The Key to Larger Bucks

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Most serious deer hunters have questions about the animals they hunt, and the questions often center on big bucks. Were deer larger in the past? Are big deer becoming more scarce? Why is it hunters see so many small-racked bucks?

Whether a deer population increases, decreases or remains stable depends on the balance between births and deaths. Deer reproductive rates in Missouri are high and deaths, in the absence of hunting, are generally low.

In most of Missouri, hunting is the leading cause of deer mortality. Each year hunters take 40 to 70 percent of the antlered bucks and up to 25 percent of the does. In most areas these harvest rates balance birth rates, resulting in nearly stable deer numbers from year to year. It is apparent, therefore, that hunting is the primary factor governing the abundance of deer.

The Conservation Department statewide deer management program attempts to keep the number of deer at levels high enough to provide adequate opportunity for hunters and people who enjoy watching deer. Conversely, numbers must be low enough to minimize crop damage and deer/vehicle accidents.

Of course, the public is not always in agreement about how many deer are too many or not enough. We monitor attitudes of the two groups - farm operators and hunters - most affected by deer abundance through periodic mail surveys. Results of these surveys serve as the basis for setting deer population goals.

Legal hunting is the best way to keep deer numbers at desirable levels. Doe harvests affect population change far more than buck harvests and control of doe harvests is necessary to avoid overharvest and to ensure an adequate harvest.

Deer in Missouri are managed on a unit basis. The state is divided into 57 deer management units. The Conservation Department annually sets a quota of any-deer permits in each unit. Any-deer permits allow the holder to harvest any sex or age of deer. Bonus permits, which restrict harvest to antlerless deer, are issued in units where quotas exceed applications for any-deer permits, and where a higher doe kill is needed.

We determine how many does we want taken out of each unit. Information gathered from computer models, public opinion, conservation agents, hunting statistics and deer/vehicle accidents are used to set harvest goals. We know, from past hunting seasons, the average success rates on any-deer and bonus permits and the percentage of does in the kill. Therefore, we can set quotas to

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