White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were once so rare that in the early 1900s, Illinois State Museum curators had to arrange to get specimens from Wisconsin for exhibit. Unregulated shooting, changes in land use, and other factors combined to all but eliminate deer from the state by the turn of the last century. Lawmakers hurriedly passed the first game laws, but it was too late. Hunting seasons were closed, and it would be 50 years before White-tailed Deer recovered sufficiently for the first modern hunting season to be instituted in 1957.
Today, you can find a doe and fawn that are more than 100 years old in the Changes Exhibit at the main Museum campus. In 1914, curators wrote about that first deer display in a guide to the Illinois State Museum’s exhibits. They noted the many qualities that helped deer survive, including their speed and jumping ability. “When alarmed, they flee with marvelous bounds at wonderful speed. But alas, their agility has not enabled them to escape extermination from the fields and forests of Illinois.”
The comeback of the White-tailed Deer is truly a conservation success story. Today, hunters help manage deer populations through regulated hunting seasons. For more information, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a website devoted to White-tailed Deer biology and management.