Missouri is home to about 1.2 million white-tailed deer. That number is down from several years ago when the estimated population was at 1.5 million deer. For detailed information on why our population has declined and what hunters can expect in 2017, we turned to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Cervid Programs Supervisor, Barb Keller.
“One reason for fewer deer in Missouri today than in recent history is that liberal antlerless deer harvest regulations allowed for unlimited doe harvest in some parts of Missouri,” Keller said.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has since become very conservative on doe harvest in an effort to stabilize or increase deer populations in parts of Missouri. Another reason for declining deer numbers in some parts of our state, like northern and central Missouri, is loss of good deer habitat such as CRP ground being converted to row-crop farming. However, one of the most dramatic causes for a temporary decrease in deer numbers was disease.
“Severe Hemorrhagic Disease outbreaks in recent years really took a toll on our deer herd in some parts of the state,” Keller said.
Dr. James Kroll and Pat Hogan discuss the impact of wind on deer behavior.
(Via North American Whitetail)
The most recent widespread outbreak of Hemorrhagic Disease, aka HD, EHD or blue tongue, occurred in 2012 and had devastating effects on local deer populations in Missouri. The MDC received more than 10,000 reported cases of deer that died from HD, but there are suspected to have been many more unreported cases.
Despite fewer deer, Missouri hunters still managed to harvest 266,144 deer last year, which is only slightly below the total harvest of the 2015 season, which was 274,447.
“Although we were slightly lower in harvest last year, 3 percent less than 2015, we still harvested a lot of deer,” Keller said. “We are among the highest deer harvest states in the Midwest.”
According to MDC statistics, Keller said, overall, hunters enjoyed a 40 percent success rate last year, which in and of itself is very impressive.
We asked Barb Keller to go over each of Missouri’s eight regions and give us a brief breakdown of the status of the deer herd there.
Much of this area is part of a CWD zone, therefore the Antler Point Restrictions have been removed.
“The deer population in this region has declined in recent years, primarily from outbreaks of HD, but deer numbers are starting to rebound,” Keller said. “And we saw an increase in antlered buck harvest last year because of no APRs.”
According to Keller, the highest deer densities in this region are found in Osage and Gasconade counties, while lower densities are found in Boone, Cole and Moniteau counties.
KANSAS CITY REGION
Keller said that the deer population in this region remains stable. However the MDC has discovered two bucks in St. Clair county infected with CWD, which will cause the Antler Point Restrictions to be removed from both St. Clair and Benton counties.
“St. Clair, Henry and Benton counties have the highest deer densities in this region,” Keller said. “The remaining regions are pretty uniform.”
“The eastern part of this region has benefited from being in APRs for a long time and they have stockpiled a lot of older-age-class bucks, which was reflected in the harvest last season,” Keller said. “Clark, Lewis, Marion, Ralls, Pike, Monroe and Audrain counties all have a good population of older-age-class bucks.”
The region’s western counties were hit hardest by the 2012 HD outbreak. Plus, several counties have been removed because of CWD reports.
Generally speaking, there is no better place in the state to find good habitat or numbers of older-age-class bucks than in this region.
This region saw the steepest declines in deer numbers because of HD outbreaks.
“Deer declines are also related to loss of habitat and liberal doe harvest regulations in the past, which have deer numbers much lower than they were a decade ago,” Keller said.
Despite the bad forecast for this region, deer hunters can still find good hunting there in areas wherever good, quality deer habitat remains.
“This region has a slowly increasing deer population,” Keller said. “But this area is heavily forested and harvest can vary greatly, according to oak mast production.”
The highest deer densities and harvest in this region occurs in Howell and Texas counties. Some of the high harvest is due to these being large counties, but they also have a better diversity of deer habitat.
“This region is the most diverse in regards to both deer population, hunter density, and habitat,” Keller said. “Counties like Cape Girardeau, St. Genevieve and St. Francois in the north have better deer habitat, more deer and more deer hunters, but in the Bootheel region the habitat is poor for deer, and both deer and hunter numbers are much lower.
ST. LOUIS REGION
“This region has some of the highest deer and hunter densities statewide,” Keller said. “Some of the deer density is related to the urban areas within this region but there are some counties like Franklin, Gasconade and St. Charles with excellent deer habitat.”
Both Franklin and Jefferson counties have been found to have CWD positives this past year and are now part of the CWD zone and are removed from the APRs.
“This region has remained stable in deer numbers over the past 10 years and maybe even has a slightly increasing deer population,” Keller said. “There’s not a whole lot of variation in deer densities or hunter numbers across this region.”
CWD has been discovered in Arkansas just 15 miles beyond our border, and therefore the Missouri counties of Stone, Taney, Barry and Ozark are now included in the CWD zone.
Keller said that we can expect deer harvest in Missouri to be very similar to the one we saw last year. However variables that we cannot predict that have an impact on harvest include weather and acorn production. Heavy acorn production limits deer harvest in heavily timbered areas of our state. Warm weather or bad weather can also negatively influence deer harvest by impacting the time hunters spend in the woods and the amount of deer movement during those periods.
“Our goal is to keep deer numbers to biological and socially acceptable levels while providing plenty of recreational opportunities for hunters,” Keller said. “We seem to be well below acceptable deer numbers and have shifted management practices to stabilize or increase deer numbers by limiting doe harvest in certain areas.”
Keller doesn’t expect there to be any significant changes to deer season timing or regulations for the 2017 seasons. The only changes will be counties being added to the CWD zones and counties being removed from APRs.
Find the MDC’s annual Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet or the MDC online at mdc.mo.gov for complete rules and regulations.
Author’s note: Special thanks go to the MDC’s Barb Keller for her time and effort in providing information for this article and the graphics.
MISSOURI’S OUTDOOR RECREATIONAL ACCESS PROGRAM
If you are looking for additional land to hunt deer this year, consider looking to the 33 tracts of private land totaling some 8,455 acres that have been enrolled in the Missouri Department of Conservation’s program known as Missouri’s Outdoor Recreational Access Program, or MRAP.
The land is enrolled in the program by private landowners who want to make additional income from their property. All MRAP lands are walk-in only. Some allow all forms of outdoor recreation such as hunting and fishing, while some offer only fishing, while others may allow only small game and turkey hunting. Others just offer archery-only hunts while others offer wildlife viewing only.
All MRAP land users must register at the designated access point shown on the property map. Also, fill out the top portion of the registration card prior to entering the area and drop it in the card box. The bottom part of the card should be kept on your person while on the area, and should be completed and deposited in the card box before leaving. If no cards are available, feel free to access the property without registering.
For more information on the MRAP program, visit the MDC’s Web site at mdc.mo.gov or call their Jefferson City headquarters at 573-751-4115.—Tony Kalna Jr.