December 1, 2011

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

Judging by some recent travel after dark, there are still a few deer left in Scotland County. That's after 2,373 of the four-legged car-crashes-waiting-to-happen were taken off the streets by hunters during the 11-day firearms hunting season that ended last Tuesday.

I'm no statistician, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but one would think that number would put a dent in the population. As you're cruising into Memphis, take a gander at the city limits sign. That's more deer than there are people in the entire town.

While I'm biased, and will brag that the state's best hunters are right here in northeast Missouri, the rest of the Show-Me State did alright too. A total of 190,086 deer were checked in statewide. That's enough deer to represent the population of Springfield, Missouri's third largest city.

Well if you're like me, and didn't get your deer during rifle season, don't worry, there are a few left. Research indicates the state's deer herd fluctuates from between 1.2 and 1.4 million deer a year.

Can you imagine that, considering back in 1925, the state's deer herd was estimated at just 400 animals? Deer hunting was outlawed, and deer were imported from Michigan and released in five conservation areas according to Missouri Department of Conservation history.

Hunting returned in 1931, only to be outlawed again from 1938-1943.

When hunters were finally allowed back into the woods in 1944, roughly 15,000 tried their luck, with a total of 583 bucks being taken. That's a far cry from the nearly 300,000 deer annually taken today by the estimated 500,000 hunters that pursue them during rifle, muzzleloader and archery seasons.

For all you anti-hunters out there worried that harvesting 300,000 deer from a population of 1.2 to 1.4 million will have a negative impact on the herd, it doesn't look like we will be reverting to 1940 population numbers courtesy of us gun-toting stalkers.

According to the University of Missouri Extension, studies have shown that left alone, deer populations easily have the capacity to double in a few years. With the capacity to produce twins and triplets, the Extension publication Controlling Deer Damage in Missouri offered a reproduction ratio of 1.3 fawns per doe, with a fertility rate of about 90% in breeding aged does.

The study also indicated an average 4 to 1 ratio of does to bucks. That doesn't bode well for us horn hunters, and should be particularly alarming for landowners that host us. If all we are hunting is that big buck, it won't take long for our numbers to get way out of whack, unless we do some whacking, of does that is.

As a culinary-challenged male whose family wrinkles their noses at the thought of eating venison, I have little incentive to fire upon the female persuasion as I'm optimistically opining that a big buck will not be far behind her.

My position on this gender inequality may soon have to change, as might my family's stance on eating the extremely inexpensive, highly healthy, almost always available protein resource. Even if they prove too stubborn, there are other avenues for distribution of the meat, usually just a phone call away.

When I first saw the final numbers for the 2011 firearms deer season, I was a little jealous of the thousands of successful hunters. After reading the facts about our state's deer herd, now I'm a bit embarrassed I didn't do my part to help keep things in check. I guess that's just a little more incentive to get out the muzzle loader and to keep heading to the bow stand.

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