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Deer Hunting Preparations

Find a place to hunt

On private land

Many Missouri landowners will let you hunt their land for free, as long as you ask permission first. However, some landowners have started charging for hunting privileges. Often, farmers lease their entire holdings to a group of hunters for the season. Browse the Web for Missouri deer-hunting leases, and check local newspapers for landowners offering hunting privileges. And remember — always ask permission before entering private land.

On public land

The U.S. Forest Service owns about 1.5 million acres in the Missouri Ozarks, and this land is open to public hunting. Visit the Mark Twain National Forest website listed below for information and maps.

The Conservation Department manages more than 600,000 acres statewide for hunting. Browse conservation areas and download maps from the Conservation Atlas listed below.

Scout it

No matter where you choose to hunt, you should become as familiar with the area as you are with your own backyard. Your chance for success in a familiar area, even though it may have fewer deer, is greater than in an area that is strange to you. Thorough scouting prior to the hunting season will greatly increase your chances of success.

Topographic maps show the location of ridges, hollows, streams, and other landmarks that will help you become familiar with a new area. Not only will a topo map help you plan your hunt, it can also help keep you from getting lost. As you become an experienced deer observer, you’ll be able to pick out likely spots for a deer stand from a topographic map.

Order topographic maps

Visit the Missouri Geological Survey website listed below to buy topographical maps.

Look for signs

Fresh deer tracks, droppings, signs of browsing on plants, buck scrapes along the edge of forest clearings, and antler rubs on small trees are good signs. Do your scouting before the season starts — but remember that deer may move and change their habits as the acorns begin to drop and the breeding season begins.

Stay committed to your chosen area

Once you have decided on a place to hunt, stay with it. The longer you hunt in the same place — and the more you learn about the area and the habits of deer — the better your chance of success.

Here’s a good example of how the wily whitetail can avoid the hunter: Six experienced Michigan deer hunters were permitted to hunt inside a mile-square fenced enclosure that contained 39 deer. It took 14 hours of hunting to kill a deer during an any-deer season and 51 hours of hunting to kill one buck during a bucks-only season. During one season, with good tracking snow, it wasn’t until the fourth day that the hunters even saw one of the antlered bucks known to be present. It took 15 one-half man-days of hunting to locate and kill this buck inside a fenced area with snow on the ground.

Choose a weapon

What rifle should the beginner use? That depends. How good a shot are you? Can you take the recoil of a large-caliber rifle? Are you going to use the gun just for deer hunting? Are you going to hunt deer in Missouri only?

Shotguns

If finances are a problem, consider using a shotgun. The 1-ounce slug from a 12-gauge shotgun can be very effective at short range. About 5 percent of Missouri's deer harvest is taken by shotgun. The effective range of a shotgun slug is only about 100 yards, but this range is adequate for Missouri conditions. In our rough terrain and brushy cover, most deer are killed at less than 100 yards.

Most shotguns, however, do not have adequate sights for accurate aiming, at even 50 yards. A shotgun is designed so that the spread of the pattern will cover the target. A deer’s chest area presents about a 12-inch target, forcing you to aim with considerably better accuracy than the shot pattern. Rifle-type sights for shotguns are available from several after-market companies. In addition, many manufacturers offer special rifled-slug barrels for their shotguns, and most allow for mounting a scope.

Deer rifles

The best deer rifle is the one that any given hunter can shoot best. There are lots of wild stories and myths about the power of big-game rifles, and most of these big guns are vastly overrated. A well-placed bullet of adequate weight and velocity will put a deer down to stay, and a poorly placed bullet, no matter how large, is the first step toward a wounded, lost animal. No high-powered cartridge is a substitute for good, accurate shooting.

In recent years, the majority of serious deer hunters have chosen rifles in the .243, 6mm, .270, .30-.30, .308 and .30-06 class. These cartridges develop relatively light recoil, which makes them fairly easy to shoot accurately.

Whatever rifle you choose, try it out thoroughly before deer season. Sight it in carefully, and fire enough rounds on the shooting range to become accustomed to the recoil, the muzzle blast, and the handling characteristics. Open sights are standard equipment on most rifles when they come from the factory, but a peep or telescopic sight may be more satisfactory for the beginner. Most authorities agree that the peep sight is faster and more accurate than the open sight, and it forces the beginner to get his or her cheek down on the stock of the gun when aiming. However, in the dim light of early morning or in heavy woods, it may be hard to see through the peep if the aperture is less than 1/8 inch in diameter.

Get a good scope

Because of its light-gathering qualities, a good scope is a distinct advantage in dim light. For Missouri conditions, a 2- to 4-power scope is an excellent addition to a deer-hunting rifle, especially for the beginner or older hunter whose eyes may have trouble adjusting to open or peep sights. Scopes of more than 4-power magnification not only are unnecessary in Missouri, but they may be a handicap. Over magnification may show only a patch of hair and adversely affect your ability to place the bullet well. A variable-power scope should be considered if you plan to also shoot varmints or hunt big game.

Clothing and other equipment

Proper equipment will make your hunt more enjoyable and help you bag your deer. Advance preparation will certainly make the chore of field dressing and handling a deer much easier.

Dress in layers and wear blaze orange

Choose comfortable layers that will keep you warm in the pre-dawn chill, but allow you to peel down in the heat of the midday sun.

Regulations require you to wear a hat and shirt, vest, or coat of blaze orange during firearms deer season so that the color is plainly visible from all sides. Camouflage orange does not satisfy this requirement.

Do not carry a white handkerchief!

A careless hunter might mistake it for the tail of a deer when you pull it out of your pocket.

Sturdy, warm boots

Get boots that will allow you to walk comfortably and safely over rough country and still be warm while sitting in cold weather. Insulated rubber boots or felt pacs work well.

Field-dressing tools

A deer can be field dressed with a sharp pocketknife, but the job is easier with a sharp, stout knife having a straight, relatively thin, 4- to 6-inch blade with a dropped point. A saw or light hand ax and sledgehammer also are handy for splitting the pelvic girdle and chest cavity.

Other helpful items

  • Raincoat or poncho for rainy weather or as a windbreak on a stand
  • Flashlight for finding your stand in pre-dawn darkness
  • Compass or global positioning system for locating stands and navigating in the woods
  • 15-foot length of stout rope for dragging a deer, hoisting your unloaded rifle into a tree stand, or for emergencies
  • Latex or rubber gloves to protect your hands while field-dressing a deer
  • Strong plastic bag or a sanitary, blood-proof container for the deer’s heart and liver
  • Piece of cheesecloth or muslin to cover the body cavity of a field-dressed deer and protect it from insects in warm weather
  • Binoculars, which are especially important if you are hunting areas with special regulations, such as an antler-point restriction
  • Small backpack or belt pack to carry your lunch, gear, and extra clothing — leaving both hands free for handling the rifle

Key Messages: 

Conservation makes Missouri a great place to hunt and fish.

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