Landowners and Deer
White-tailed deer are the favorite wild animal of many Missourians. It’s always a thrill to see one and, through the years, we’re seeing more and more of them. They now live in every county of Missouri and have spread out from our forests to our suburbs, cities, parks, gardens and farm fields.
Because most of Missouri’s deer are on private land, wildlife managers have to team with landowners to maintain a healthy deer population. Especially important in these partnerships are agricultural producers. Their crop fields can fuel large increases in deer numbers, and they are most affected by the results of having too many deer.
The Conservation Department recommends harvesting deer, especially does, during established seasons as the most effective management tool for landowners to control deer numbers.
In the past three years, the Missouri Conservation Commission has made significant changes to the regulations to help individual landowners control and regulate deer numbers on their property. More liberal antlerless permits, additional seasons, extended seasons, and the Telecheck system all make management easier for landowners.
It is possible for landowners to keep deer densities compatible with other land objectives while at the same time gaining recreational and economic value from deer and deer hunting.
The Brinker Example
Brinker Farms, located near Auxvasse in Callaway County, has developed ways to make the most of the deer that populate the approximately 3,200 acres under the family’s control. The farm, a partnership between Brinker brothers Kenny, Ronnie and Dale, includes both row crop production and a livestock operation.
The farm is in the transition zone between the rolling prairies, grasslands and vast row crop fields to the north and the heavily forested river hills to the south and east along the Missouri River.
The extensive row crop production provides plenty of waste grain for the deer. The Brinkers annually install food plots such as ladino clover and oats where soils are less productive and in areas difficult to farm. This can help concentrate deer for harvest.
Like many agricultural producers, Brinker Farms occasionally has trouble with deer along crop field edges, in the backyard garden, and in the pumpkin and strawberry patch. However, the family has become involved in deer management and enjoys the recreational benefits and family bonds established when spending time together in pursuit of deer.
“Deer do cause problems on the farm,” Kenny Brinker said, “We just consider it a part of our operation and make the best of them. Besides, the whole family enjoys seeing deer, and we take rides nearly every evening to look for deer.”
Some landowners in Missouri reap economic benefits by leasing their land for deer hunting, but the Brinkers have chosen to make their farm available for family and friends to hunt. About 13 hunters annually hunt deer on the property.
The Brinkers emphasize youth hunting and the taking of antlerless deer. In fact, the Brinker farm rule is that a hunter can only harvest a buck if it is larger than any buck previously harvested by that individual on the farm.
“When our sons were younger,” Susan Brinker said, “this rule gave Cody and Travis a chance to harvest almost any deer that happened along, which was good for the boys in their early days. The same rule now provides a goal for the family, increases the competitive spirit of our hunts, and annually lets us see the rewards of our management efforts.”
Kenny estimates that the brothers’ families and friends harvest 15 to 20 deer annually on the farm between bow hunting, rifle hunting and late antlerless-only seasons. The family enjoys making sausage from the deer they harvest, so taking multiple deer is not a problem.
If their family and friends don’t take enough deer, Missouri landowners can usually find other hunters eager to harvest deer from their land. When granting permission to hunt, landowners are encouraged to set guidelines that restrict the size or number of bucks or antlerless deer that may be harvested.
The Antlerless Debate
Some deer hunters and landowners hold fast to the notion that harvesting antlerless deer is a mistake and only bucks or antlered deer should be taken. We were talking about the upcoming deer season at my local barbershop one recent Saturday morning, for example, and the conversation quickly turned to deer numbers. It wasn’t long before someone mentioned deer damage in their backyard garden. I casually suggested harvesting antlerless deer as a way of keeping the population in check.
To my surprise, one guy emphatically said, “There will be no does taken on my property this year.”
Missouri’s social traditions for deer hunting are long-standing. Hunter attitudes are hard to change. Landowners can become more involved and help in efforts to strengthen the genetics of the herd over the long term. Harvesting antlerless deer is the key to deer management, especially population control.
Although many hunters refuse to consider antlerless deer as “trophies,” I submit that there is no finer table fare than an adult or yearling doe properly prepared and cooked. If you’ve got too much of a good thing, you can help the less fortunate by donating venison through the Share the Harvest Program (for more information, visit www.missouriconservation.org/9032).
The Department of Conservation can provide technical assistance in helping you manage the deer on your farm or ranch. Contact your regional Conservation Department office with questions regarding landowner deer permits, deer hunting or habitat management options for your property.
The Department sets deer seasons and sets limits on the number and gender of deer harvested, but landowners have freedom to work within those regulations to meet the deer management needs of their property.
It’s important to remember that under most conditions, increasing the antlerless deer harvest will improve the health of your deer herd and help keep the population in check. The three families involved with Brinker farms have learned this and will continue to be active in controlling and enjoying deer populations on the farm for years to come.