November 13, 2008
Antler-Point Restriction in Effect in 65 Missouri Counties
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri’s deer hunters aren’t yet an endangered species, but their average age is advancing. The Missouri Department of Conservation has been exploring ways to manage deer in the state with fewer hunters. This year, 65 Missouri counties fall under an antler-point restriction (APR), which prohibits the harvest of bucks with antlers that do not have at least four points on one side.
The antler-point restriction is part of a set of practices known as Quality Deer Management (QDM), said MU Extension wildlife specialist Bob Pierce.
“QDM is a strategy and philosophy that involves managing deer herds in a biologically and socially sound manner within existing habitat conditions,” Pierce said.
“One important goal in certain parts of the state has been to shift deer-hunting regulations away from unregulated buck harvest and increase the harvest pressure on does,” he said. “This allows for a deer herd to have a more balanced sex and age structure and potentially lead to increasing the proportion of older-aged bucks in the population.”
The state instituted the APR on a trial basis in 29 counties in 2004. The three-year trial worked well enough that the regulation now encompasses counties covering most of northern and central Missouri.
“It’s a very popular regulation,” said Lonnie Hansen, MDC resource scientist. In most of the counties covered by the rule, a majority of hunters in surveys supported APR. Support ran more than 70 percent in most northern Missouri counties in the APR trial, he said.
Though the antler-point restriction places an additional limit on hunters, the regulation appeals to many of them because, over time, the practice increases the proportion of older bucks in the population. Based on comparisons with neighboring non-APR counties, the restriction increased the adult buck harvest by an estimated 20 percent in 2007, Hansen said.
Counties not subject to the APR include many southern Missouri counties, which have relatively low deer densities, and the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas, where the goal is to harvest as many deer as possible, including younger bucks. “There we have more problems with deer-vehicle accidents and damage to crops, gardens and ornamental plants,” Hansen said.
Wildlife biologists hoped the regulation would encourage hunters to harvest more does—a key to controlling the state’s deer population. Unfortunately, in most counties the APR had only a minimal effect on the doe harvest.
“Biologically, it didn’t get us what we wanted,” Hansen said. Changes in 2009 and beyond include adjusting the timing of various parts of the deer season.
“Although the Missouri Department of Conservation provides the legal framework for harvest,” Pierce said, “landowners and the public hold the key to regulating local deer herds because landowners control hunter access through programs shaped by public attitudes toward hunting.”
Pierce said that landowners and hunters can work together to promote QDM goals. A successful QDM program requires active participation in management as well as knowledge of deer biology, he said. “Deer and habitat management goals can be determined and strategies for achieving those can be established by the landowner and club.”
These objectives, along with good information about the deer herd and habitat conditions, determine the recommended harvest, Pierce said.
“In essence, hunters practicing QDM become managers, improving the age structure by allowing yearling bucks to survive to maturity, improving the sex ratio by harvesting adequate numbers of does, managing the habitat, and keeping detailed records on deer observed and harvested,” Pierce said.
For those interested in deer management, Pierce recommends “Missouri Whitetails: A management guide for landowners and deer enthusiasts,” a free publication available in print from MDC offices and online at http://mdc.mo.gov/nathis/mammals/deer/.