turkey were the focus of the Department’s major restoration efforts. The Department developed deer refuges with food plots and protected these areas from wildfire, overgrazing and poaching. Deer herds responded dramatically.
By 1944, Missouri’s deer population increased to an estimated 15,000, and a bucks-only deer season reopened in 20 southern counties. That year, 7,557 resident hunters harvested 583 deer. In 1959, deer season reopened in all Missouri counties, ushering in a new focus of deer management to maintain desirable population levels. Today, Missouri offers some of the best deer hunting in the country. In recent years, nearly 500,000 gun and bow hunters typically harvest around 300,000 deer annually.
“Deer management today is about managing for stable populations at socially acceptable levels,” says Jason Sumners, MDC resource scientist. “About 93 percent of Missouri’s land is in private ownership. As a result, landowners hold the key to managing deer numbers in rural Missouri. MDC works with landowners to help them achieve their deer management goals.”
Today, Missouri is also one of the top wild turkey hunting states in the country, but this was not always the case. Back in 1938, turkey season was closed because there were so few birds. In 1952, the final tracts of what would become the Peck Ranch Conservation Area were acquired for turkey restoration. From 1954 to 1979, turkeys trapped at Peck Ranch and other areas of the state were relocated to 142 sites in 87 counties. Missouri’s modern turkey season began when the spring turkey season reopened in 1960, during which 698 hunters bagged 94 birds. Fall archery season reopened in 1975, and the first fall firearms season followed in 1978.
Missouri’s wild turkey restoration program is a huge success, and today, Missouri’s turkey population is estimated to be about 500,000 birds strong. All 114 counties now have stable turkey populations that allow hunting, and 101 of these counties have wild turkeys that can be traced back to restocking efforts. In 2011, more than 50,000 birds were harvested.
Past Successes Lead to a Broader Conservation Base
As Missouri’s deer and turkey populations were successfully recovering, it was apparent that many other plants and animals benefited from the improved habitat. “In the early years, those key species were so deficient in numbers that they demanded attention,” says Deputy Director Tim Ripperger. “But as the conservation field has matured, we began to recognize that those game species represent