Hunting Deer With Rifles In Illinois

Starting January 1, 2023,  Illinois will allow deer hunters to start using rifles to deer hunt.  But, there are some stipulations.

Illinois DNR tweet about rifle deer huntingPer a tweet by the Illinois DNR on August 25, 2022, there is a new law that will allow rifles to be used for deer hunting in Illinois.  This is big news for hunters in IL as we have been limited to shotgun slugs, muzzleloaders, and pistols for as long as I can remember.  But this doesn’t just open the doors to all rifles.  Illinois is going to let us use rifles, but not without some rules.

The following information can be viewed from the FAQ page mentioned in the tweet from Illinois DNR

When can I hunt deer with a single-shot rifle in Illinois?

Public Act 102-0932 is effective Jan. 1, 2023. Until then, rifles (except muzzleloading rifles) may not be used to hunt deer. Specific information on when rifles will be allowed during deer season will be established by administrative rule. Follow this link for proposed and adopted administrative rules.

What calibers are legal for rifles in Illinois?

Effective Jan. 1, 2023, the legal calibers for single-shot rifles are:

  • a bottleneck centerfire cartridge of .30 caliber or larger with a case length not exceeding one and two-fifths inches, OR
  • a straight-walled centerfire cartridge of .30 caliber or larger.
  • Both must be available as a factory load with the published ballistic tables of the manufacturer showing a capability of at least 500-foot pounds of energy at the muzzle.
  • Full-metal jacket bullets may not be used to harvest deer.

These caliber specifications are the same that hunters may be familiar with for handgun deer hunting in previous years. The barrel of a handgun shall be at least 4 inches.

legal deer hunting rifle calibers

What rifles are legal to use in Illinois?

Effective Jan. 1, 2023, single-shot rifles may be used to hunt deer in a caliber meeting the law’s criteria.

“Single shot” means a gun that is either manufactured or modified to only be capable of holding a total of one round in the magazine and chamber combined.

“Single shot” does not include a rifle in the possession of a person who is also in possession of or in close proximity to a magazine that would allow the rifle to be capable of holding more than one round or a revolver.

A rifle shall be considered a single shot if there is no magazine in possession of or in close proximity to a hunter in the field and the gun can only hold a total of one round.

Can I use a lever-action/bolt-action/pump-action/semi-automatic rifle for hunting deer in Illinois?

Effective Jan. 1, 2023, any rifle chambered in a legal caliber and either manufactured or modified to be a single shot (capable of holding only one round in the magazine and chamber combined) may be used to hunt deer.

A gun shall be considered a single shot if there is no magazine in the possession of or in close proximity to a hunter in the field, and the gun can only hold a total of one round.

Modification of a rifle originally manufactured as a repeater (a lever action/bolt action/pump action/semi-automatic, etc.) to a single shot can take many forms, including but not limited to:

  • not having the detachable magazine in possession or close proximity,
  • removing internal magazine springs and followers,
  • using a plug to block the magazine tube,
  • purchasing “0 round” magazines,
  • or modifying the receiver or internal magazine of the rifle.

Hunters may not be in possession of or in close proximity to a magazine that is capable of making a rifle not a single-shot firearm.

So what does this all mean?

You can see in the list above, your list of actual rifle ammo is pretty short and you would think that your only option is going out and picking up a single shot to use.  But as mentioned in the question about types of rifles, notice the part about “modified” rifles.  What this means is you can take your existing rifle (in a legal caliber) and modify it to be a single shot.  For a tube-fed lever or pump action, just put a full-length plug rod in the tube so it won’t accept any rounds.  For a semi-auto or bolt action, you can use a mag block so it won’t accept any stored rounds. These are all tricks that pistol hunters have been using the last few years to modify their AR pistols to be able to hunt.  That is again if they are in the legal deer hunting calibers.

Are you pumped about this new law or bummed?  I can see both sides.  For me, I love having the options but I know a lot of people are going to complain, especially the bow hunters.  That’s a whole different topic.  I’ll be doing as much research on this as possible but I think the DNR explains everything very well.  Just hope everyone actually reads the rules.

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