December 4, 2008

November Deer Harvest Dips Slightly From 2007

JEFFERSON CITY—Missouri’s November firearms deer harvest dipped by 6.4 percent this year, leading the state’s top deer expert to believe that antler-point restrictions and an emphasis on shooting antlerless deer are paying off.

The statewide deer harvest during the 11-day November Portion of Firearms Deer Season was 200,684. That is down 13,810 from last year.

The top harvest counties were Macon, with 4,021 deer checked; Benton with 3,611 and Texas with 3,590.

Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen is in charge of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s deer-management program. He said that except for a cold, windy opening day, weather was not much of a factor in holding down this year’s deer harvest. He described conditions as “about as close to perfect as possible.”

Hansen also dismissed acorn availability as a significant factor in reducing this year’s deer kill. Instead, he attributed the reduced harvest to a combination of regulation changes and disease.

“I think there is no question that more than doubling the number of counties with antler-point restrictions reduced the harvest,” said Hansen. “Requiring hunters to pass up deer that don’t have at least four points on one side necessarily reduces the number of deer they can shoot. That is especially true the first year, before younger deer have a chance to mature and grow into the legal range.”

When antler-point restrictions went into effect in 29 counties in 2004, the overall deer harvest dropped by about 14 percent in the northern portion of the pilot area and approximately three percent in the southern portion. Hansen said this year’s harvest decrease is consistent with that pattern.

Scotland County, one of the 36 counties added to the antler-restriction area in 2008, saw a minimal harvest decline in 2008, 26 deer. Local hunters checked in 2,264 deer down from 2,290 last year. Of that total in 2008, 722 were antlered bucks, 373 button bucks and 1,169 does.

Overall the northeast district, where the antler-restriction now applies to all 16 counties, saw a modest decrease of just 570 deer from 2007, with hunters bagging 35,228 deer this year, including 11,622 antlered bucks.

Macon County, the state leader, saw an increase of 581 deer checked in to top 4,000 in the 11-day season. Pike County saw the biggest drop off, declining 665 deer to 2,695 in 2008.

Adair County hunters checked in 2,897 deer, up 349 in 2008 while Clark County (-149 to 2,102) and Knox County (-280 to 2,340) both saw declines. Schuyler County had the lowest total in the region with 1,561 deer checked in, which was up 54 from the previous season.

Statewide, antlered deer made up 37 percent of this year’s November deer harvest compared to 45 percent last year.

Hansen noted that deer numbers also are decreasing in some areas in response to other factors. “We have been trying to encourage hunters to shoot more does for at least a decade,” he said. “Attitudes change slowly, but I think hunters have kind of taken the doe-harvest message to heart. In addition to our encouragement, popular deer hunting groups, like the Quality Deer Management Association and Whitetails Unlimited, also encourage doe harvest.”

Hansen said more hunters are recognizing that responsible deer management is needed to minimize the incidence of deer-car accidents and crop damage and to improve the quality of deer hunting. “Over time it is becoming more acceptable to shoot does,” he said.

Hansen said localized outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, particularly in southern Missouri, also played a role in reducing deer numbers and therefore deer harvest.

Missouri’s record November firearms deer harvest of 235,054 took place in 2006.

Hansen said Missouri’s deer herd remains healthy and relatively stable, and he expects future years’ November deer harvests to hover somewhere around 200,000.

“Overall, I am very pleased with this year’s harvest, and with the trend in deer harvests. Deer management is a balancing act between the advantages of having enough deer and the disadvantages of having too many deer. I think a lot of people would be unhappy if our deer population increased or decreased much from where it is now.”

The Conservation Department recorded four firearms-related deer hunting incidents – all nonfatal – during the November hunt. That is the same as last year’s record low.

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