September 13, 2007

Archers Will Find Deer Abundant, Turkey Scarce

by Jim Lowe, Missouri Department of Conservation

Strange spring weather continues to influence the fortunes of Missouri hunters. Archery deer and turkey hunters should be thinking about the April freeze and subsequent floods as they take to the woods.

Missouri’s archery deer and turkey season has two segments. The first opens Sept. 15 and runs through Nov. 9. The second runs from Nov. 21 through Jan. 15.

Missouri Department of Conservation Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen said deer will be easier to find than in recent years, thanks to the uncommonly severe freeze that occurred statewide in early April.

White oaks bear acorns from flower buds that develop the same year. Red oak acorns come from buds that grew the previous year. That lends a degree of stability to acorn availability, since a hard freeze one year doesn’t wipe out all that year’s production.

“White oak acorn production will be seriously impaired this year due to the hard frost in early April,” said Hansen. “The red oak acorn crop may be down in some areas, but this year’s red oak crop is expected to be surprisingly good, considering the fact that the two previous years saw some of the best production on record.”

Hansen said the lack of acorns from white oaks will help hunters key in on their quarry by concentrating deer in areas where red oaks dominate. This effect will be particularly strong in the Ozarks, where agricultural crops do not provide a significant alternate food source for deer in most areas.

Another factor pointing to better hunting in the Ozarks this year is increased carry-over of deer population from past hunting seasons, when abundant acorns made deer hard to hunt.

“The harvest was down significantly in southern Missouri in 2005,” said Hansen. “The resulting carry-over of deer allowed hunters to post an impressive harvest last year in spite of another good acorn crop. I expect another strong harvest in the Ozarks this year, due to more predictable deer behavior.”

Hansen said hunters will see another regional difference this year. That is an increase in the number of large-antlered bucks in the 29-county area where antler-point restrictions have been in place for three years. Those counties are Schuyler, Adair, Macon, Randolph Chariton, Linn, Sullivan, Putnam, Livingston, Grundy, Mercer, Harrison, Daviess, DeKalb, Gentry, Worth, Andrew, Nodaway, Holt and Atchison in northeastern Missouri and Howard, Boone, Cole, Miller, Pulaski, Maries, Osage, Gasconade and Franklin in central Missouri.

This is the fourth year when hunters in those counties will be required to pass up shots at antlered deer that do not have at least four points on one side of their antlers. The Conservation Departm ent’s goal with this regulation is to increase the doe harvest by putting some bucks off-limits. It also has the effect of letting more bucks live long enough to develop impressive antlers.

“We have seen a 20-percent increase in the number of mature deer taken in the 29-county area,” said Hansen. “Hunters tell us they see a difference, too. The increase is dramatic in some areas. We are going into the fourth year of this regulation, so there should be more 4.5-year-old bucks out there in addition to the 2.5 and 3.5-year-olds. There should be some really good deer in that area”

This is the last year for the pilot study of antler-point restrictions. The Conservation Department will consider hunter attitudes and the regulation’s effect on deer population when deciding whether to continue the system and if so, where.

Missouri’s top turkey biologist, Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer, said fall turkey hunting turkey enthusiasts also will see the effects of this year’s weather extremes.

“We had a terrible hatch this year,” said Beringer. He laid the blame on a double whammy of cold and rain.

Beringer tracks the state’s turkey population through the observations of volunteers who report the number of hens they see and the number of young turkeys, known as “poults,” with the hens. This year, volunteers reported seeing 1.1 poults for every hen they saw statewide. That is the second-worst poult-to-hen ratio on record.

Beringer said the effect of the April freeze was heightened by other factors. One was the freak ice storm that devastated much of southwestern Missouri. Conditions that caused human activity to grind to a halt also complicated turkeys’ job of finding food and shelter and eluding predators. It came as no surprise that southwest Missouri had the worst turkey reproduction, with observers reporting just .4 poults per hen.

Then there was remarkably warm weather in March. Some hens already had begun laying eggs when the freeze hit. Temperatures that fell into the teens for several days in a row killed many eggs and set back turkeys’ breeding cycle dramatically, causing the birds to lose both time and energy needed to produce young.

The final blow came in the form of heavy rain that plagued re-nesting and brood-rearing efforts in June and July. The hot, dry conditions that followed made it hard for hens that did manage to bring off clutches to find protein-rich insects to feed their growing poults.

Beringer noted that while the state’s turkey flock has struggled with unpredictable weather during the nesting season in recent years, the Show-Me State’s turkey population remains one of the strongest in the nation. When favorable nesting conditions return, the birds will go back to more normal annual production.

Furthermore, he said fall turkey hunting will continue to be good in many areas. “If there is one brood where you are, you can still have a good hunt,” he said.

A resident or nonresident Archery Deer and Turkey Hunting Permit allows archers to take two deer and two turkeys of either sex, provided they take no more than one antlered deer before Nov. 10. Another option is to buy Resident Archery Antlerless Deer Hunting Permits. Hunters can buy as many of these $7 permits as they want over the counter. They are good in all but 14 counties in southeastern Missouri.

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