park; 3 mi. W. of Ottawa on Dee Bennett Rd.
  • McHenry:  Moraine Hills State Park; McHenry Dam Day Use Area, E. of McHenry on River Rd., 2.2 mi. S. of Rt. 120
  • Ogle:  Castle Rock State Park; Rt. 2, 3 mi. S. of Oregon
  • Stephenson:  Stephenson County Fairgrounds; 1 mi. E. of Rt. 26 and Fairgrounds Rd., Freeport
  • Winnebago:  Rock Cut State Park; Loves Park, Rt.173 entrance

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