The forecast for this year's deer season could be described as "overcast with a slight chance of rain." That's what it would be in the words of a meteorologist, but in deer hunters' terms, the 2014 deer season harvest will probably be about the same as it was last year — down from the previous year but with a chance of harvest being even lower.
The past two years of deer hunting haven't been particularly good. I spend most of my time deer hunting in the Central Region of Missouri and it's been a little slow lately. I'm not one of those guys who are on a mission to shoot a half-dozen deer or more each year. I primarily hold out for a mature buck, but by the end of the season, sometimes I'll turn my attention to shooting a doe for meat.
The 2012 season was the worst season I've experienced since the 1970s when deer sightings were a precious commodity. I saw just a handful of deer throughout the seasons. I attribute that to fewer deer numbers and a nearly non-existent acorn crop, which forced the deer out of the timbered ridges that I hunt, down into the bottoms where there was a green food source for them to eat but, unfortunately, where I have no permission to hunt. Meanwhile, in 2013, I saw quite a few more deer but never could put my bead on a buck that I wanted to take.
Successful deer hunting is all about being in the right place at the right time. You can look at this concept through a magnifying glass as in being in the right stand on your property at the right hour. Or, you can look at it through a wide-angle lens, as like hunting in the right county during the right year.
For his article I will be more like a TV movie critic than a weatherman, because this year's deer season is like the old Clint Eastwood movie title, "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly." We will look at all aspects of the upcoming season and tell you where the action is hot and where it is not.
The horizon for deer hunters in the Show Me State isn't all wet. Hunting in the immediate future is brighter in some areas than others, however, and we will take a tour, so to speak, of the entire state with Jason Sumners, the Missouri Department of Conservation's resource scientist that oversees our deer herd.
"As we go through and look at each of the different regions in Missouri, I would caution hunters not to pick a 'region' to hunt just because of the overall population status of that region," said Sumners.
"Deer numbers vary so greatly on a county-by-county basis within those regions and even more so on a property-by-property basis within those counties."
In other words, Sumners is saying that even though numbers may be generally down for a particular region or even county, there are individual blocks of land within those areas where deer numbers are still good and hunting can be very good too.
"Statewide, our estimated deer population is down because of the extreme mortality our deer herd experienced from hemorrhagic disease the past couple of years," said Sumners. "I still think our deer population is at over 1 million animals, but we won't know more detailed numbers until after this year is over."
According to Sumners, as in much of Missouri, deer numbers in counties in the northeast region have been stable to slowly declining in recent years. HD hit many of the counties within this region hard in 2012, and some experienced deer mortality from HD in 2013. Deer harvest last year reflected the effects of the HD outbreak, with this region experiencing a 22 percent harvest decrease from the 10-year average.
"The northern tier counties in this region remain the best bets for deer hunters within this region," Sumners said. "These areas remained primarily stable in population while most of the rest of the region was experiencing declining deer numbers."
Top prospects for this season include Putnam, Schuyler, Scotland and Clark counties.
Currently, the poorest counties in deer numbers within this region are Randolph, Monroe and Shelby which had experienced a 30 percent harvest decrease last year compared to the past 10-year average.
HD has repeatedly taken a toll on deer numbers within these counties and the MDC cannot figure out exactly why it hits there more than other counties.
These population declines force the MDC to limit the firearms antlerless permits to just one per hunter per county for most hunters in this region. But hunters in the Chronic Wasting Disease Zone will have two firearms antrlerless permits per hunter to help balance the disease and population management efforts.
"The northwest region has been experiencing declining deer numbers for over a decade," Sumners said. "Harvest trends have been slowly declining here too."
Last year, deer harvest was 25 percent below the 10-year average. Counties with the most significant declines in harvest last year were Atchison, Holt, and Ray, which experienced 30 to 50 percent harvest declines compared to the past 10-year average.
The counties with the best hunting outlook for the 2014 season in the region are those counties in the northern tier. Those counties include Worth, Nodaway, Harrison and Mercer.
"In parts of Chariton and Carroll counties, the deer numbers are very low," Sumners said. "For many years we have overharvested does in this region going back to the mid-2000s."
Once again in an effort to bring back deer numbers to more acceptable levels, the MDC will be limiting hunters to just one firearms antlerless permit per county starting this season. The exception to this will be Linn and Chariton counties where hunters will be allowed two firearms antlerless permits to help reduce deer numbers.
KANSAS CITY REGION
Deer numbers in this region are stable to declining. This region was hit very hard by HD in 2012 and harvest numbers in 2013 reflected a 23 percent decrease from the 10-year average harvest totals.
Benton, Clay, Henry, Johnson and Platte had harvest declines of 24 percent or greater. Benton County experienced a whopping 32 percent decrease in harvest numbers last year, primarily because of HD mortality and high deer harvest in 2012.
"Better deer numbers can be found in this region's urban zone," Sumners said.
As a result of the trending population declines in the region, firearms antlerless permits will be reduced for most of the region starting this year in an effort to increase or stabilize deer numbers.
ST. LOUIS REGION
The "Lou" fared pretty well in harvest numbers last year, mainly because of slowly increasing deer numbers in the southern counties.
The "good" is that Jefferson and Franklin counties are two of the state's perennial top deer producers. The "bad" is that HD has taken its toll on Lincoln and Warren counties. The "ugly" is that Lincoln County experienced a 17 percent decrease in deer harvest last year.
Lincoln and Warren counties will limit the number of firearms antlerless permits to just one per hunter this year to address decreasing deer numbers. Also, firearms antlerless permits in the urban deer zones will be reduced from any number to just two per hunter.
Hunters in this region will be glad to know that, unlike the other regions that we've looked at so far, this area experienced a typical deer harvest last year when compared to the last 10-year harvest average.
"We have a slowly growing deer population here for the past 10 years," said Sumners. "This is true pretty much across the board for this region."
The counties with the largest increase in harvest numbers last year when compared to the 10-year harvest average were Carter and Shannon counties. The counties with the largest decrease in deer harvest were Wright and Phelps with 17 percent and 13 percent declines.
"Deer numbers are pretty stable in the southwest region," said Sumners. "We are even seeing a slowly increasing number of deer here."
Perhaps the best county in the region is Barton. Deer numbers are good enough there to increase the number of antlerless permits from one per hunter to two. The "bad" counties are Cedar and Hickory, which have experienced population declines over a period of time because of liberalized antlerless permit availability. The ugly in this region is probably Stone and Taney counties simply because those areas have poor habitat and low deer densities.
This year, hunters in Cedar and Hickory counties will be limited to just one firearms antlerless permit per hunter to help address the declining deer numbers within those counties.
Deer hunters in this region will be happy to know that they have a slowly growing deer population. This is the only region to have an increase in deer harvest last year.
"The good news is that counties like Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Madison have a growing deer population," Sumners said. "But the Bootheel simply has poor deer habitat and limited amounts of it, which means low deer numbers in that part of the region."
Sumners added that the MDC biologists are keeping a close watch on Ste. Genevieve County because it is the only county in the region where hunters are imposed with Antler Point Restrictions. The high number of hunters that frequent this area along with the APR has put some stress on the doe population in that county. The future may include rescinding the APR in that county. Hunters in Cape Girardeau County will be allowed one firearms antlerless permit per hunter this year in order to address the localized deer-related issues there.
The central region has experienced significant declines in deer numbers like many of the other regions across Missouri because of severe HD outbreaks and liberal doe harvest regulations. The counties of Camden, Audrain, Howard, Boone, Saline and Callaway have experienced the worst declines in the region. Decreasing harvest percentages ranging from 22 to 35 percent over the past 10 years are making some hunters scratch their heads and wonder where all the deer have gone.
"The southern half of this region seems to have remained stable in deer numbers when compared to the northern half," Sumners said. "Some of those northern counties like Boone, Howard and Callaway have experienced dramatic declines in deer numbers."
Firearms antlerless permits will be reduced beginning this year for most of the region in hopes of reducing doe harvest, which in turn will allow populations to increase or at least get back to more desirable and stable levels.
Educating yourself in deer population and harvest trends is not only fun, but also important in helping you determine which areas you might like to hunt. However, like the MDC's Jason Sumners pointed out earlier in this article, these numbers should be looked at in circumspect. Even though a particular region or county may be trending downward in deer population and harvest numbers, that doesn't mean a hunter can't have good success within that area. Why? Because deer populations are so individualized according to parcels of individual tracts of land within those areas. Factors that can influence harvest numbers one way or the other include habitat (cover, food availability and water); harvest regulations, hunter pressure, individual landowner and hunter goals; and mortality from disease, just to mention a few variables.
Last year the total deer harvest was 251,924, which was down by a whopping 19 percent from the previous year. The MDC attributes the decreased deer numbers to liberalized antlerless permits over the past decade or so, and to severe HD outbreaks in 2007, 2012, and 2013.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has made some important changes for the 2014 deer season, most significantly the reduction of firearms antlerless permits. Many hunters in Missouri will be limited to just one firearms antlerless permit in areas that previously had unlimited numbers of antlerless permits available to them. This is a drastic reduction in permit availability but vitally necessary to the management of our deer herd. When you take into consideration that 78 percent of all antlerless harvest takes place during the firearms portion of the seasons, and of that about 60 percent is in the November portion of the firearms season, you see how important reducing the number of firearms antlerless permits is when trying to increase or stabilize declining deer numbers.
"I think that hunters can expect to see what they have been experiencing," Sumners said. "In parts of the central, west and northern portions of Missouri, that means fewer deer."
Hunters in southern regions of the Show Me State can expect a brighter outlook for this year's deer hunt and perhaps even see a better year than this past season in terms of harvest numbers.
"Our deer season will be a mixed bag of things," Sumners concluded. "Deer numbers are dictated by many varying factors that are very localized to a particular tract of land within a county. But statewide I think that harvest will be about the same or maybe slightly lower than last season." n
Author's Note: Special thanks go to the Missouri Department of Conservation and their resource scientists, Jason Sumners and Emily Flinn, for providing information for this article.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'good luck tree. '
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell's giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it's just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost's wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail's Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'chip-shot. ' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it's a good thing he didn't.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson's persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp's Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'I've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to. '
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran's Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who'd spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won't forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'Big Daddy ' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he'd squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he'd hit, but couldn't find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand. '