Editor's note: This story includes a correction that was made Nov. 29, 2018.
CHARLESTON -- Deer populations this year have already made for a good hunting season for hunters in the Coles County area, according to officials.
Every year since the regional outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in white-tailed deer in 2012, the local populations have been growing and this year is no different.
According to the Illinois Department of Resources, 2012 was the worst year for EHD in Illinois, when 2,043 cases were reported from 76 counties. In 2013, the IDNR received reports of 403 cases from 51 counties. EHD was virtually absent in 2014 and at low levels in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
The disease devastated a good chunk of the local population and since then, that population has rebounded making for a fruitful hunting season.
The first half of the firearm hunting season started ahead of Thanksgiving, and already numbers are promising. Illinois hunters took nearly 59,000 deer during the first weekend of this fall's firearm deer season, according to the Associated Press.
Bryan Eubanks, a local wildlife biologist with the IDNR, said the "harvest," or the amount of deer hunted this season, is already "well ahead of pace" from last year.
Last year, 641 deer were killed in Coles County for the archery season, Eubanks said. This year, that number has already reached 585. Eubanks explained high harvest rates correlate to higher deer populations as a whole, meaning hunting trips have likely been more successful this year.
Along with the higher number of deer in the area, Eubanks said the deer are better.
"We are starting to see better deer, and we are starting to see better age structures," Eubanks said. "So, you are seeing older deer for trophy buck potential. As you start seeing older deer, you start seeing bigger antlered deer, which is what a lot of people are after."
John Stewart, Stewart's Archery owner, could attest to that. He said this year especially, more customers coming in are mentioning a higher class of deer. Stewart explained deer in the 3.5- to 5-year-old deer are choice hunts. These deer have developed significant antlers.
"Guys have had a lot more luck harvesting," he said.
Stewart pointed out the archery season took a hit, though. Much of the archery kills take place in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, and the way that date fell on the calendar, the first part of the archery season lost several days. The archery harvest numbers will still likely be higher, he said.
Stewart noted he had not gotten a deer, but his son has.
"When he has success, Dad has success," he said.
For years, the hunting community has been waiting for the populations to recoup following the severe dip in deer populations from the outbreak, and it looks like the population is getting to that point. Eubanks said this year, there have only been a few cases in the area.
Across the state, there are still swaths of the deer populations that still got hit. This year, more than 430 white-tailed deer are suspected to have died from the infectious disease in Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reported.
According to INDR, officials have received reports of EHD appearing at low to moderate levels in counties on or near the Illinois River including Fulton, McDonough, Peoria and Putnam.
Scattered suspected EHD cases have also been reported in the central and southern Illinois counties of Alexander, Macon, Madison, Marion, Monroe, Perry, Pope, Randolph, Richland, Union, Wabash, Wayne and Williamson, IDNR reported.
Along with the number of deer, the archery shop owner said the weather, which plays a big factor, was perfect for the first round of hunting season, a luxury that won't be afforded to hunters on the second round.
"Better wear a raincoat," Stewart said.
Hunters will be out Thursday until Sunday for the second half of the firearm season, and much of the weekend will be rainy. According to the national weather service, there is a 30 percent chance of rain, mainly after midnight.
And on Friday and Saturday, hunters can expect high chances of rain showers throughout the day.
Late-winter antlerless-only deer season, as well as CWD deer season — in counties where chronic wasting disease has been found in deer — runs Dec. 27-30 and Jan. 18-20, 2019.
Archery deer season continues through Jan. 20, 2019. But archery season shuts down Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 in counties where there is firearm hunting, according to an AP report.
Contact Jarad Jarmon at (217) 238-6839. Follow him on Twitter: @JJarmonReporter