Deer hunters need the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Just as the IDNR needs deer hunters.

Even at the best, it’s tricky, in part because deer hunters themselves have divergent aims: the loudest group of the mature-buck targeting bowhunters (who also spend the most days in the field) to largest group of shotgun hunters looking to put venison in the freezer.

That IDNR-deer hunter relationship has been extra strained for more than a decade. One, the IDNR has used intensive methods (particularly culling) to contain the spread of chronic wasting disease. Two, shortly after the harvest peak in 2005-06, the state formed a statewide plan to reduce the herd. Harvest has gone down.

A week ago, the overall harvest (144,150) for Illinois deer seasons in 2016-17 came out with the lowest total since the peak (201,209) in 2005-06; and down seven percent from 155,229 in 2015-16. Click here to look at harvest breakdowns in recent years.

The usual storm of comments/complaints came with that low harvest. Some were valid, some were B.S. from hunters thinking the deer herd should only be managed for hunters.

Deer have impact on Illinois’ entire population, hunters and non-hunters. Yes, insurance companies have a voice in deer management. Just as agribusiness and the Farm Bureau do, too. And the IDNR absolutely has to manage it that way.

But.

There’s something galling when the primary data-based measure of deer management seems related to insurance companies: vehicle-deer accidents per vehicle mile.

I would like to play Henry Kissinger (younger crowd should think John Kerry).

What I would suggest is a 20-mile observation route in all 102 counties in Illinois. This would be similar to the annual assessments of populations of pheasants, rabbits and quail.

I would suggest a late summer (Wednesday before Labor Day) and a pre-rut route (third Wednesday in October) to begin establishing another data base, a measure other than hunter harvest and deer-vehicle accidents.

In an ideal world, there would be money for the Illinois Natural History Survey to fly aerial deer surveys statewide annually, similar to the waterfowl counts during fall migration. But the funding is not there.

Even with the low staffing at the IDNR, I think this is important enough that some combination of biologists and conservation police officers could drive 102 county routes and begin building another data base on the deer herd.

At the same time, hunters have an ethical responsibility of our own. Pulling the trigger or releasing the arrow is an individual decision. If you only saw a dozen deer during the shotguns seasons and still shot three, in my view, the right to bitch about management of Illinois’ deer herd was lost.

The IDNR and deer hunters are in a long-term relationship.

IN MEMORY: Mike Zielinski, who contributed reports on Geneva Lake, drowned while ice fishing on Jan. 24 on Geneva. Donations may be made in Mr. Zielinski’s name to the wildlife rehabilitation organization, Fellow Mortals in Lake Geneva, Wis.

STRAY CAST: A child dabbles by the water’s edge throwing one stone in, pulling two stones out, until the stones are gone, shiners scattered and water muddied.