Deer Hunting in Illinois

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  • B
  • 800,000

    Est. Whitetail Population

  • 620,000

    No. Licenses Sold Annually

  • $38 and up

    Resident hunting license and deer permit

  • $358.25 and up

    A nonresident hunting license is $57.75. An archery deer permit is $411. A firearms deer permit is $300.50. There are several other permits available that vary in price.

    Non-resident hunting license and deer permit

  • 204 4/8"

    Taken by Melvin J. Johnson in Peoria County in 1965 and ranks 4th overall.

    Record B&C Typical Stat

  • 820

    Total B&C Typical Entries

  • 327 7/8"

    Taken by Luke Brewster in Edgar County in 2018 and ranks 3rd overall.

    Record B&C Non-Typical Stat

  • 665

    Record B&C Non-Typical Entries

Cody Tucker poses with his once-in-a-lifetime Illinois buck. Image courtesy of Cody Tucker

Season Dates (2021):

Archery season spans October 1 to January 16, with closed days in certain areas. Firearm season is November 19-21 and December 2-5. Muzzleloading-only season is December 10-12. Youth firearm season is October 9-11. Please check the Illinois DNR website to confirm season dates.

Grade: B

Looking solely at records, you’d have to give Illinois top honors. That isn’t the only factor, though. Tags are expensive. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) keeps coming and impacted different areas in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) continues to be a concern. And finding a place to hunt is no easy task. Fortunately, nonresident tags are available over-the-counter now. But like other top destinations, the secret of its glory has long since become common knowledge. People have flocked here for the last 20 to 25 years, and that isn’t changing anytime soon.

“General statewide population trends are stable — we manage deer at the county scale and we are working to reduce the population in some areas and increase it in others,” said Peter Schlichting, deer project manager for the Illinois DNR. “It’s hard to predict at this point, but with good rainfall this spring, we are expecting an average 2021 season, barring drought later in the summer.”

Interestingly, the DNR also makes it clear they don't manage for older bucks. “The Illinois DNR does not manage for trophy deer,” Schlichting said. “We leave that scale of management to individual landowners. With proper habitat management all areas in Illinois have the potential to grow trophy-class deer.”

Overall, there is a lot of good deer hunting in Illinois. You just might have to pay a little more for it. Plus, if you can find access to private land, chances are good it’ll be a honey hole. The Illinois DNR does a phenomenal job managing its herd. Harvest reports paint this picture and can even help plan a good hunt.

Antler Nation Knowledge:

More than 95% of Illinois is privately owned. Only about 900,000 acres are public, and fewer than 10,000 deer are taken on those acres each season. However, the DNR is good about managing what it does have. It even produces public hunting area reports every year. These are excellent tools for planning a potential hunt.

Despite not having a lot of public land, Illinois’ hundreds of public properties fall under a wide variety of categories. Don’t overlook Army Corps of Engineers land, wildlife management areas, fish and wildlife areas, national forests, natural areas, natural preserves, reserves, state habitat areas, state recreation areas, state parks, state forests, walk-in, etc.

“I can recommend several state sites that I see as up-and-coming or a good bet for hunters,” Schlichting said. “Dixon Springs State Park roughly doubled their huntable acreage last fall, providing more opportunities for our southern Illinois hunters. In northern Illinois, we were happy to open up Redwing Slough Lake to youth hunters last year. Our central hunters can take advantage of a multitude of public land along the Illinois River including Anderson Lake, Banner Marsh, Sand Ridge State Forest, and Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area.”

While the entire state of Illinois contributes heavily to the record books, central and northern counties are a little more consistent at doing so. Some of the top producers of Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young bucks include Adams, Brown, Cass, Clark, Calhoun, Edgar, Fulton, Jo Daviess, Kane, Knox, La Salle, Macoupin, Marshall, Ogle, Peoria, Pike, Schuyler, Lake, McDonough, McHenry, Will and Winnebago. Other counties are hot on their heels, though, especially some that border them.

There are a bunch of urban areas in northern Illinois, and CWD is most prevalent in this portion of the state. So, southern and central counties are likely the best places to avoid it. Fortunately, the southern two-thirds of the state contains healthy deer herds and solid deer densities.


Illinois Harvests

  • Eric Gwaltney

    Lasalle, Illinois

  • Richard Gaston

    Adams, Illinois

From the Realtree Trophy Den