by Heather Feeler
During the summer of 2014, the Department gathered public input on the deer management plan and proposed regulations changes through surveys of deer hunters, during 14 open houses, and through a comment form online. In addition to the hunter surveys, almost 4,000 comments were received.
As a result of public input consistent with biological considerations, seven regulation changes are being considered for the 2016–2017 deer season. The Department will collect public comments from February through April regarding the deer regulation changes that are currently under consideration through open houses and online comments. Proposed changes include:
You can also learn more about these proposed regulations and share your comments online at mdc.mo.gov/deer-reg-comments, or mail your comments to Missouri Department of Conservation, Attn: Policy Coordination, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102.
The Conservation Department’s first-ever Discover Nature — Families Hunting Skills Weekend workshop will be held March 13–15 at the Windermere Conference Center on Lake of the Ozarks. Families with members age 6 and older who are interested in learning how to hunt with firearms and archery equipment, and in finding new ways to spend time outdoors together, will have fun learning the skills they need.
Sessions will be taught by professional instructors. To qualify for the workshop, family members who are age 11 years and older must complete the first part of Missouri’s two-part hunter-education certification. This initial knowledge portion of hunter education can be completed online, through self-study with a student book, or by registering for and attending a four-hour classroom session. For details on how to complete the knowledge portion of hunter education, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/3722.
The weekend will begin Friday afternoon with an opportunity for family members to complete the second part of hunter education, a four-hour skills session in which students demonstrate what they have learned through the knowledge portion. Saturday and Sunday, families will participate in three hands-on skills sessions: Introduction to Firearms, Beginning Archery, and Basic Hunting. All equipment will be provided. Weekend activities will be held outdoors, so participants should dress appropriately for the weather.
The workshop is free to all registered participants, but families are responsible for making arrangements for their own lodging and meals through Windermere Conference Center. There are several options for lodging, including Lakeview Lodge, motel, family cabins, and camping. Contact Windermere at 573-346-5200 or 1-800-346-2215 for details, or visit windermereusa.org. To register, or for more information on the Department’s Discover Nature — Families Hunting Skills Weekend, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/29866.
The Conservation Department has been stocking lake sturgeon in Missouri since the 1980s. It takes lake sturgeon 25-30 years to become sexually mature, so those first fish are just now reaching adulthood. Males spawn every one to three years and females every four to seven years. In other populations, lake sturgeons tend to return to the same spawning sites. In Missouri, scientists want to identify those sites so that they can protect that habitat and those fish, and to identify similar sites.
Lake sturgeon spawning activity is noticeable. It is often described as “large brown fish, thrashing around on the rocks.” Prior to spawning, males will gather near the spawning site and cruise near the surface of the water. Their dorsal fins and tops of their tails will stick up out of the water, looking like shark fins. As spawning begins, several males will join a single female near a rocky shoreline and begin thrashing the water. The thrashing activity forces eggs and milt from the fish. The fertilized eggs will stick to the rocks until they hatch.
Although other species of fish may spawn in shallow water near shore, few others produce the same display at that time of year. The size of the fish involved will also be different. Fish on spawning sites can range from 25 pounds and 5 feet long to specimens weighing more than 100 pounds. Lake sturgeon have long cylindrical bodies and are typically brown on the head and back with white on the belly. They have hard, bony plates called scutes on their back and sides. Their dorsal (top) fin is set far back on the body, just in front of a forked tail. Lake sturgeon can reach more than 7 feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds.
In Missouri, lake sturgeon should spawn between April 1 and the end of May, with the peak occurring between April 15 and May 15. Lake sturgeon spawning will only occur in Missouri’s rivers, but it can occur in any of them if the conditions are right. Spawning activity may be seen on the Missouri and tributary streams such as the Osage, Gasconade, Grand, and Lamine rivers. It may also occur on the Mississippi River and tributaries such as the Fabius, Salt, Cuivre, and Meramec. The fish are highly mobile and can travel hundreds of miles to find the right habitat, so many streams have the potential for spawning habitat.
If you see what you believe to be lake sturgeon spawning activity, please contact us immediately because spawning may only last up to three days. Do not disturb the fish or try to catch them, as they are protected in Missouri. Call Travis Moore at 573-248-2530 or send a picture to firstname.lastname@example.org. —Travis Moore
Department of Conservation trout hatcheries provide year-round fishing opportunities and are an economic engine for the state. Hundreds of thousands of anglers from Missouri and beyond flock to the Show-Me State’s four trout parks each year. They come to leave their troubles behind and lose themselves in the pursuit of rainbow and brown trout. Along the way, they also spend more than $100 million, which supports thousands of jobs and sustains local economies.
Three of Missouri’s trout parks — Bennett Spring near Lebanon, Montauk near Licking, and Roaring River near Cassville — are owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Maramec Spring Park near St. James belongs to The James Foundation. These destinations, with campgrounds, hiking trails, historic buildings, and other amenities, are wonderful destinations in their own rights. But trout provided by the Department are the main attraction.
March 1 marks the start of the catch-and-keep fishing season at Missouri’s trout parks, and thousands of anglers have been making the pilgrimage to Missouri’s trout temples on that date for more than 70 years. The number of anglers present on opening day depends partly on weather and partly on the day of the week on which March 1 falls. Total attendance at all four parks has topped 14,000 in years when the weather was good and the season opener fell on a weekend. This year’s Sunday opener promises an excellent turnout, even with poor weather conditions.
Bennett Spring, Montauk, and Roaring River expect approximately 3,000 anglers each.
Maramec Spring expects to host as many as 2,000 anglers.
Hatchery managers use these estimates to determine how many trout to stock each day. Throughout most of the season, they stock 2.25 fish per expected angler. On opening day, however, they put three fish in the water for every angler expected to attend. These fish average 12 inches long. However, the Department also stocks dozens of “lunkers,” surplus hatchery brood fish weighing upward of 3 pounds. A few tip the scales at more than 10 pounds.
If you can’t make the opening day event, don’t worry. There are plenty of opportunities and several special events scheduled throughout the year. These events provide citizens an opportunity to experience Missouri’s trout parks and the great outdoors. The special events often include free or low-cost permits for youth, additional trout stocking by the Department to provide fish all day long, volunteers to help young anglers, and prizes for participants. For more information contact your regional Department office. —Andrew Branson
Roaring River, call 417-847-2430 for information
What’s the difference between conservation areas and parks? Purpose and management. The purpose of Missouri’s state conservation areas is to provide prime habitat for wildlife and ensure public access to hunting, fishing, and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Area managers carefully cultivate the best possible natural habitat for Missouri’s wildlife and plants. While most areas do not have developments such as RV hookups, picnic shelters, or plumbed toilets, many areas feature concrete boat ramps, shooting ranges, and trails that encourage a wide range of nature-based recreation.
Muskrats are semiaquatic, living statewide in marshes, sloughs, streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. They dig homes in a stream or pond bank or build large houses out of vegetation in the shallow water. The nest, or den, is reached by means of a tunnel that usually opens under water. Muskrats breed from late winter to mid-September, with three peaks at the ends of March, April, and May. Pregnancy averages 28 days; usually a female produces two or three litters annually. The litters usually contain four to seven young, which are born blind and nearly helpless and naked. After a week they have coarse gray-brown fur. In another week, their eyes open and they start to swim and dive. At 3 to 4 weeks old they are weaned. Most breed for the first time in the following spring. —photograph by Noppadol Paothong
Jan. 2, 2015, Jason Mullins of Quincy, Illinois, spotted an unusual gull perched on a patch of ice in the Mississippi River. To his amazement, he confirmed that it was an ivory gull from the high arctic regions of the world. The gull flew up and down the Missouri River near Quincy and crossed over to the Missouri side of the river, resting on the barges tied there. The bird remained in the area from Jan. 2–9 and was observed by hundreds of birders from across the country.
This is the first record of an ivory gull in Missouri, and the third record for Illinois. The ivory gull’s North American breeding range includes the Canadian Arctic around islands west of Baffin Bay, the northern tip of Greenland, and on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard — all found about 14 degrees latitude north of the Arctic Circle. The gull usually feeds on seal carcasses left on the ice by polar bears and other predators. It seldom shows up in the lower 48 states, but it has been observed about once per year somewhere south of its maritime Canadian wintering areas.
The gull attracted birders from all over the United States. The day after its initial sighting, Department Wildlife Ecologist Brad Jacobs traveled to the site and joined a crowd of birders and reporters in the rain to watch the brilliant white gull sitting on the dam structure and flying up and down the river. During the bird’s stay, Jacobs counted over 100 reports of the bird posted on eBird.org, an online, real-time bird listing website.
The ivory gull was last seen Jan. 9, leaving hundreds of out-of-state and out-of-country birders who traveled over the weekend disappointed. The bird hasn’t been reported at another site yet, but it could easily be somewhere along the river at a location more difficult to access, enjoying a meal of gizzard shad. Unless someone finds it again, the birders in this hemisphere will have to wait for the species’ random return to our (relatively tropical) frozen rivers. —Brad Jacobs and Sarah Kendrick
Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler