If a person violates Illinois’ hunting laws, they risk fines of $1,000 or more and the loss of their hunting license.
In 2022, Illinois Conservation police issued more than 1,600 violation citations. Most of those violations were for deer hunters.
Gary Westjohn teaches hunter safety and ethics in Effingham. He told The Center Square that a lot of hunters plead ignorance of the law.
“Not knowing the laws is no excuse,” Westjohn said. “People should be aware of what they are hunting and how to do it legally.”
People in Illinois who are born after 1980 are required to complete a 10-hour hunter safety certification course before they can buy a hunting license. Online courses are available, but Westjohn believes there is no substitute for in-person, hands-on training.
“You can watch YouTube, but that is like watching videos to learn science. People need hands-on experience to really learn and enjoy hunting,” Westjohn said.
The most common hunting violation in Illinois is killing whitetail deer without the valid permits or out of season. Getting caught with an illegally-taken antlered deer means a $1,000 fine per deer and an additional $500 per antler point.
Kill an antlered whitetail deer with 11 or more antler points illegally, and get slapped with a serious liability – $1,000 per antlered deer, plus $750 per antler point. Illegally capturing or killing a 14-point buck means a whopping $11,500 in fines.
The second most cited hunting violation in Illinois is using bait, like corn and salt licks, to attract deer.
“Ethically, it’s wrong because you go out to hunt – not just to shoot an animal,” Westjohn said. “Study the woods and the prairies and you’ll have a successful hunt.”
Chronic Wasting Disease is a growing concern for Illinois’ white-tailed deer population. In the wild, deer are solitary creatures. Putting out food for deer is like having a COVID party for them, Westjohn said. CWD spreads very easily through saliva, urine and feces when deer gather in one spot. It stays infectious in the soil for many years.
A common rule that hunters on the lazy side break is failing to unload a gun and put it in a zipped up or latch-secured case when transporting the gun in a vehicle. It is illegal to have a loaded hunting gun in any vehicle – even a four-wheeler, a boat or a side-by-side, Westjohn said.
“The gun must be unloaded. The case has to be completely closed and fastened,” he said
The citation costs $100 or $200.
“Spend $10 or $20 on a gun case that fits the gun,” Westjohn said.
Some deer hunters don’t realize that they can be cited for loading their weapons prior to hunting times, Westjohn said.
“No ammunition in the gun prior to sunrise. The weapon must be unloaded one hour after sunset,” he said. “Going to the stand, coming from the hunting place, the weapons have to be unloaded.”
Hunters rationalize that they are only going a short distance, but they are violating the law, Westjohn said.
“Get caught and get hit with a fine,” he said.
Spotlighting is another common hunting violation that is cited. Shining a light in a deer’s eyes at night and shooting it is poaching. It is illegal. The animals are temporarily blinded. They are easy to shoot because they stand still.
“Ethical hunters don’t spotlight,” Westjohn said.
For a list of hunting rules and regulations, visit Hunt Illinois on the IDNR website.
***Courtesy of the Illinois Radio Network***