Evolution of Deer Management
Deer hunting regulations in Missouri have changed a great deal since 1944, when 7,757 hunters harvested 519 bucks during a two-day buck-only season. Today there are approximately 500,000 deer hunters in Missouri harvesting nearly 300,000 deer annually. The Conservation Department’s deer management goal is to maintain a statewide deer population level that provides adequate opportunities for hunters and for people who enjoy watching deer, but low enough to minimize crop/landscape damage and deer-vehicle accidents. This goal hasn’t changed, but as deer populations and public attitudes toward deer have changed, so have management strategies.
Aldo Leopold wrote, “Few biological arts depend as much on ingenuity and resourcefulness as the art of game management.” Managing a deer population is about more than the biology and ecology of the species; it is the art of balancing the needs of society within the realities of the natural world.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s several efforts to restore deer numbers were made, but they were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until the formation of the first Conservation Commission in 1937 that restoration efforts began to bear fruit. One of the first actions of that commission was to prohibit deer hunting. Finally, in 1944, with an estimated population of 15,000 deer, a two-day forked-horn, buck-only firearms season was held.
Antlerless harvest is the most effective tool for managing deer numbers. As deer populations in Missouri steadily increased, biologists began to liberalize seasons to control the rate at which deer populations grew. The liberalization of the antlerless harvest has driven many of the regulations changes over the past couple of decades. Today we have antlerless permits in nearly every county including an antlerlessonly season. The general trend has been to make antlerless permits more accessible and increase hunting opportunities.
Antlerless permits have been successful in reducing deer numbers in many rural areas. Deer overabundance is less of an issue in rural Missouri than it has been in the past, although hot and cold spots continue to occur. On the local level, deer numbers are affected by the number of hunters, patterns of land ownership, access to hunting land, posted property, etc. Outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, an irregularly occurring event, can also play a big role in reducing local deer populations. We estimate that up to 20 percent of the deer herd was lost in some areas during past outbreaks. Some of the areas hit hard by the 2007