Jason Sumners, Missouri's statewide deer biologist, said his state's deer management focuses on quality, something that would be tough to argue as Missouri is one of the top 10 states for submitted Boone and Crockett bucks. But Sumners emphasized "quality" over "trophy."
"Our management has tended toward quality rather than trophies or deer numbers," he said. "Part of that is what hunters want, and part is the lower proportion of does in many parts of the state."
That allows biologists to "manage the herd with lower harvest numbers," which – along with harvesting more does and antler point restrictions – "allows us to bring bucks into older age classes."
Those older bucks plus a lot of deer makes Missouri one of the nation's top deer-hunting states.
Deer Population: 1.4 million
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $1.1 billion
Numbers and Quality
Sumners said that the central part of the state and north of the Missouri River are the best areas for both quality and numbers. "That's the primary agricultural part of the state," he noted.
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
"I'd say a 4," Sumners said. "We've got good deer numbers across many parts of the state, although we do have some areas where deer numbers have declined to some degree, where they had peaked out previously."
Status 5 Years From Now
"I think I'd say 4 again. We've set the stage to have good management in the long term [including putting] increased effort into doing smaller-scale management to help landowners and hunters do a better job managing their populations."
He added, "I don't think any state will ever have optimal hunting opportunities because of outside influences like crop depredation, land ownership patterns and things like that."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
"I think one of the significant challenges facing hunters as we move forward is access to private land," Sumners said. "Ninety-plus percent of Missouri is in private ownership, and an increasing proportion of land is being purchased or leased for recreational purposes. I don't think that will change anytime soon, and probably will only get worse.
"In terms of statewide management, that's not necessarily an issue as long as we maintain hunter numbers and are harvesting sufficient numbers of does to manage the population."
He noted that Missouri is one of the few states where hunter numbers have been rising – a good thing, except that it also increases competition for hunting spots.
Any Doom and Gloom?
To the question of whether he can foresee any areas of his state having a large population decline or crash at some point, Sumners said, "No, I really don't. Much of our land is in private ownership, and the sheer number of landowners interested in doing wildlife management in general is phenomenal."
In the shorter term, he is concerned a bit about epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreaks if recent weather patterns of wet springs and hot, dry summers continue. "We've been getting extensive amounts of flooding, which kills vegetation and creates mud flats," he said. "Mud flats are breeding grounds for the midge that transmits the hemorrhagic virus, and deer enter through those areas to get to water. So the concern is [weather patterns are] creating these areas that are ripe for outbreaks."