(The Center Square) – For the first time in modern Illinois history, deer hunters were allowed to use single-shot centerfire rifles in 2023 during deer firearm season.
Hunting instructor Dan Stephens, a recruiter with Illinois Learn to Hunt, said that preteen hunters and folks with shoulder issues are two groups who are prime buyers for the now-legal-for-hunting centerfire rifles. Buyers with smaller frames and buyers who don’t like the recoil that comes with standard shotguns now have a choice that may suit them better, he said.
“I’m really interested to see the breakdown … to see if Illinois hunters are switching to one of these modern rifles that are now allowable,” Stephens said. “Or are they sticking with the old tried and true shotguns? That data is going to be really neat when it is released.”
An informal poll of check stations on the opening day of firearm deer season this year found that 15% to 20% of hunters who brought in a deer this year said that they had used a centerfire rifle, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The totals were even higher for young hunters during youth deer season in October.
Dan Skinner of IDNR told the Sun-Times that upward of 30% of youth hunters said they used such rifles during this year’s youth season. Two of the more popular centerfire rifles are the .350 Legend and the .450 Bushmaster, Skinner said.
Youth Deer Season is only open to hunters who have not reached their 18th birthday before the opening day of the season.
As an instructor for the Illinois Learn to Hunt program, Stephens hosts a lot of mentored hunts throughout the state, giving people different deer hunting opportunities. He is pleased when students who take the Learn to Hunt workshops and video courses find success on their own.
“It was a pretty good season for many of our new hunters. That is always quite a pleasure to see,” he said.
This season, Stephens went deer hunting with his wife in Vermillion County. His wife bagged her first buck with a shotgun, he said proudly. For her, the shotgun recoil is no problem.
“We’re still rockin’ the trusty shotgun and it worked out well,” Stephens said. The Stephens hunt to put food on the table and to be able to enjoy the outdoors with their family and friends, he said. He isn’t ready to put out the money for a new rifle just yet.
The legislation permitting Illinoisans to hunt with centerfire rifles was carefully written, Stephens explained.
“These are single-shot rifles that have very specific caliber restrictions,” he said. “There are restrictions on the overall length of the cartridge.”
As the years go by, Stephens expects more people to switch to centerfire rifles.
As an average-sized male, Stephens can usually pick up any firearm and it fits him quite well, he said. But for women and younger hunters, that is not the case. He recommends that people attend an IDNR wing shooting clinic where certified instructors give people the opportunity to try out a plethora of different firearms.
“That way you can see what you like about each … which one fits better … what kind of recoil you can manage,” he said.
Find an IDNR wing shooting clinic near you by typing “Illinois wing shooting clinic” in a search engine, Stephens said.