Many Missourians have a “too many deer” story, often involving a smashed bumper or shattered windshield, but Cape Girardeau resident Mark Lanzotti had deer eating away at his options for managing his southeast Missouri property.
An attorney by day, Lanzotti owns acreage in Bollinger County that is split between row crops and land enrolled in programs aimed at improving wildlife habitat. For years, Lanzotti leased out approximately 100 acres for row crops, but regular damage from the local deer herd ate into the area’s productivity. Eventually, finding a farmer interested in planting the area became difficult, Lanzotti said.
“I can’t keep a farmer on my farm because he can’t grow soybeans,” he said. “The first 30 yards of the field around the edges looks like we took a weed whacker to it.”
Keeping those fields in production plays an important part in the programs Lanzotti participates in to help maintain and improve habitat on the remaining acreage, including 25 acres recently dedicated to monarch habitat. Attempting to farm the property himself — in addition to maintaining his law practice — is a short-term fix, with the real solution being addressing the deer that are doing the damage.
Out of Balance
About as far away as one can get from Lanzotti’s Bollinger County property and still be in Missouri, Mark Drury is dealing with his own deer issues. Drury, co-founder of the hunting and outdoor media company, Drury Outdoors, and several neighboring landowners own and manage more than 4,000 acres north of Princeton along the border with Iowa. In his case, the issue wasn’t a matter of too many deer, but a herd that was out of balance between does and bucks.
“It was out of control from our perspective,” Drury said. “There’s a lot of gun pressure up in northern Missouri, a lot of bucks getting harvested, obviously, and just not a lot of does getting harvested. I mean, we’ve got does like you’ve never seen.”
While the nature of their deer issues differed, both Lanzotti and Drury — frequent collaborators with MDC on habitat and wildlife issues — were eager to be a part of the new Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP), which was rolled out on a limited basis in 2019.
Birth of DMAP
DMAP was developed to help landowners meet their personal deer management goals on their property, such as reducing damage to crops or habitat, or achieving recreational deer management goals, such as balancing the ratio of female to male deer, said MDC Private Lands Deer Biologist Kevyn Wiskirchen.
“Specifically, the program provides more flexibility with firearms antlerless harvest opportunities that can be used to meet a broad suite of deer management goals,” Wiskirchen said.
Participants in DMAP can obtain special DMAP firearms antlerless tags based on the nature and size of the issue that don’t count toward the season bag limit, he said.
“That’s a population control mechanism used with deer management,” he said. “When you need to bring the population down for whatever reason — if you’ve got a growing deer population or an overabundance of deer — your best approach is to focus on harvesting more females because they are the producers of the population.” While Missouri landowners can already obtain permits to harvest some female deer on their property, it’s not always enough to keep the population in check in certain parts of the state or on certain properties. DMAP makes up the difference so that deer population goals can be achieved.
Initially rolled out in 2019 to just seven counties — four in southeast Missouri and three in central Missouri — DMAP has expanded each year and is now available statewide for the first time this year. In 2021, nearly 90 landowners enrolled approximately 86,200 acres in the program.
Making the Case
Participation in the program is not guaranteed, as applicants must provide evidence of either the crop damage resulting from deer or the imbalance in the deer herd. The program also requires at least 500 acres to enroll, which can be made up of several landowners with property near one another. Combining properties benefits the landowners who work together to meet common deer management goals.
For Lanzotti, making the case was easy, as he had developed a long-time relationship with local MDC professionals who were familiar with his property and issues.
“We had a long working relationship with both our conservation enforcement folks and our private lands conservationists,” he said. “So, both of them were able to watch that herd growth occur, and subsequent destruction occur.
“So yes, we just documented the row crop damage for them. But we also had the benefit of participating in some herd surveys through the years, which demonstrated what we were seeing in the field.”
Participation in DMAP depends on the landowner demonstrating the nature of the issue.
“For properties that want to primarily manage damage to crops and other plant communities, the landowner will schedule a time with their local conservation agent to visit the property and assess the damage. Properties that are more interested in recreational deer management have to collect some type of population survey data to qualify for the program,” Wiskirchen said. “I use that information to make an informed harvest recommendation, so once they have collected the data and they have an estimate of abundance and the sex ratio, I can make a harvest recommendation to put them on track toward their goals.”
While crop damage may be self-evident, demonstrating imbalance in the doe-to-buck ratio takes a little more detailed study. To make his point, Drury conducted a survey of the deer population on his property using trail cameras. The extent of the imbalance between does and bucks shown in the photographs was significant, Drury said.
“In some of the trail camera pictures we have, there will be 15, 20 does on a food plot and one or two bucks, so there are some great photos to kind of show that our herd was really out of balance,” he said.
Getting Enrolled in DMAP
The Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) is designed to assist landowners with their deer management goals through additional harvest opportunities.
DMAP is available to qualifying landowners of properties of at least 500 acres located outside of cities or at least 40 acres within a city’s boundaries. Although owners of smaller properties also deal with deer issues, the acreage requirement is designed to encourage deer management at a scale that will have a meaningful effect on local populations. Neighboring landowners can combine their properties as part of the application process in order meet the minimum property size requirement. Separate properties must be within ½ mile of another enrolling property to combine.
Landowners wishing to enroll a property to address deer damage must first have the damage verified by their local MDC conservation agent or wildlife damage biologist. MDC contact information may be found at mdc.mo.gov/contact-engage. If the damage is determined to be caused by deer and that DMAP enrollment is warranted, the agent or biologist will authorize the number of permits that will be available for use on the property during the deer season and assist the landowner in beginning the application process.
Landowners seeking to achieve recreational deer management goals should contact MDC Private Lands Deer Biologist Kevyn Wiskirchen at Kevyn.Wiskirchen@mdc.mo.gov. Landowners will be asked to collect deer population data prior to enrollment that can be used to determine eligibility and the number of DMAP permits that will be available. Trail camera surveys and observation data are the most common sources for estimating the herd’s composition.
The annual DMAP enrollment period extends from May 15 through October 1. All properties, even those that have been previously enrolled, must be enrolled annually. More information on the DMAP application process, how additional DMAP permits are allocated, and how to estimate deer populations with trail cameras, observations, and harvest data is available online at mdc.mo.gov/dmap.
Progress … One Year at a Time
Being qualified for DMAP is not necessarily a permanent state. Some properties may be able to get the population where they want it within a year or two and no longer have a need to re-enroll. For others, it may take more time or may be needed long-term to maintain the deer herd. Those wanting to remain in the program must reapply annually and demonstrate the damage or imbalance, Wiskirchen said.
“So, after the first year, they’re collecting observation data where they just record what they see while they’re in the tree stand and the number of hours they hunted,” he said. “And from that I can track where the population is going from that first year.”
Up north, Drury and his neighbors are keeping a close eye on what they see and harvest and recognize that this sort of data collection is part of being in DMAP, he said.
“We’re also going to continue to use observations from hunters this past fall,” he said. “We reported what we saw each individual sitting, so he has more data. The more we do it based on trail camera pictures, sightings, the overall weight, all those types of things are going to help him help us manage that herd and get the right numbers in check.”
It may be a while before his deer are under control to the point where Lanzotti can find a farmer interested in planting his 100 acres, but he believes that with the help of the additional permits granted under DMAP, things are heading in the right direction.
“I’m appreciative of the fact that we have it and I think we are using it as a tool,” he said. “Now we’re just holding the line. If we didn’t have DMAP as a tool, we would start to see populations get to a point where there would be habitat degradation occurring on our farm.
“It’s been a great addition to the tools of management and without the right tools, it’s hard to achieve the right outcomes.”
Good Herds Make Good Neighbors
Bringing his herd into balance is the purpose of DMAP, but not its only benefit, Drury said.
“It has brought this neighborhood closer together in terms of our overall goals as managers, as friends, as neighbors,” he said. “Not that we weren’t close before — we all knew each other quite well — but this thing has created a bond between us where we have group texts going on during the deer season, and we’re just having a blast with it.
“These guys are all like-minded. We want the best for the neighborhood, and we want the best for the resource. You know, we want a very healthy sustainable population of white-tailed deer.”
Also In This Issue
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This Issue's Staff
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation Manager - Laura Scheuler