Evolution of Deer Management
harvest is to adjust the season length and timing. Hunting seasons historically occurred over very short time periods and coincided with the peak of the rut. Placing the November portion of the firearms season in the peak of the rut was an effective management tool that allowed the harvest of bucks during their most vulnerable time, while not limiting the growth of the population. Buck harvest during the November firearms portion is closely tied to the peak of the rut, with an earlier opening to the November portion tending to result in greater buck harvest than later openings. Additionally, there is evidence that antlerless harvest increases with a later season opening as hunting pressure shifts away from bucks to does. Now that deer populations are well established, our management strategy must shift away from one of increasing deer numbers toward managing for stable populations. Altering the opening of the November portion of the firearms season may contribute to our ability to manage for stable populations.
One common reason for lack of participation in the hunting season is time. Today, hunting seasons range over much longer periods and include a variety of methods. The expanded seasons allow for greater opportunities, as well as reducing hunter densities and conflicts.
The management of deer in our cities is one of the biggest management challenges in Missouri. Deer are extremely adaptable and are able to thrive in developed areas. Lack of hunter access and city ordinances against the discharge of bows and guns in urban areas limits our ability to use hunting to manage these populations. Department field staff work with city councils and other organizations to address these management issues and have been successful in increasing hunting opportunities in many urban communities. We will continue to look for new ways to manage urban deer populations.
Citizen Effort and Influence
Ultimately, landowners and hunters are the key to management of deer populations. They are the ones who control harvest and dictate local deer numbers. So developing hunting regulations that meet the needs of all Missourians is important. Dale McCullough, author of the wildlife management classic, The George Reserve Deer Herd, wrote that a successful manager “… will be dependent upon his ability to listen. His finger must seek the pulse of society, and not his own.”
The Conservation Department is teaming with groups of landowners and hunters to help manage deer populations. We place a great deal of value in, and devote a considerable amount of time and resources to, monitoring the attitudes of landowners and hunters. In addition to biological data, public meetings, scientific attitude surveys and comments taken by field staff all play an important role in the management decision-making process.
Successful deer management requires flexibility to changing conditions. It is important that we continue to anticipate changes in hunter participation and behavior, land access, and patterns of landownership, and acknowledge the increasing urbanization of the landscape. Declining numbers of hunters, limited access to deer on private lands and decreasing willingness of hunters to harvest antlerless deer present significant challenges to controlling deer populations in the future. Deer management must continue to evolve in order to meet those challenges.