Hunters check 10,000-plus deer during antlerless season

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JEFFERSON CITY–Hunters shot 10,581 deer during the antlerless portion of Missouri’s firearms deer season. Top counties for the antlerless portion were Pike, with 286 deer checked, Osage with 268, and Morgan with 258.

The total firearms deer harvest so far this year is 187,130. This includes the urban, early youth, November, and antlerless portions. Missouri Department of Conservation Resource Scientist Jason Sumners says this year’s harvest is fewer than last year in some parts of the state. He says the reason is twofold.

“There is no question that last year’s outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases is being felt this year,” says Sumners. “We knew the 2012 outbreak, coupled with declines in the deer populations in parts of northern and central Missouri, would create areas of greatly reduced deer numbers. The 2013 harvest numbers are now creating a clearer picture of which areas were most heavily impacted.”

Sumners says Missouri has entered a new era of deer management, where deer numbers will rise and fall in response to natural and human influences.

“For the first 70 years or so, deer management was about growing deer numbers,” says Sumners. “During that period, we saw a steady increase in deer numbers and deer harvest because of restrictive regulations. But there is a limit to how many deer a landscape and people will support. This makes deer management today a dynamic and complex balancing act of trying to find the point where there are enough deer to meet the demands of hunters and wildlife enthusiasts while minimizing deer issues.”

Several factors, including natural population controls such as hemorrhagic disease, can tip that delicate balance. Sumners says seven decades of increasing deer numbers masked the natural variability of deer populations. Years of food abundance and scarcity, disease outbreaks, and variations in deer harvest related to weather all result in population fluctuations over time.

“The past 70 years haven’t prepared us to watch our deer herd shrink,” says Sumners. “So naturally, people are concerned when they see a significant dip in the annual harvest. But Missouri still has a healthy deer herd. We continually consider regulation changes, including reducing the availability of antlerless permits and the antlerless portion of firearms deer season in places where regulation changes are necessary to allow the population to recover, but some annual variation in deer numbers is normal, and not always reason for panic.”

In this new era of deer management, Sumners says deer hunters will play a more active role, not only as harvesters of deer, but also as decision makers about how many bucks and does should be harvested in their area. Ultimately, localized hunting pressure and actions taken by hunters control the abundance of deer locally. Therefore, they play an important role in ensuring acceptable deer numbers at the local level.

For example, in areas where deer numbers are down, hunters should exercise restraint and avoid harvesting adult does. Alternatively, where deer numbers are strong, hunters need to continue to harvest the appropriate number of does to avoid issues of overabundance.

-Jim Low-

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