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Forecast By Tony Kalna Jr.

Predictions abound at the beginning of each major sports season. Prognosticators give us their best hypothesis on what teams will win their respective divisions and conferences. Everyone wants to know who is going to come out on top at the end of the season.

The deer season is no different. Hunters in the Show Me State want to know in advance which regions and counties will come out on top in terms of deer harvest. Will your favorite Missouri deer hunting region or county be in the running for first place in terms of deer harvest this year?

MISSOURI’S DEER AND DEER HUNTER DYNAMICS

Missouri deer hunters are blessed to have an estimated statewide deer population of 1.47 million whitetails. These same deer have about 63,910 square-miles of land to inhabit and elude hunters. Statewide, Missouri has an estimated average of 23.1 deer per square mile.

Hunters successfully harvested a grand total of 307,979 whitetails during all portions of the deer season in 2012. That total is the third largest deer harvest on record in Missouri. Hunters have only broken the 300,000-harvest mark two other times — in 2006 and 2004 when Show Me State hunters bagged 321,928 and 312,873 deer respectively. The 2006 tally was our all-time record harvest.

Missouri Deer Harvest Trends (2008-2012)

Harvest numbers increase and decrease annually based on a variety of issues like weather, deer mortality, and the acorn catalyst. If the weather is fair to good, hunters are likely to spend more time in the woods hunting and therefore increasing harvest numbers. Deer disease and liberal antlerless deer regulations can decrease deer populations. If there is a lack of acorns, deer come out of the timber to graze in open areas, making them more vulnerable to hunters.

We asked the Missouri Department of Conservation deer biologist, Emily Flinn, what hunters might expect in 2013. “We had a boon year in deer harvest in 2012 because of the bust year we had on acorn production,” she said. “Harvest numbers are almost sure to decrease this year.”

Last year, the harvest was exceptionally high in the southern half of Missouri because of that acorn factor. Some southern counties had a 40 to 50 percent increase in deer harvest compared to the 10-year average harvest. The combination of a decreased deer population from high harvest in 2012 in some of those southern counties, the mortality from Hemorrhagic Disease in almost all parts of the state, and the fact that there will likely be at least an average acorn crop this year should drive deer harvest numbers down.

“Missouri’s deer populations in our northern regions have been steadily decreasing over the past decade, while populations in southern Missouri have slowly been increasing,” Flinn said.

Antler Point Restrictions, the availability of antlerless permits, hunting pressure, mortality from HD and loss of habitat are all contributing factors to deer numbers declining in northern Missouri. At the same time, limiting the number of antlerless permits, less hunting pressure, and more places for the deer to hide probably are factors that are allowing deer numbers to increase in southern regions of the state.

Last year was perhaps the worst year for a widespread outbreak of HD, probably because of the extreme drought conditions we experienced. There were 10,177 cases of suspected HD reported statewide, but there likely were many more deer that died that weren’t reported. All regions of the state had moderate to severe mortality from HD, with the exception of the southeast region, which experienced few cases of the deadly disease. The top three counties in HD cases were Osage with 700, Chariton 324, and Shelby 315.

“Hunters should consider reducing deer harvest in areas where they are observing fewer deer than in previous years or where they have found dead deer that were suspected to have succumbed to Hemorrhagic Disease last year,” said Flinn. “Just because the Department of Conservation has unlimited or multiple antlerless deer permits available, that does not mean that we are suggesting you use as many as you can.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation has the state divided into eight different regions — Northeast, Northwest, Central, Ozark, Southeast, Southwest, Kansas City, and St. Louis. We’ll look inside each region and discover what the estimated deer densities are per square mile, what the harvest trends are in each region, and where the hot and cold spots are in each region.

NORTHEAST REGION

The Northeast Region is comprised of 15 counties and includes 7,487 square miles of habitat. Counties inside the region are Adair, Clark, Knox, Lewis, Macon, Marion, Monroe, Pike, Putnam, Ralls, Randolph, Schuyler, Scotland, Shelby and Sullivan.

The Northeast is hands-down the state’s leading region in terms of deer densities with a whopping 33.1 deer per-square-mile estimate. That’s 10 more deer per-square-mile than the statewide average!

The area finished second in terms of deer harvest numbers last year with a total of 47,478 whitetails taken throughout all portions of the season. That total is 6 percent less than was taken during the 2011 season.

The top three harvest counties were Macon with 4,883 deer taken (8th statewide), Pike 4,339 (15th), and Adair 3,894 (19th). The three counties with the lowest hunter harvest numbers in this region last year were Schuyler with 2,029 deer taken, Marion 2,281, and Ralls 2,414.

According to the MDC reports, the northeast region’s deer population has been slowly declining over the past 10 years.

“The northeast region has a ton of diverse habitat, which is what makes it so appealing to deer,” said Flinn. “But two counties, Monroe and Shelby, have experienced the most significant decrease in harvest compared to the 10-year average.”

On a positive note, about half the counties in the region have stable to slightly increasing deer populations. Those counties include Adair, Macon, Lewis, Putnam, Sullivan, Clark and Schuyler.

ST. LOUIS REGION

The St. Louis Region includes the following eight counties: Crawford, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, St. Charles, St. Louis, Warren and Washington.

The region has the smallest amount of inhabitable deer terrain with 4,493 square-miles of space, but it boasts the second highest population of whitetails. This area has an amazing estimated deer density of 29 deer per square-mile!

Although there are so many deer in such a relatively small area, accessing hunting land can be difficult because of the urban and suburban habitat there. That and the fact that there are so few counties is why this region finished eighth out of the eight regions in harvest numbers last year with 27,807 deer taken, which is an 18 percent increase over 2011.

Top counties were Franklin with 5,561 deer (second statewide); Jefferson 4,438 (14th), and Crawford 4,202. The bottom three counties in harvest were St. Louis with 2,020; St. Charles 2,308; and Warren 2,646.

“Harvest numbers fluctuate a lot in this region because there is a lot of forest cover here,” said Flinn. “Washington County is a good example of the fluctuation as they had a 40 percent increase in harvest numbers over the 10-year average due to the acorn factor.”

The deer population is stable or slowly growing in areas outside of what is known as the “urban” areas in the region, and has been for the past few years. That increase, especially in southern parts of the area, may lead to a liberal antlerless deer harvest.

CENTRAL REGION

This 15 county region includes the counties of Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Camden, Cole, Cooper, Gasconade, Howard, Maries, Miller, Moniteau, Montgomery, Morgan, Osage, and Saline. This area includes 8,307 square-miles of deer habitat and has the third largest estimated deer population in Missouri with 27.8 deer per square-mile.

The Central Region came in first statewide in overall deer harvest last season. Hunters killed a combined 50,413 deer last year for a 12 percent increase over 2011. Top counties were Camden with 5,380 (4th statewide), Callaway 5,354 (5th), and Morgan 4,942 (7th). Bottom counties were Moniteau with 1,688, Cole 1,852, and Audrain 1,955.

The high harvest of the 2012 season, when added to other mortality such as this region experienced because of the significant HD outbreak last year, may make reducing doe harvest numbers a necessity. That is especially true for counties in the northern part of the region like Audrain, Howard, Boone, Saline, and Cooper counties, which are doubly suffering from prior deer number declines due to previous HD outbreaks and liberal doe harvests. Osage and Boone counties really took a blow in deer mortality with heavy outbreaks of HD in 2012.

“Although this region’s harvest last year was above the 10-year harvest average it was primarily because of the high number of deer taken in Miller and Maries counties,” Flinn said. “Meanwhile, deer numbers in Howard and Boone counties are really suffering because of HD events in 2007 and 2012. Howard even experienced another outbreak back in 2010.”

Brian Hollands with his 183-inch Missouri Non-Typical. Photo via North American Whitetail.

KANSAS CITY REGION

This region includes 12 counties — Bates, Benton, Cass, Clay, Henry, Jackson, Johnson, Lafayette, Pettis, Platte, St. Clair and Vernon. Its 7,050 square-miles of habitat is home to approximately 22.9 deer per square-mile. This is the fourth highest deer density in the state.

The KC area finished seventh out of eight regions in terms of harvest last season with 30,485 deer taken, a 6 percent decrease from 2011. Top counties were Benton with 5,516 deer killed (3rd statewide), St. Clair 4,029 (17th), and Henry 3,248. The three counties with the lowest harvest were Lafayette with 1,284, Platte 1,417, and Clay 1,490.

Deer numbers and harvest figures have been stable to gradually declining over the last 10 years.

“Platte, Bates and Pettis counties are the primary examples in decreased harvest compared to the 10-year average,” Flinn said.

Benton County has remained the anchor of stability in the region. Unfortunately, Benton and Henry counties suffered the greatest mortality in 2012 from HD outbreak.

OZARK REGION

The 12-county Ozark Region includes 8,986 square-miles of deer habitat. Counties are Carter, Dent, Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Phelps, Pulaski, Ripley, Shannon, Texas and Wright. With an estimated 21.5 deer per square-mile this region takes fifth place in deer numbers.

The acorn factor really boosted harvest in the region, with hunters bagging 42,097 whitetails, a whopping 22 percent increase from 2011. The top three counties were Howell with 5,572 deer taken, (1st statewide); Texas 5,214 (6th); and Oregon 4,721 (11th). The bottom three counties were Wright 2,152, Carter 2,296, and Pulaski 2,426.

For the past 10 years, deer numbers have been slowly but steadily increasing in the region.

“Howell and Oregon counties have good deer numbers in this region,” said Flinn. “They both have a good diversity of habitat with Howell having 50/50 forest to grassland habitat and Oregon 65/35.”

NORTHWEST REGION

The 19-county Northwest Region includes Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Clinton, Daviess, DeKalb, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Holt, Linn, Livingston, Mercer, Nodaway, Ray and Worth counties. It includes 9,360 square-miles of deer habitat and an estimated 21.1 whitetails per square-mile, ranking it sixth in the state.

Hunters tele-checked 37,673 deer from this region in 2012, which is 3,241 fewer deer than the 2011 season. The top three counties in harvest were Linn at 3,536 deer, Harrison 3,391 and Mercer 2,747. The bottom three counties were Atchison 989, Buchanan 1,041, and Clinton 1,127.

This region has been experiencing a decline in deer numbers, especially in Atchison, Nodaway, Ray, Carroll, Clinton and Daviess counties. Some portions of the region were seriously impacted with mortality from the 2012 HD outbreak, causing concern about additional decreasing deer numbers in the region.

“This region has undergone decreased quality deer habitat because of changes in agriculture,” Flinn said. “Counties like Atchison, Holt and Nodaway simply cannot sustain a large deer population because they have only 10 percent forest cover.”

On a positive note, Worth, Mercer and Harrison counties are enjoying an increasing deer population.

SOUTHWEST REGION

This 17-county region includes Barry, Barton, Cedar, Christian, Dade, Dallas, Greene, Hickory, Jasper, Laclede, Lawrence, McDonald, Newton, Polk, Stone, Taney and Webster. It covers 9,436 square-miles with an estimated deer density of 19 whitetails per square-mile for seventh place status.

Hunters in the region reported harvesting 41,497 deer in 2012, a 12 percent increase from 2011. The top three deer harvest counties were Laclede with 4,508 deer taken (12th statewide), Dallas 3,918 (18th), and Hickory 3,389. The bottom three counties were Dade 1,359, Lawrence 1,538, and Stone 1,633.

“Deer populations have slowly but steadily increasing in this region thanks mostly to fewer antlerless deer permits available, beginning in 2008,” said Flinn.

Stone, Dallas, Greene, and Laclede counties have experienced the best deer harvest over the past 10-year average.

SOUTHEAST REGION

This 16-county region includes Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Dunklin, Iron, Madison, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Perry, Reynolds, Scott, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard, and Wayne counties. It includes 8,791 square-miles of habitat and finished eighth out of eight in estimated deer populations with 15.6 deer per square-mile.

Hunters in the region killed 31,960 whitetails last season ranking the area sixth in terms of deer harvest in 2012 for an amazing 22 percent increase over 2011. Top counties were Wayne 4,774 (10th statewide), Bollinger 3,790 (20th), and Stoddard 3,321. The bottom three counties were Pemiscot 164, Mississippi 313, and New Madrid 371.

The trend in the region has been a slowly increasing deer herd over the last decade and that growth pattern is expected to continue.

“This is the only region that escaped serious deer mortality from HD in 2012,” Flinn said. “The acorn factor really boosted harvest here with counties like Bollinger, Madison and Scott experiencing 31 percent, 32 percent and 52 percent increases in harvest over the 10-year average.”

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