Missouri's 2009 Deer Outlook Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

Missouri's 2009 Deer Outlook Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

With a strong deer population like we have here in the Show Me State, it's fairly easy to fill a tag or two, but some areas are better deer producers than others. Here's a closer look at some of our top spots for taking venison this fall. (October 2009)

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.

NORTHEAST REGION

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."

CENTRAL REGION

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.

ST. LOUIS REGION

The eight-county St. Louis Region ranks third statewide in deer density with about 22.3 deer per square mile yet finished dead last (eighth) regionally in harvest numbers last year with hunters killing 22,154 deer. The top three counties were Franklin with 4,089 deer harvested, Jefferson 3,510, and Lincoln 3,405. Hunters should note that Franklin finished seventh in harvest statewide last year.

The reason for the difference between the high density of deer and the relatively low number of whitetails killed is that this region includes a lot of urban sprawl. Simply put, hunters have a hard time gaining access to hunting land, and so deer numbers are hard to manage. That's especially true in St. Louis County where firearms hunting is prohibited by many individual municipalities. However, archery deer hunting in St. Louis County can be phenomenal. In fact, St. Louis County ranked second statewide in archery deer harvest last year with 909 deer taken by bowhunters.

The St. Louis Region ranks No. 1 statewide in hunting pressure. The big timber and farm country on the outskirts of this region draw a lot of hunters from the St. Louis metro area.

The three counties of concern in this territory are Lincoln County where hunters killed 633 fewer deer last year than the previous season, Warren in which hunters bagged 576 fewer whitetails, and Crawford with 707 fewer deer than the year before.

"Overall, I'd say deer numbers are good here, but some of the northern counties were hit hard by EHD," Hansen said. "Lincoln and Warren were victims of the disease, but a reduction in buck harvest because of antler point restrictions, in part, lowered overall harvest in those two counties."

As far as Crawford County is concerned, Hansen said that an overabundance of white oak acorns last year coupled with an outbreak of EHD in 2007 played a role in reduced deer harvest.

NORTHWEST REGION

The 19-county Northwest Region ranks fourth in whitetail numbers statewide with an estimated 20.7 deer per square mile, and finished second in 2008 whitetail harvest with 44,146 deer taken. Top counties in harvest were Linn with 3,643 deer bagged, Harrison at 3,631 and Nodaway with 3,411. Hunters should note that Harrison's harvest was 458 deer more than the previous season's count.

Hunting pressure is relatively low as this region ranks seventh out of eight in that category. This is the largest of the eight regions in terms of number of counties, which also helps limit hunting pressure.

"We have a fairly stable deer population in this region," Hansen said. "This is one region where hunters have varying perceptions on deer numbers, depending on where they live. Some might think they have deer coming out their ears, while others might think there aren't many deer."

Hansen attributes the vast difference of opinion to a majority of the land being in private ownership and there being many hot and cold spots depending on where you live or hunt.

OZARK REGION

The 12-county Ozark Region ranks fifth in deer densities in Missouri with approximately 19.1 whitetails per square mile. As far as hunting pressure goes, this area ranked sixth out of eight statewide.

The Ozark Region finished fourth in 2008 deer harvest with 34,329 deer taken. Top counties in harvest were Howell with 4,578 deer, Texas with 4,549, and Oregon at 3,833.

Hunters should note that this region suffered a 6,330 animal decline in deer killed from 2007 to 2008. Oregon County's harvest was down 1,367 deer, Ripley 956, Phelps 903, and Shannon 757.

"This region has slowly been increasing in deer numbers and harvest over the years, but we experienced the acorn effect in the Ozark Region last year," Hansen said. "The over­abundance of acorns makes it more difficult to pattern deer in the vast amounts of timber in this region and the deer harvest reflected the acorn effect dramatically."

Hansen noted there was some EHD loss, which affected select counties in the region, but he strongly feels that most of the decline was caused by the surplus of acorns.

"It's a wait-and-see deal," Hansen said. "If we get a poor acorn crop this year and deer harvest doesn't go up, then we'll know that deer numbers are probably down because of EHD."

KANSAS CITY

The 12-county Kansas City Region came in sixth place in deer density statewide with about 18.7 whitetails per square mile. It ranked fifth in terms of hunting pressure and sixth in 2008 harvest numbers. Top counties were Benton with 4,872 deer, St. Clair with 3,873, and Henry at 3,330.

This region is very similar to St. Louis in that it has plenty of urban sprawl and it's difficult to hunt with firearms in the KC metro area. However, archery deer hunting is exceptional, especially in Jackson County where hunters bagged 913 deer by bow and led the state in that category.

"Overall, there are good deer numbers here and some great deer habitat," Hansen said. "However, some of the counties in the region like Vernon, St. Clair and Barton were hit with an outbreak of EHD in 2006 and 2007, but those counties will recover."

SOUTHWEST REGION

The 17-county Southwest Region ranked seventh in deer population statewide with approximately 16.2 deer per square mile. It also finished fourth in hunting pressure and fifth in deer harvest last year. Top counties were Laclede with 3,207 deer harvested, Hickory 2,803 and Dallas 2,566. Hunters should note that Greene County had 550 more deer taken in 2008 than in 2007.

"An EHD outbreak in 2005 and 2006 affected the deer numbers in Barton, Jasper and Dade counties," Hansen said. "In fact, we became more restrictive in some of those counties a couple of years ago and we might have to get still more restrictive to help deer recover."

SOUTHEAST REGION

The 16-county Southeast Region ranked in deer population with approximately 13.7 deer per square mile last year. It ranked fifth in hunting pressure (tied with KC) and finished seventh out of eight regions in 2008 deer harvest with 24,057 deer tallied.

Top counties for deer harvest were Wayne with 3,399, Bollinger at 2,905 and Ste. Genevieve with 2,888.

This region

suffered a 2,338 decrease in deer harvest last year. Reynolds County took the biggest hit with 522 fewer deer taken. When looking at the region's overall harvest figures, remember that it includes the sparsely populated (by deer) boot heel of Missouri where there simply is very little cover for the animals.

"This is another region in which deer numbers have been slowly increasing over recent years," Hansen said. "This region, with the exception of the boot heel counties, includes lots of timber and can suffer from the acorn effect."

SUMMARY

For the first time in history, Missouri broke the half-million mark in deer hunter numbers last year. To be exact, 503,377 hunters in the Show Me State possessed some type of deer-hunting permit in 2008. Deer hunter numbers in Missouri hovered around the half-million mark for many years, while deer numbers remained stable at an estimated 1.3 million statewide.

All that sounds like a good scenario at first, but there are some concerns for future management.

"Urban deer, access to hunting across the state, and the potential reduction of hunter numbers in the future are my three biggest concerns for deer management in Missouri," Hansen concluded. "All three tie together and will pose some interesting challenges in years to come."

That said, Hansen made this prediction: "Deer numbers statewide remain good, and hunters can expect another good season this fall."

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