Firearms deer harvest tops 230,000

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JEFFERSON CITY Mo – Hunters age 6 through 15 checked 1,292 deer during the late youth hunt Jan. 1 and 2, bringing the total harvest for the 2010-2011 firearms deer season to 231,513.

The combined early and late youth season harvests total 14,555, or 6.2 percent of the firearms deer harvest. Top counties during the late youth hunt were Osage with 27 deer checked, Macon with 26 and Adair with 24.

This year’s firearms deer harvest was down 6.5 percent from the 2009-2010 figure. Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) deer specialist, attributed the decline to an abundant acorn crop in southern Missouri and reduced deer numbers in parts of northern Missouri.

“We have reached a second tipping point in Missouri’s deer-management history,” said Hansen. “The first tipping point came at the culmination of a 60-year deer restoration effort. In the 1990s we finally reached the point where we had enough deer in many areas and began to see evidence of actually having too many deer in other areas.”

Hansen said that evidence took the form of increasing damage to agricultural crops and a rising incidence of deer-vehicle accidents. In response to these trends, MDC changed hunting regulations to increase the harvest of deer, especially does. Between 1995 and 2002, Missouri’s doe harvest increased from 70,000 to more than 100,000 a year.

“We moved slowly and cautiously at first,” said Hansen, “looking for the right combination of tools to encourage hunters to take more does. We used antlerless-only permits, an antlerless-only deer season and antler-point restrictions, to boost the doe harvest. We finally reached our goal around 2006, when our firearms deer harvest peaked at 280,000. That was the second tipping point.”

Hansen said that while parts of Missouri still have fewer deer than MDC would like, and others – mostly around urban areas – still have too many, deer populations in much of the state are close to the right size.

“The right number is hard to define,” said Hansen. “It is different for hunters who are mainly interested in deer with big antlers and those who are most interested in putting venison in the freezer. Many farmers would want smaller numbers than most hunters. Deer management today is a balancing act.”

Hansen noted that 93 percent of Missouri’s land is in private ownership. As a result, private landowners hold the key to balancing deer numbers.

“Landowners have a tremendous effect on deer management, whether they know it or not. Across most of the state, the amount of access that landowners give hunters to their land determines whether deer numbers increase, decrease or remain steady. One of our biggest challenges in the future will be helping landowners understand their role in deer management and finding ways to help them achieve their goals – whether that means more deer, fewer deer or bigger deer.”

Hansen said solutions to future deer-management challenges likely will include regulation changes, such as reducing the number of antlerless deer permits available in some areas. However, solutions also might include helping neighboring landowners who have common goals develop cooperative management strategies.

“You can’t effectively manage the deer population in an area on 40 or even 400 acres,” said Hansen, “but it is amazing what you can do if enough landowners agree on a particular strategy.”