Deer Management for the Future

By Bill Heatherly and Lonnie Hansen | October 2, 2004
From Missouri Conservationist: Oct 2004

Successful deer management depends on the cooperation of hunters. The Department of Conservation collects biological data on deer to track reproductive and mortality rates. We also conduct public surveys and hold public meetings to get people's input so we can improve our deer management.

Deer management is always a "work-in-progress," a planned response to deer population growth, changes in hunter harvest patterns, and public opinion. Because hunting regulations are our primary tools for managing Missouri's deer herd, our hunting seasons have evolved from very limited, bucks-only opportunities to the much more liberal regulations of today.

The 2004 deer hunting seasons represent a major shift in how we manage deer. Driving this change is the continued imbalance of Missouri's deer herd, which still contains an overabundance of does in many parts of the state. Good management requires that we bring the numbers into a more favorable balance by taking more does from the population.

At the same time, steady harvest pressure on yearling and 2-year-old bucks has kept their numbers consistently low and allowed only a few to survive to the older age classes. More and more Missouri deer hunters are telling us they would like the opportunity to take larger bucks.

Wildlife biologists believe that both goals are best accomplished by balancing the sex and age structure of the herd. As the proportion of does in the population decreases, the number of does that must be taken each year to control deer herd growth also decreases, even though the overall number of deer does not change. Decreasing the proportion of does will increase the proportion of bucks, including bucks in the older age classes.

We came up with several potential hunting regulation changes that would help maintain a balanced and healthy deer population. Before choosing one, however, we wanted to consult hunters and landowners to find out which management option they would favor and support.

This past year, we conducted 23 public meetings throughout Missouri. At each meeting we presented five deer management options and encouraged people to tell us which they preferred. We tallied 2,901 written responses. To gain an even broader-based picture of attitudes toward possible management changes, we also conducted statewide random surveys of deer hunters and landowners.

As you might expect, the meetings and written comments revealed a wide range of opinions regarding deer management issues. However, one option—antler-point restrictions—enjoyed broad public support.

Pilot program

In April, the Conservation Commission approved a pilot program to test antler-point restrictions in 29 counties. In those counties during the archery and firearms deer hunting seasons, an antlered deer must have a minimum of four points on at least one side to be legal. If the rack has at least four points on one side, it doesn't matter how many points are on the other side.

Every point at least 1 inch long counts, including the brow tine, the point at the end of the main beam, and any broken tine that is at least 1-inch long.

The only exception to the antler-point restriction is that youths hunting during the two-day Youth Portion of the firearms season may take a buck with fewer than 4 points on a side. This exception was suggested by many of those attending the public meetings.

The antler-point restrictions should encourage a significant number of hunters who would normally take a small-antlered buck to take a doe instead. This would increase the doe harvest in those pilot counties. In addition, most of the yearling bucks protected under the 4-point rule should survive to be legal bucks in 2005.

If, as we expect, the doe harvest increases and remains relatively high, the new antler-point restriction should control both deer numbers and increase the percentage of mature bucks in the deer population. If doe harvest is inadequate, however, other deer management options must be considered.

The progress of the pilot program will be measured for up to five years. Biological factors and public reaction, however, may require us to make more changes even within this time frame.

During the deer season, we will collect teeth and record the number of points and antler beam diameter of bucks brought to selected check stations. This will help us track how the pilot regulations affect age and antler characteristics over time. Also, annual statewide attitude surveys will measure hunter and landowner satisfaction with regulations and deer population status.

All of the results will be carefully analyzed to determine the success of the pilot program and how it might be modified to further improve deer management.

Deer hunters and landowners play a critical role in Missouri deer management. The Department of Conservation continues to depend on input from both these groups to help us improve the way we manage the deer herd. The new antler-point restrictions that came about from our partnership with deer hunters and landowners should have the effect of increasing the harvest of does while, at the same time, giving Missouri hunters a better opportunity to take bigger bucks.

Other changes

The Conservation Department also changed other regulations and management strategies that hunters need to know. These changes can be found the 2004 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet, available at permit vendors and Department offices.

  • We've eliminated the deer management units, which often proved confusing because they contained several counties and parts of counties. Deer will now be managed county by county.
  • Archery season opened on September 15 to provide bowhunters with additional opportunity.
  • We've expanded the Urban Portion of firearms season to increase antlerless deer harvest in high deer density areas. From October 8 through October 11, hunters may use any legal deer hunting method to take antlerless deer in Boone, Cass, Christian, Clay, Cole, Greene, Jackson, Platte, St. Charles, St. Louis and Webster counties.
  • We've simplified the deer checking procedure at check stations. Hunters now have 24 hours to check their deer, and they can check their deer in any county.
  • Landowners can no longer use (home-made) farm tags. Resident landowners may obtain their no-cost permits from any permit vendor. Resident landowners can check their deer by telephone or over the Internet.


The Share the Harvest program allows hunters to donate deer meat to needy Missourians. The Conservation Federation of Missouri is coordinating a payback program that will pay $35 toward processing when hunters donate a whole deer to Share the Harvest.

During the Urban Portion of the firearms season, the processing fee for whole deer donations will be fully covered at certain processors in the open counties. Call (573) 634-2322, or visit online for a current list of participating processors.


Obtain permits early for a chance to win a lifetime hunting and fishing permit.

In partnership with the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, resident hunters have a chance to win a Missouri Lifetime Conservation Partner Permit and other great prizes. Get your Firearms Any-Deer Hunting Permit or Youth Deer & Turkey Hunting Permit by November 5, and you will automatically be entered to win.

How to count points

Each of the following counts as a point:

  • an antler point, if it is at least 1 inch long
  • the brow tine, if it is at least 1 inch long
  • the end of the main beam
  • any broken tine that is at least 1 inch long.

Tines, main beams and brow tines all count as a point if they are at least 1 inch long. A buck with the seven-point rack above with three points on one side (labeled in black) and four on the other (labeled in orange) is a legal deer in the counties shown in orange on the map on the previous page.

Does, Button Bucks and Bucks with spikes

Does, button bucks and bucks with spikes less than 3 inches are legal to take on Antlerless or Any-Deer Permits; but for deer management, it is better to take does.

Doe: LEGAL (far left)

Button buck: LEGAL (middle left)

Bucks with spikes less than 3 inches long: LEGAL (middle right)

Bucks with spikes 3 inches long or more: PROTECTED

Bucks with antlers

Bring binoculars and give yourself plenty of time to count antler points before you take a shot. Wait for a buck that has at least four points on one side.

PROTECTED: Letting these younger males mature will increase the number of adult bucks in the future. (far left)

LEGAL: A legal buck must have a minimum of four points on one side, regardless of the number of points on the other side, like these seven-point bucks. Successful hunters wait for the best shot--when the deer turns broadside. Learn to recognize antlers from this view to minimize errors in the field. (right)

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Director - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler