Missouri archery, firearms hunters post third-largest deer harvest on record PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 27 January 2008 21:51

Continuing adjustments in hunting regulations and permit fees increase hunting opportunities while keeping a lid on the state’s prolific deer herd.

JEFFERSON CITY-Archers killed the second-largest number of deer on record during Missouri’s bowhunting season, boosting the overall deer harvest to the No. 3 spot in historical standings. While not a record-setting deer-hunting season, 2007-2008 is likely to be remembered for a rollercoaster ride of strange weather and other conditions.

Archers checked 39,866 deer during the four-month bowhunting season. That is down 6 percent from last year’s record archery harvest of 42,322. Female deer made up 51 percent of the archery deer harvest, compared to 46 percent of the firearms deer harvest.

Missouri’s top three archery deer harvest counties were St. Louis, with 966 deer checked, Jefferson with 878 and Callaway with 808. Jackson County was close behind, with 804 deer checked by archers. Lonnie Hansen, a resource scientist and deer specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the full bowhunting potential of counties in and around urban areas still has not been tapped.

The strong archery deer harvest, combined with a harvest of 260,162 deer during the five firearms deer season segments and deer taken during managed hunts brought the overall 2007-08 deer harvest to 302,666. That is a 7 percent decrease from the previous season but still the third-largest harvest in Missouri history.

Hansen said the 2007-08 deer season was characterized by a host of contradictory factors.

"On one hand, acorn production was down," said Hansen. "That tends to make hunters’ job easier by concentrating deer around limited food supplies. On the other hand, overly warm, often windy weather during the November Portion of Firearms Deer Season was not in hunters’ favor. We got a break from the weather during the Muzzleloader Portion and actually set a record there, only to have a catastrophic ice storm cut into hunter success in the Antlerless Portion."

Conservation agents around the state also mentioned an increased incidence of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, often mistakenly called "blue tongue," as a possible factor in the reduced deer harvest.

 

In spite of all the negative factors, the 2007-08 deer harvest was surprisingly strong. Total deer harvests for the past five years have

been:

--2003-04 - 290,631

--2004-05 - 312,983

--2005-06 - 286,943

--2006-07 - 326,315

--2007-08 - 302,666.

Hansen said the relatively stable annual deer harvest of approximately 300,000 should reassure those who worry that liberalized deer hunting regulations might be cutting into deer numbers.

"Some hunters have expressed concern that the availability of unlimited antlerless tags in many counties will lead to deer population declines and reduced hunting opportunity," said Hansen. "Recent years’ harvests indicate to me that overall the deer herd is stable. There may be local decreases in deer numbers as a result of epizootic hemorrhagic disease or overharvest, but overall our deer herd is in good shape."

The Conservation Department has adjusted deer-hunting permit availability and fees in recent years in response to deer population trends in some areas and in an effort to change demographics of the deer hunting population. In 2002, hunters could only buy two antlerless deer permits. Residents paid $11 for the first antlerless permit (called "bonus" permits then) and $7 for the second. Nonresidents paid $75 for their first bonus deer permits and $50 for the second, while nonresident landowners could get the first bonus permit for $40 and the second for $25.

In 2003, hunters still could buy only two antlerless deer tags, but the price was $7 for residents and nonresidents alike. In 2004, the Conservation Department removed the limit on how many antlerless permits hunters could buy in many counties. The agency also doubled the number of free permits available to landowners that year.

The increase in landowner permits resulted in a substantial decrease in permit sales. In 2003, the Conservation Department sold 733,016 resident deer hunting permits. In 2004 the number dropped to 664,997, and in 2005 it fell to 623,665. Sales of resident deer hunting permits increased slightly in 2006, coming close to 645,000, but fell back to 630,726 in 2007.

The Conservation Department’s Financial Services Section predicted a $600,000 decrease in deer permit revenues as a result of the changes made in 2004. The actual decrease was nearly $639,000. Deer permit sales revenues dropped another $219,000 in 2005. An increase in nonresident deer permit sales in 2006 returned revenues to slightly less than 2003 levels. Last year, deer permit revenues finally exceeded pre-2004 levels, this time due to increases in both sales and cost of nonresident permits.

During this period of permit changes, the number of archery and firearms landowner deer permits issued by the Conservation Department skyrocketed. In 2003, the agency gave out 124,457 landowner any-deer and antlerless permits. In 2004 it jumped to 518,621, and in 2005 it went up to 523,521. Since that time, the number has fallen slightly, reaching 502,102 in 2007.

A wild card in these figures is the fact that in 2003, landowners did not need printed permits to take antlered deer on their land. They could check one antlered deer on a hand-written "farm tag." Nevertheless, Conservation Department officials say the number of people hunting under landowner permits unquestionably has increased since the liberalization of 2004. Meanwhile, sales of resident antlerless and any-deer permits dropped by 93,000 from 2003 to 2005.

"Increasing the availability of landowner permits and requiring hunters to pick up those permits from vendors is a win-win-win deal," said Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen, the Conservation Department’s deer specialist. "For starters, landowners get more permits. In turn, they are more able to help keep deer numbers in check. And we finally have a good handle on how many people are hunting deer in Missouri, which enables us to make better decisions about deer management."

Hansen said the large number of antlerless deer permits issued in recent years has not led to a proportional increase in the antlerless harvest, although the number of antlerless deer harvested has increased.

"Very few hunters are willing to harvest more than one or two deer a year," he said. "Getting deer out of the woods can be hard work, and there is only so much meat a family can eat in a year. Consequently, the average hunter is not likely to harvest multiple deer, no matter how many permits are available or how inexpensive they are."

Hansen said he would like to see hunters shoot more does for several reasons. For one thing, he said, Missouri’s deer hunters are getting older. As they age, they harvest fewer deer. The only way that hunters can kill fewer deer and still have the same braking effect on deer numbers is to kill more female deer.

"Taking bucks out of the population does very little to slow population growth," he said. "If we are going to kill fewer deer in the future, more of them need to be does. Otherwise, we will see an increase in deer numbers and deer problems, such as deer-vehicle accidents and damage to crops."

To encourage hunters to shoot more deer than they and their families and friends can eat, the Conservation Department, in cooperation with the Conservation Federation of Missouri, offers Share the Harvest. This program allows hunters to donate whole deer to food banks and other charities to help feed needy Missourians.

In many cases, hunters pay nothing for processing the deer. This expense is shared by the Conservation Department, corporate partners, sporting groups and local sponsors.

For more information about Share the Harvest, visit missouriconservation.org/hunt/deer/share or contact the Conservation Federation at (573) 634-2322, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it