Missouri Citizens are Key to Deer Management Success

By Jason Sumners | May 15, 2014
From Missouri Conservationist: Jun 2014

In last month’s issue of the Conservationist, we discussed how changing deer populations have caused our management approach, hunting seasons, and regulations to evolve since the first deer season in 1944. In response to the greater challenges to deer management in the 21st century, we drafted a plan to address priorities and provide strategic direction for deer management over the next 10 years.

The white-tailed deer management plan clarifies the goals and objectives of the Missouri Department of Conservation and provides an opportunity for critical input from citizens. The plan was created following a thorough review of existing information, identification of management challenges, and assessment of the current status of white-tailed deer management in Missouri. A summary of that information can be found within the White-tailed Deer Management Program Review at mdc.mo.gov/deeropenhouse.

The complexity of challenges to deer management in Missouri continues to increase over time. These include, but are not limited to: managing deer in urban areas; public versus private land deer management; changing hunter attitudes, preferences, and demographics; changing land use practices; and disease threats such as chronic wasting disease. There is no optimal strategy for deer management, only a series of alternatives. Therefore, identifying goals and priorities is an important first step in establishing a foundation for the future of deer management in Missouri.

This plan outlines four primary goals that incorporate the current priorities for deer management in Missouri:

1)Use science-based wildlife management practices to maintain balanced deer populations below the biological and social carrying capacity within the management units, at levels acceptable for agriculture, ecosystems, recreational goals, and other considerations;

2)Provide opportunities for all citizens to enjoy deer-related recreational activities and promote deer hunting as a socially and culturally important tradition, as well as the primary tool to achieve deer population goals;

3)Ensure the maintenance of a healthy deer population, and minimize the threat and effects of diseases on the deer populations in Missouri; and

4)Provide information to the public about all aspects of deer biology and management in Missouri, and create opportunities for additional public engagement.

Ultimately, our priority is to develop a regulatory approach that meets deer population management goals, and that incorporates input from everyone involved, while promoting hunter recruitment, retention, and satisfaction.

Population Goals and Regulation Recommendations

The deer management plan will only be successful with citizen support, so it is important that the public understands the process for development of management strategies and regulations recommendations. Additionally, because deer management affects such a variety of people, it is important to ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard and to participate.

Each year we evaluate county-specific deer populations in the context of biological and social carrying capacities when developing regulation recommendations. Data sources include harvest data via Telecheck, scientific hunter and production landowner attitude surveys, hunter effort data, Department staff surveys, public comments, and population simulations. The Department’s annual scientific mail surveys include 35,000 firearms deer hunters, 35,000 archery deer hunters, and 9,000 production landowners.

In the past, when major regulations changes that affect the way we hunt have been proposed, scientific surveys and public input have played a key role in development of the regulations approaches. For example, in 2003, the Department was investigating ways to curb a rapidly growing deer population by increasing antlerless harvest. During that regulation development process, several alternatives were presented and public input from scientific surveys, online comments, and public meetings lead to the development of an experimental antler-point restriction in 29 counties.

Recently, in response to declining deer numbers and input from hunters, landowners, wildlife enthusiasts and citizens, the Conservation Commission approved a reduction in the availability of firearms antlerless permits in order to achieve and maintain desired deer population levels in central, northern, and western counties. This reduction in permits is necessary to allow populations to stabilize or increase slightly.

Approaches for the Future

Our current deer season structure and hunting regulations were built during an era of rapidly growing deer populations, coupled with a concern that hunters would not harvest enough does to stabilize or decrease deer numbers in much of rural Missouri. In order to meet the deer management challenges of today, we must reconsider our approach. Effective population management revolves around ensuring appropriate levels of harvest, which is affected by seasons and portions, season timing, methods, buck harvest limits, availability of permits, and several other factors. The goal is to adjust regulations in a manner that produces the desired population change (i.e., increase, stabilize, or decrease) in a simple manner that meets the desires of hunters to ensure recruitment and retention. Here are just a few of the many important issues that we will address in the coming weeks.

Archery Season

The archery deer season has been growing in popularity over the past several years. Additionally, archery hunting is a critical deer management tool in many urban areas where the discharge of firearms is restricted. With the increasing popularity of the archery season, we have received an increasing number of requests to expand the season to include crossbows, which are currently only allowed with a medical exemption. Annually, there are more than 10,000 individuals who have received the medical exemption. In an effort to increase participation, recruit younger hunters, retain older hunters, and provide an additional tool for urban deer management, we are considering expanding the archery season to include crossbows.

Season and Portion

The timing of various portions of the firearms deer season are of great interest and debate among hunters. The November portion during the peak of the rut was established at a time when the goal was to minimize doe harvest and maximize buck harvest, which is no longer the goal.

Additionally, the current timing results in the removal of bucks during the peak of the breeding period, is disruptive to the established dominance hierarchies, and, biologically, is not an ideal time to apply heavy buck harvest. For example, the current timing means that only 40 percent of the breeding occurs prior to the November portion. A one-week later shift would mean that approximately 75 percent of the does would breed prior to opening of this portion of the deer season. We know from historical changes in season timing that when the firearms season shifts from the earliest possible date (Nov. 10), based on the current formula, to the latest date (Nov. 16), that doe harvest increases slightly and buck harvest decreases slightly. A one-week later shift to the firearms deer season would result in a slight increase in overall antlerless harvest and slightly decrease buck harvest.

Starting the November portion of the deer season one week later would also incorporate the Thanksgiving holiday. One of the often-cited reasons for not hunting more is limited time. Historically, when the firearms season included Thanksgiving, there was an increase in the number of days hunted. Therefore, by moving the season one week later it would provide additional opportunities for people who have a limited number of days to hunt.

Antlerless Portion

As the deer population increased over the past several decades, so too has the number of days to hunt deer with a firearm. The increasing number of firearms deer hunting days has created conflicts for small game hunters and others who wish to enjoy the outdoors. When we consider the changes to the population across much of Missouri that has occurred over the past several years, the additional antlerless harvest opportunities provided by the antlerless portion are no longer necessary to meet population management goals. Removing the antlerless portion of the deer season may mean some lost deer hunting opportunities, but it would reduce conflicts that occur between other hunters due to the length of the current deer hunting seasons.

Buck Harvest

Traditionally deer management did not limit or restrict buck harvest. As population management goals shift toward encouraging antlerless harvest and hunters’ desire to see more bucks in older age classes, managers have begun to consider the restrictions on buck harvest as a tool to manage the sex and age structure of the deer population. For example, the antler-point restriction was implemented to shift harvest pressure from bucks to does and improve age structure of the buck segment of the populations. The point restriction has reduced the harvest of bucks 11/2 years old, but has not greatly reduced total buck harvest. Therefore, the Department is considering reducing the total number of bucks an individual could harvest to reduce pressure on the buck segment of the population. This is particularly important as we explore ways to encourage antlerless harvest and meet hunters’ desire for more bucks in older age classes, particularly in areas where the antler-point restriction is not biologically or socially appropriate.

Localized Management and Antlerless Permits

Now that deer populations have become well established across the state, most management focuses on meeting localized population goals. Because deer populations are affected by local factors such as habitat condition and hunter numbers, we must consider the application of antlerless harvest and allocations of antlerless permits on a much more localized basis. Until 2004, management occurred at the management unit levels, which included all or parts of several counties. Additionally, from 1974 to 2003, there was a quota system on the number of antlerless permits issued by management unit. In 2004, the Department went to county-based management, eliminated the quota system, and replaced it with the current system, which is based on limiting antlerless permits an individual could use on a county basis, but not limiting total antlerless permits available for that county. The quota system is slightly more complex than the current system, but it provides some control over the number of antlerless deer harvested by management unit.

As management intensity increases, the pressure for more small-scale localized management will also increase. The current system or the quota system for allocation of antlerless permits can only regulate harvest at the management unit level and cannot deal with small-scale localized differences that occur within a management unit. Therefore, wildlife management cooperatives, where neighboring landowners work together to meet common deer management goals, are increasing in popularity. The Department is also considering developing a Deer Management Assistance Program with some combination of county limit or quota that would allow for greater localized antlerless harvest flexibility, which would help hunters and landowners meet local management goals.

Please Give Us Feedback

These topics and many more will be discussed as part of our public engagement process over the next few months, as we work to manage for healthy and sustainable white-tailed deer populations. Please attend one of the scheduled open houses or review the associated materials and provide comments online at mdc.mo.gov/deeropenhouse.

Attend a Public Meeting

The Department of Conservation will hold public meetings in an “open house” format in all regions of the state to inform citizens of deer management efforts and gather feedback. The meetings will include discussions on possible regulation changes related to archery hunting and use of crossbows, timing of seasons, and harvest limits for bucks and does, as well as disease management efforts related to Chronic Wasting Disease and other infectious diseases. Meetings will be held from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

  • June 16: Rolla — Rolla Junior High School Cafeteria, 1360 Soest Road
  • June 17: Springfield — Missouri State University, Christopher Bond Learning Center, 2401 S. Kansas Expressway
  • June 18: Joplin — Missouri Southern State University, Cornell Auditorium, Plaster Hall, 3950 Newman Road
  • June 19: Warsaw — Warsaw Community Building Gym, 181 Harrison Street
  • June 23: St. Louis — Crestwood Community Center Lounge, 9245 Whitecliff Park Lane
  • June 24: Jackson — Knights of Columbus Hall, 3305 North High Street
  • June 25: Van Buren — Van Buren Youth and Community Center, 1204 D Highway
  • June 26: West Plains — West Plains Civic Center Exhibit Hall, 110 St. Louis Street
  • June 30: Kirksville — Kirksville High School Gym, 1300 S. Cottage Grove
  • July 1: Chillicothe — Litton Agriculture Campus, MW Jenkins Building, 10780 Liv 235
  • July 2: Lee’s Summit — Lakeland Community Church, 913 NE Colbern Road
  • July 7: Hannibal — Quality Inn, Atlantis Ballroom, 120 Lindsey Drive
  • July 8: St. Joseph — Missouri Western University, 218/219 Blum Union, 4525 Downs Drive
  • July 9: Columbia — Hilton Garden Inn, Magnolia Room, 3300 Vandiver

For further information, please contact Michele Baumer at 573-522-4115, ext. 3350, or Michele.Baumer@mdc.mo.gov.

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This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - vacant
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