Missouri's 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 1

With a series of good deer seasons behind us, will that trend continue through this fall's hunts? Here are the answers you've been waiting for.

Missouri is home to some 1,455,244 white-tailed deer. That's the Missouri Department of Conservation's best guesstimate, according to Lonnie Hansen, who is the MDC's resource scientist/wildlife biologist overseeing our whitetail herd.

"Our computer model suggests that we have about 1.4 million deer here in Missouri," Hansen said. "However, there is really no way to know exactly how many there are."

The overall combined deer harvest in Missouri last year was 298,196. This number is up 15,427 from the 2008 season.

"Deer harvest numbers were down in most parts of north Missouri in 2009 and up for the most part in southern Missouri last year," Hansen revealed. "I hope we stay around 300,000 in terms of statewide overall deer harvest this year.

"In general, there are simply fewer deer in northern Missouri now than there were five years ago, mainly because we wanted to reduce deer numbers there. Also, there was some Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease that hit parts of that area."

Aside from the decline in deer numbers in the north, Hansen assigns some of the blame for the lower deer harvest there last year to the standing corn left by farmers. And that was because of an extremely wet fall.

"Farmers could not get their corn out of the fields until pretty much after firearms deer season," Hansen said. "Standing corn is great deer habitat and an excellent place for the deer to hide."

On the flip side of things, hunters in the southern half of Missouri experienced a banner season in deer harvest in 2009.

"Deer numbers in the southern part of the state have been slowly on the rise over the years," Hansen said. "Also, we had a poor acorn crop in 2009, which made the deer more visible and therefore more vulnerable to hunters."

Now that you've got a general feel for what happened last season, let's take a close look at each of the eight regions to help you in choosing an area to hunt this year. We'll give you insider information, such as the estimated number of deer per square mile in each region, last year's deer harvest, hunter density, and more!

CENTRAL REGION

The 15-county Central Region climbed from our No. 3 position to No. 1 in terms of deer harvest last year, with hunters bagging 48,284 whitetails, an increase of 4,604 deer from the 2008 season.

The top three counties in harvest were Camden with 4,786 deer taken; Callaway 4,754; and Morgan 4,710. Hunters should note that Camden, Callaway and Morgan ranked in the Top 20 counties in overall deer harvest last year, finishing in sixth, seventh and eighth place respectively.

All but four counties in this region had increases in deer harvest. Those with decreases were Boone with a 238 deer harvest decline, Audrain 237; Callaway 110 and Montgomery with only 19 fewer. However, Camden County saw a 1,236-deer increase and Miller was up 1,085 deer.

This territory came in second place statewide in deer density this year with an estimated 25.3 deer per square mile. As far as hunting pressure, the region also ranked second statewide.

"There are some really good deer hunting counties in the central region that have a good diversity of habitat," said Hansen. "Most of the counties saw increases in harvest, but there were the exceptions like Boone, which saw a decline. Those probably were because of slight declines in deer numbers and the standing corn effect."

Hansen predicted that the Central region probably would have a similar or possibly a slight decrease in harvest numbers for 2010.

NORTHEAST REGION

The 15-county Northeast Region fell from first place in deer harvest numbers in 2008 to second place in 2009. Hunters there killed 47,151 deer, down 3,652.

Top counties in deer harvest last year were Macon with 4,891 deer; Pike 4,113; and Adair 3,920. Two years ago, Macon led the entire state in deer harvest; last year it fell to a respectable fifth place. Pike County finished 14th statewide and Adair finished 16th.

Hunters should note that every county in the region experienced a decline in harvest last year with the exception of Pike County, which saw an increase of 69 deer. The biggest harvest declines were Macon with 821 fewer deer and Monroe down 494. The region ranks third in the state for deer hunting pressure.

Despite its fall from the top in terms of harvest, the northeast region once again earned top honors for deer density in 2010. The region is home to about 31.4 whitetails per square mile. That number is up 1.1 deer PSM from last year.

"This region might have the best habitat for deer in the entire state," Hansen said. "I'm not certain why there was such a decline in harvest numbers here, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was due to the standing corn which helped hide deer from hunters. I predict that given the right conditions this year, we will see an increase of harvest in this region."

OZARK REGION

The 12-county Ozark Region raised its status by moving up from fourth place to third in 2009 in terms of deer harvest, with 41,235 deer taken -- an increase of 6,906. That's the largest increase in harvest numbers in any region last year!

Top counties were Texas with 5,681 deer; Howell 5,111; and Oregon 4,502. Texas County led the entire state last year in overall deer harvest, while Howell ranked third and Oregon ninth.

The region fell from fifth place to sixth in deer density statewide in 2010 with approximately 19.5 whitetails per square mile. Despite that ranking, the region showed a .4 deer PSM increase from 2009. As far as hunting pressure goes, the area ranked sixth out of eight statewide.

"I think the biggest factor in the increase of harvest in this region last year was a lack of acorns, which made for some really good hunting," Hansen said. "Deer numbers are good in this

region, but I think next year the harvest will be down a little. The big harvest last year could have an impact on deer numbers here this year. It's the way the Ozark deer harvest works."

NORTHWEST REGION

The 19-county Northwest Region dropped from second place in deer harvest to fourth in 2009, with hunters taking 40,957 deer, an overall decline of 3,189.

Top counties in harvest were Harrison with 3,457 deer; Nodaway 3,246; and Linn 3,160. None of this region's counties made the state's Top 20 Harvest list. Each county in the region saw a decrease in harvest last year with the exception of Mercer, which saw a 36 deer kill increase. The most significant declines were in Linn County with a 483 deer deficit and Atchison down 303.

In 2009, the region ranked fourth in whitetail density statewide but falls to fifth place in 2010 with an estimated 20.5 deer per square mile. The region ranks seventh out of eight in hunting pressure.

"Deer numbers have declined in this region more than any other in the state recently," Hansen said. "Too many deer here led to liberalized regulations, which helped reduce deer numbers. A little EHD also led to fewer deer here."

Overall there isn't a lot of forest cover for deer in the region, but the soil is very fertile, which allows deer to grow larger body size in this region than in any other in the state.

"Generally speaking, we have good deer numbers in this region, but there are simply fewer deer here now than we had five years ago," Hansen said. "Linn and Chariton counties have really been hurting recently. I wouldn't be surprised if we see deer harvest slightly up in this region in 2010."

Does need to be taken as well as bucks, and as venison for the freezer, nothing is finer. Photo by Tony Kalna Jr.

SOUTHWEST REGION

The 17-county Southwest Region kept its fifth place ranking in deer harvest last year, with hunters bagging 37,099 animals, an increase of 4,121.

Top counties were Laclede with 4,259 deer, Dallas 3,411, and Hickory 3,000. Laclede was the only county finishing in the Top 20 statewide in harvest, taking 13th place. Big increases in harvest came in Laclede County, which saw 1,052 more deer taken, and Dallas, up 845 deer. McDonald County saw the only deficit with a 375 drop in deer kill.

The region remains in seventh place statewide in deer density with and estimated population of 16.5 deer per square mile. That's despite an increase of .3 deer PSM increase from 2009. The region comes in fourth in terms of hunting pressure.

"Some counties like Dade, Newton, McDonald, and Lawrence are experiencing lower deer numbers, probably from a previous outbreak of EHD," Hansen said. "Counties like Jasper and Barton will recover more quickly from such deficits because they are just good deer counties."

Hansen predicts that the 2010 deer kill in the region will be about the same, with maybe a slight decrease.

KANSAS CITY

The 12-county Kansas City Region again came in sixth place in deer harvest with hunters bagging 30,511 deer -- a decline of 111 deer.

Top counties were Benton with 5,578 deer, St. Clair 3,445, and Pettis with 3,001. Hunters might note that Benton was second-place overall in harvest statewide! Most counties in the region saw similar harvest numbers as the previous year, with the exceptions of Benton County, which saw an increased harvest of 706 deer; St. Clair County was down 428.

The K.C. region climbed higher in the rankings of regional deer densities by rising up from sixth place in 2009 to fourth place in 2010 with an estimated 22.5 deer per square mile. That's a 3.8 deer PSM increase, the highest of any region this year! It ranks fifth in hunting pressure.

Although slightly larger than the St. Louis region, the Kansas City area also contains urban hunting, which limits hunting access. There is a lot of bow hunting in the area. In fact, Jackson County finished second statewide in archery deer harvest last year.

"Vernon, Henry, St. Clair and Bates counties are experiencing a slight decline in deer numbers," Hansen said. "However, despite the slight decline in those counties, I expect harvest numbers to be about the same in the region this year."

SOUTHEAST REGION

The 16-county Southeast Region finished seventh place again in harvest, with hunters taking 27,040 whitetails -- an increase of 2,983 deer.

Top counties were Wayne with 4,458 deer, Bollinger 3,420, and Ste. Genevieve 2,780. Note that Wayne County placed 11th statewide in harvest numbers. Big variances in harvest came in Wayne County, which experienced a 1,059 harvest increase. St. Francois County was up 617 deer. An unexplainable decline came from Reynolds County, down 265 deer. The same county suffered a 522 deer harvest decline in 2008.

The region ranks eighth place in deer density with approximately 13.8 deer per square mile. It tied with Kansas City for fifth place in hunting pressure.

"This region might contain the most diverse habitat in the state," Hansen said. "You've got the heavily forested Ozarks and the Bootheel where there's almost no forest."

Hansen predicts that deer harvest in counties in the western and southern parts of the area will be down, while the eastern counties will remain about the same. Overall he thinks the harvest will be slightly down.

ST. LOUIS REGION

The eight-county, St. Louis Region once again finished dead last at eighth in harvest last year, with hunters killing 25,919 deer. That number is up 3,765 deer from 2008.

The top three counties for deer harvest were Franklin with 5,088 deer, Crawford with 4,470, and Jefferson with 3,757. All three of those counties finished among the Top 20 harvest counties statewide. Franklin finished fourth, Crawford 10th and Jefferson 17th.

The area ranks third statewide in deer density with about 23.9 deer per square mile, an increased estimate of 1.6 deer PSM.

The main reason for the gap between the high deer density and low deer harvest numbers in t

he region has to do with the small size of the region. There are only eight counties there. The other factor playing a role in the region finishing last is the fact that much of the area is in suburbia where hunter access is limited. Despite that fact, the St. Louis Region ranks No. 1 statewide in hunting pressure.

Much of the hunting in the region is limited to bowhunters, not because of hunting regulations, but because of landowner attitudes toward hunting, and safety issues with firearms. Three of this region's counties were in the top four statewide in archery deer harvest last year. St. Louis County took first-place honors with 1,076 deer killed by bow and arrow; Franklin was third and Jefferson fourth.

Seven of this area's eight counties experienced an increased harvest last season. The only decline was in St. Charles County where hunters bagged 90 fewer deer than the previous year.

"Some counties in the region -- like St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren -- probably still are feeling the effects of EHD from 2007," Hansen said. "There is a good diversity of habitat there, however, and if I had to predict, I'd say that the counties in the north part of this region will see an increase in harvest this year, while the southern counties probably will see a slight decrease."

SUMMARY

"I think the deer harvest will vary across the state in 2010," Hansen said. "I think it will be up a little in north Missouri, down a little in southern Missouri, especially the eastern Ozarks, and I don't think there will be much of a change in central parts of the state."

There you have it, the most comprehensive field guide to deer hunting in Missouri. Now don't be afraid to use this information to your advantage and start scouting out a new place to hunt this season!

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