By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Gunner Smith wasn't surprised by the deer harvest totals released by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
"We watched four trucks come out of a field with six hunters total and they had one deer," said Smith, an Ann Arbor, Mich., resident who leases land to hunt in Pike County. "I've never seen that happen in all the years I've hunted.
"One deer? It's usually six or seven. One is a mind-boggling number."
Numbers were low across the state.
The three-day opening weekend of the Illinois firearms deer hunting season resulted in just 55,708 deer being harvested, according to IDNR preliminary reports. That's a significant dropoff from the opening weekend in 2012 when 72,111 deer were taken.
Last year, hunters killed 99,546 deer during the seven-day firearms season.
"Weather conditions were difficult throughout most of the season, with some parts of the state seeing rain or snow, and virtually everywhere getting a taste of high winds and frigid temperatures," said Paul Shelton, IDNR forest wildlife program manager.
The wind seemed to be the biggest factor, especially in Pike and Adams Counties.
"Deer were bedding down and not moving," said Smith, who has hunted in Illinois for 20 years. "There has never been a season in which someone in our party didn't kill a trophy buck. This year, we're just worried about killing any deer.
"The wind was blowing so hard at times there was no way to avoid being scented. That's if the deer were moving enough to scent you. I saw three deer the entire weekend. I usually see that the first hour every morning."
Pike County still led the state with the highest harvest total of 1,535. However, Pike County topped the state in 2012 with 2,108 deer taken the opening weekend.
Rounding out the top five counties this year were Jackson (1,526), Randolph (1,436), Fulton (1,409) and Adams (1,393). Last year, Adams had 1,938 deer taken the opening weekend.
There were 1,183 deer harvested in Hancock County and 734 deer taken in Brown County last weekend.
"Everyone you talked to had issues with wind, cold and lack of deer," said Steve Smithson, who hunts in Brown County. "We saw so many deer on our trail cams, and then we saw nothing once the season got here. Circumstances were just bad."
The second part of the seven-day firearms season opens Thursday.
The three-day muzzleloader-only season runs Dec. 13-15, and the seven-day split late winter antlerless-only season runs Dec. 26-29 and Jan. 17-19.