Managing the Herd
36 years to 42. In addition, it's known that older hunters tend to take fewer deer. These trends are a source of some concern for deer managers because it means that in the future we will likely have fewer hunters taking fewer deer.
In addition, deer hunting preferences appear to be changing. In the past, most hunters were satisfied with the opportunity just to take a deer - any deer. Today, however, more hunters want the opportunity to take older bucks.
In the face of these challenges, deer managers are looking for ways to shift harvest pressure from antlered deer (bucks) to antlerless deer (does) so we can more effectively manage deer numbers. This shift would also have the benefit of allowing more bucks to grow older.
It's important that any new regulations have the endorsement and support of hunters and landowners. To give hunters and landowners a chance to express their opinions, the Department of Conservation conducted public meetings around the state. At these meetings, they presented the challenges we face and offered the following five management options that wildlife biologists believe would shift harvest pressure from bucks to does.
- Antler Restrictions - Would limit the harvest of bucks to only those with specific antler characteristics.
- Earn-a-Buck - Would require hunters to take an antlerless deer before taking an antlered deer.
- Buck Quota - Would limit the number of permits valid for antlered deer.
- Reduced-Length Buck Season - Would limit the time when antlered deer could be taken.
- Altered Season Timing - Would move the main portion of the firearms deer season out of the peak of the rut.
At the meetings, an open microphone provided everyone with the opportunity to voice their opinion. All comments and suggestions were recorded. Attendees also had the opportunity to interact one-on-one with Department personnel, including, at some meetings, Director John D. Hoskins, Deputy Director John W. Smith and members of the Regulations Committee.
Although each option had its supporters, some of the presented options were more popular than others. People who attended the meetings also were encouraged to offer their own ideas for shifting harvest pressure from bucks to does. Comment cards were also available. Many hunters later offered their opinions via letters, telephone calls and e-mails.
The meetings were well attended and showed that Missouri deer hunters and landowners have a wide range of views when it comes to deer management. Whatever option or options we choose as a result of these meetings will likely disappoint some people.
Biologists are evaluating the public response to the various management options and are formulating their recommendations for the 2004 deer hunting seasons. The regulatory options chosen likely will not be made statewide. Instead, they will be tested at pilot locations that have yet to be finalized.
Once the new regulations have been approved and implemented, the project will be monitored continuously so that we can make necessary adjustments during the trial. Harvest data and other information from the test area will be compared with non-test areas. Surveys will measure hunter and landowner attitudes before, during, and after the trial. At the conclusion of the test period, a complete and thorough evaluation will be made to determine if the new strategy should be implemented on a broader scale.
The recommendations for the 2004 deer hunting seasons will be presented to the Regulations Committee for their approval later this month and then to the Conservation Commission for final approval. After the Commission has approved the seasons, the public will be notified about all aspects of the experiment, including which option was selected and why, as well as when and where it will be tested, and other details.
Regardless of how regulations change, it is imperative that any changes maintain our deer hunting traditions and the high value Missourians place on deer. Any changes must also ensure that hunting continues to be an effective tool for managing our valuable white-tailed deer.