Missouri’s deer hunting outlook is mixed this year, largely due to last year’s extreme heat and drought.
Water scarcity contributed to greater-than-normal deer mortality from epizootic hemorrhagic disease and the closely related disease commonly known as blue-tongue. Losses were significant in many areas, but spotty. Parts of some counties will have fewer deer this year, while deer numbers remain fairly stable in the surrounding area.
The drought also reduced acorn production in many areas. This forced deer to move around more to find food, causing them to be more visible to hunters. As a result, last year’s total deer harvest of 309,929 was the third-largest on record. That is likely to further depress deer numbers in areas hit hardest by hemorrhagic diseases.
Hemorrhagic disease losses varied drastically by region. Northwest and southwest Missouri were especially hard-hit, while losses in most southeast Missouri counties were insignificant. Wherever you hunt, if you see fewer deer this year, consider passing up shots at does if you want to rebuild deer numbers in your area.
Hunters also can help protect the state’s deer herd from a different threat, chronic wasting disease (CWD). They can do this by careful processing and disposal of deer carcasses. Avoid cutting through bones, the spine, or brain. The spleen, located next to the stomach near the center of the body cavity, should be avoided, too. If you hunt somewhere other than home, bring knives and containers so you can quarter the animal, removing the front and hind legs from the spine. Remove loins, back straps, and other usable meat and send the spine, internal organs, and head to a state-approved landfill. If landfill disposal isn’t practical, bury the carcass deep enough that scavengers can’t dig it up.
Trophy deer require different treatment. Taxidermists use artificial forms to create mounts, so there is no reason to keep the skull, which could carry CWD. When removing the cape from the carcass, also skin the head. Use a power saw to remove the antlers along with a small portion of the skull that joins them. Clean the inside of the skull plate with chlorine bleach before leaving the area where the deer was taken.
Detailed information about CWD prevention is found on pages 2 through 5 of the 2013 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet. The booklet is available from permit vendors or online at mdc.mo.gov/node/3656.
If you haven’t checked the sights on your deer rifle, now is the time, and a Conservation Department shooting range is the place. To provide citizens with safe and convenient places to shoot, MDC offers more than 70 unstaffed shooting ranges throughout the state. For safety reasons, these designated ranges are the only places on conservation areas where target shooting is allowed.The Conservation Department also manages five staffed shooting ranges.Some are accessible to shooters with mobility impairments. Many have multiple shooting stations with covered shooting benches, target holders, and other amenities. To find one near you, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/6209.
The Conservation Federation of Missouri once again is asking deer hunters to help feed thousands of Missourians who are having trouble making ends meet.
Share the Harvest is a citizen-led program that lets hunters donate whole deer by simply dropping them off at participating meat processors. Contributions from sponsors pay for processing most whole-deer donations. Each year, Share the Harvest puts nearly 2 million servings of lean, healthful venison on the tables of Missourians in need. Conservation Federation of Missouri’s goal this year is 2.5 million servings to feed Missouri’s hungry.
To learn how and where to donate deer through Share the Harvest, call 573-634-2322, or visit mdc.mo.gov/node/2544. Participating meat processors also are listed in the 2013 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold, or at mdc.mo.gov/node/3656.
What costs $7, lasts 12 months, and makes you smarter and happier every day? If you guessed the Conservation Department’s Natural Events Calendar, go to the head of the line and buy a copy of the 2014 edition. Next year’s calendar goes on sale this month at conservation nature centers and regional offices statewide. It includes photos of an immature bald eagle on the wing, a red fox returning to its den with two voles in its mouth, a night scene at Castor River Shut-Ins, a painterly depiction of snow-dusted oaks at Kansas City’s Swope Park, and the pyrotechnic flowers of sensitive briar. These are just a few of the dozens of startling images of plants, animals, and landscapes that grace the pages of next year’s calendar. Of course, daily notes about seasonal happenings outdoors remain among the calendar’s top attractions. Added features next year include a “Get Out and Explore” section with photos from spectacular places you might want to visit and a guide to introducing children to nature. The calendar sells for $7 per copy, plus shipping and handling and sales tax where applicable. You also can buy copies by calling toll-free 877-521-8632 or through The Nature Shop, mdcnatureshop.com.
Former Conservation Commission Chairman John B. Mahaffey died Aug. 2 at age 86. A native of St. Joseph and a long-time Springfield resident, Mahaffey served on the Conservation Commission from 1982 through 1988. He was a courageous defender of science-based conservation. Early in his term as conservation commissioner, he voted to approve a staff recommendation to require nontoxic shot for waterfowl hunting. This made Missouri a national leader in preventing lead poisoning of waterfowl and predators — most notable bald eagles — that suffered from second-hand exposure to lead toxicity. He stood by that decision in the face of intense pressure. Thanks in part to his and his fellow conservation commissioners’ leadership, nontoxic shot now is required for waterfowl hunting nationwide.
The outlook for duck hunters is mixed this year, with ducks still abundant but Show-Me State waterfowl habitat conditions spotty.
This year’s survey of breeding ducks in the eastern survey area showed increases in all six of the most abundant species. Mallards showed a 22-percent increase compared to last year and were up 25 percent from the long-term average. Overall, the survey showed 45.6 million breeding ducks, which is 33 percent above the long-term average and nearly the same as last year’s figure.
While these numbers are promising, the quality of hunting in Missouri depends heavily on two other factors. The first — weather during the hunting season — is impossible to predict. The second — habitat conditions — could change between now and the season opener, but some parts of the picture are known now. Regardless of how many ducks come south this fall, if Missouri wetlands lack food or water, those birds will continue to fly south, leaving Missouri marshes empty and hunters disappointed.
Flooding affected the growth of crops and natural vegetation on several of the Conservation Department’s 18 intensively managed wetland areas. Floods also damaged levees, pumps, roads, and other critical infrastructure on some of these areas. Other wetland areas had the opposite problem, with drought reducing the growth of crops and seed-producing plants. Areas most affected were:
Areas reporting normal water conditions in early August included Montrose, Nodaway Valley, Bob Brown, Fountain Grove, B.K. Leach, Otter Slough, Ten Mile Pond, and Little River. However, Bob Brown and Nodaway Valley, as well as Settles Ford, all reported that continued drought could affect their ability to pump water into wetland pools.
Grand Pass reported good moist-soil vegetation, but only fair crop growth. Normal water levels are expected in wetland pools by hunting season. Summer flooding wiped out crops at Coon Island, but it still has fair to good moist-soil vegetation.
More detailed information about hunting conditions at state-owned wetlands is available at mdc.mo.gov/node/9627. For information about this year’s duck and goose population surveys, see http://bit.ly/12AgOjx.Duck numbers are up this year, but the quality of hunting in Missouri also depends on weather and habitat conditions.
At its August meeting, the Conservation Commission set waterfowl hunting seasons and bag limits. Details are available in the 2013–2014 Waterfowl Hunting Digest, which is available at Conservation Department offices, permit vendors, or at mdc.mo.gov/node/303. The general structure of this year’s waterfowl season is similar to last year. Exceptions include:
By any standard, the odyssey of a radio-collared prairie chicken hen through southern Iowa and northern Missouri was an epic journey. Bird No. 112 entered a trap in Nebraska and became part of efforts to restore greater prairie chickens to Missouri and Iowa. She was released just north of the state line near Bethany, Mo. on April 4.
Being transported to a new home seems to have kindled wanderlust in the 2.5-pound bird. She immediately set off on a four-month, 1,165-mile ramble, to the amazement of biologists who tracked her progress with a GPS collar.
Bird No. 112 first headed north, then looped south into Missouri, and then back north into Iowa. Next, she paid a visit to St. Joseph, roughly 75 miles from her release site, then flew 125 miles east-northeast past Kirksville, headed back northwest for a tour of the bridges of Madison County, Iowa, and then paid second visits to St. Joseph and Trenton, Mo. July 29 found No. 112 settled down — at last — on an expanse of prairie near Kent, Iowa.
When European settlers arrived in Missouri, the state had hundreds of thousands of prairie chickens. Today, the Show-Me State has only about 100 of the birds. They are a mix of natives and birds brought in from other states in an effort to maintain the species here. Iowa had lost its native prairie chickens entirely by the 1950s. It now has only reintroduced birds.
The prairie chicken’s decline is mainly the result of habitat loss. Less than 1 percent of Missouri’s native grassland remains. But with hardy birds like No. 112, Missouri and Iowa have a shot at reclaiming this part of our natural heritage… if we can get them to sit still long enough to nest.
Dakota Lynch, of Barnhart, Mo., captured this picture of a flower spider eating a fly. Flower spiders are types of crab spiders that live in flowers and capture prey simply by grabbing and biting it. “As I was walking through the woods near our home admiring the blooming goldenrod, I noticed a fly on one of the flowers,” says Lynch. “Upon closer examination, however, I realized this fly was actually in the process of being eaten by a small spider.” Lynch is an avid hunter and photographer. “One thing photography has taught me is to look beyond what is obvious,” says Lynch. “It’s hard to miss what’s going on in this photo, but the spider’s size and perfect camouflage make it difficult to spot with the naked eye.”
This common spider is found in grassy areas near houses and in tall grasslands. Individual spiders tend to stay in one area all season. The circular webs can reach about 2 feet in diameter, and the spider is often resting head-down in the center on a zigzag band of silk. Once an insect is caught in the web, the spider often shakes the web to ensnare it. Spiderlings hatch in spring and will balloon on strands of silk in the breeze. The much smaller male plucks strands on a female’s web to court her. All summer, the females eat insects and create up to four egg cases that can contain more than 1,000 eggs each. As temperatures cool in autumn, the female slows and dies in the first frosts. — photo by Noppadol Paothong
The Springfield Conservation Nature Center will celebrate its 25th anniversary with special events Oct. 5 and 6. Millions of people have discovered nature at the beautiful interpretive center and on its three miles of hiking trails through forests, fields, and marsh. The nature center will welcome back old friends and greet first-time visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The event will feature live animals on Saturday and primitive skills demonstrations on Sunday, along with nature-based crafts, special exhibits, activities, and giveaways for all ages. The nature center is just off Highway 60 one-half mile west
Missourians care about conserving forests.
Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler