Missouri deer hunters don’t have to look too hard to find one of the 1.3 million white-tailed deer estimated to call this state home. Even so, some regions and counties hold deer more plentifully than others. This outlook is designed to point you in the direction of those hotspots, and maybe to help fill the freezer with venison.
“The best deer hunting in Missouri starts in north Missouri and is a progressively less good the farther south you go,” said Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen.
Hansen is the MDC’s wildlife biologist in charge of the well being of the Show Me State’s deer population. When it comes to whitetails, Hansen is not only a biologist, but also an avid deer hunter.
Hansen’s progressive north-to-south theory on whitetail deer hunting in Missouri is reflected in MDC whitetail reproductive data. According to their findings, 34 percent of whitetail does north of the Missouri River get impregnated during their first year, while just 21 percent of does south of the Missouri River do. Two-year-olds in north Missouri have a 92 percent pregnancy rate compared with an 86 percent rate among their southern counterparts.
There are some great deer hunting opportunities south of the Missouri River. It’s just that deer in much of the southern half of our state are harder to hunt because of the large amounts of timber they can hide in.
“There definitely are hot and cold spots across the state in terms of deer numbers,” Hansen said. “For example, the deer population on our farm in Boone County is considerably down from previous years.”
One barometer of the state’s white-tailed deer population is harvest numbers from the previous year. In 2008, deer hunters in Missouri killed 283,253 deer, the lowest harvest total in the past five years.
Most of the hotspot areas in terms of deer population and harvest numbers all have good habitat. These places have been perennially good deer producers and are likely to continue. On the other hand, counties that currently suffer from fewer deer and less-than-average whitetail harvest numbers have several factors contributing to their waning numbers.
“You’ve got to remember that many counties in Missouri were hit hard with EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) in 2007,” Hansen said. “We are just starting to see the effects of this disease in the 2008 harvest numbers, and will know more about which counties suffered most from EHD in the next year or two.”
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is a deadly deer sickness that is most prominent in areas under severe drought conditions like much of the state experienced in 2007. Many counties throughout Missouri were hit by EHD in 2007, which resulted in lower harvest numbers in 2008.
Another factor that affected deer harvest numbers in 2008 was the addition of 36 counties under the antler point restriction regulations.
“When a county is first placed in antler point restrictions, deer harvest numbers go down,” Hansen said. “This is because hunters cannot shoot those 1.5-year-old bucks that they normally would have, and the increase in doe harvest in those counties doesn’t override the decrease in buck harvest.”
Finally, some counties are showing lower deer harvest numbers because of the very liberal deer seasons we’ve had for many years in a row now, with emphasis on killing more does. It only stands to reason that the more does you kill, the fewer deer you have. In some regions, the MDC has recognized this fact and has put serious limitations on doe harvest and other deer hunting regulations on many public hunting areas.
Now that we’ve got a general feel for what to expect for the 2009 deer season, let’s take an in-depth look at each of the eight MDC regions and how they compare with each other.
The 15-county Northeast Region has once again earned top honors in terms of deer population and harvest numbers. According to MDC data, this region is home to approximately 30.3 whitetails per square mile!
The 2008 harvest numbers reflect the large number of deer that live there as hunters checked in a grand total of 50,803 whitetails. Although this number is the state’s best in harvest numbers, it is 932 less than the 2007 harvest total in the area.
The top three counties in this territory in deer harvest last year were Macon with 5,712 deer checked in, Adair with 4,111, and Pike with 4,044. Hunters should note that Macon led the entire state in terms of deer harvest, while Adair placed sixth and Pike eighth statewide. Also, Macon’s total is 694 more deer than were taken there in 2007.
Although ranked No. 1 in deer and harvest, this area comes in at third place for deer-hunting pressure.
The only red flag that comes up in this region is in Pike County where hunters killed 938 fewer deer in 2008 than they did during the previous season. That drop in deer kill is in direct correlation with the big hit this county took from EHD.
“Deer numbers in this region are very good with the only negative issue being in Pike County, which suffered from an EHD outbreak in 2007,” Hansen said. “Also, historically, we shot too many of our young bucks in this region, but with all of the new antler point restrictions, it should make buck hunting much better here in the future.”
The 15-county Central Region ranks No. 2 in deer density with an estimated 25.2 deer per square mile. It may surprise readers that 10 counties lie south of the Missouri River.
Although taking second place honors in deer numbers, this area fell to third place as far as deer harvest totals from 2008 are concerned, with hunters bagging 43,680 deer. This is a shocking 5,943 decrease in harvest from 2007.
The top three counties in harvest numbers last season were Callaway with 4,864 deer killed, Morgan 4,033, and Boone 3,915. Hunters should note that Callaway ranked third overall statewide in deer harvest last year, while Morgan came in ninth place and Boone 10th.
As far as hunting pressure, this territory ranked second statewide.
There are three red flags reflected in last year’s harvest numbers. Callaway County showed a 1,035 d
ecrease in deer kill from the previous year, Camden, a 926 decrease and Montgomery checked in with 812 fewer whitetails taken.
“Callaway County was hit hard by EHD but also is new in the antler point restriction program,” Hansen noted. “Buck harvest dropped in Camden and Montgomery because of the antler point restrictions too, but overall, this region has good deer numbers.”
Hansen pointed out Boone, Howard and Callaway as counties that suffered the most deer loss from EHD and from liberal hunting regulations.
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