Deer hunters in the Show Me State are blessed with an abundance of whitetails and a whole lot of area to hunt them in. Missouri has 68,512 square-miles of space for the deer to roam. Take away cities, suburbs and towns and that area is significantly less. However, based on the entire 68,512 square-miles and a whitetail herd that is estimated to be 1.4 to 1.5 million large, that equals an average of about 21 deer per square mile! While that figure may seem like a lot of deer, the fact is there are some regions and locales where deer numbers are much higher and places where they are much lower.
By the time you're finished reading this article you'll know where the hot and cold spots are in Missouri in terms of deer numbers.
The 15-county Northeast Region is a perennial leader in terms of deer densities and harvest numbers, and last year's deer kill was reflective of the area's whitetail productivity.
The northeast is Missouri's deer Mecca, with an estimated 31.4 deer per square-mile. That's tops in the state, and the same estimate as the previous year.
The area finished in first place in terms of deer harvest numbers with 47,206 taken in all portions of the deer season last year. That total is up slightly with 55 more deer taken than the previous year's tally, moving the region up a spot from second place.
The top three counties in the Northeast Region's deer harvest last year were Macon with 4,885 deer taken; Pike with 4,155; and Adair at 3,656. Five of the region's 15 counties made Missouri's Top 20 list in terms of harvest numbers last year. Macon finished an impressive first out of all of Missouri's 114 counties in terms of combined deer harvest numbers statewide; Pike ranked 7th; Adair 13th; Knox 17th with 3,486 deer taken; and Monroe 18th with 3,470.
Hunters should note that overall harvest in this region was almost identical to the previous year with no significant increases or decreases in any county.
"We're in pretty good shape in terms of deer numbers in this region," Hansen said. "Not to say that deer numbers haven't decreased here in recent years, but they are more in line now with where we want them to be."
Hansen said that one of the trouble spots in the area is Randolph County where deer numbers are a little less than where they should be.
"We may need to make some changes in regulations to help the population in Randolph County," he said, "but other than that I'd say that this region has some of the best deer habitat in the entire state, and hunters should see a harvest very similar to last year's here."
This 15-county region ranks an impressive second statewide in terms of both deer densities and combined deer harvest numbers.
This area boasts 25.3 deer per square-mile, which is the same estimate as last year's figure. Hunters in this region killed a combined 43,228 deer last year. Although in second place, the area experienced a significant decrease in harvest, down 5,056 deer from the previous year.
The top three counties in harvest totals last season in the region were Callaway with 4,765 deer; Osage 4,272; and Camden at 3,861. On a statewide basis, five of this region's 15 counties rank in Missouri's Top 20 in terms of harvest numbers. Callaway ranks second statewide; Osage fourth; Camden ninth; Morgan 10th with 3,858; and Gasconade 14th with 3,632.
Hunters should note that three counties in the region experienced notable decreases in harvest numbers last season. Miller County was down a whopping 1,102 deer taken from the previous season, Camden down 925 deer, Morgan down 852, Howard down 790, and Maries down 539. Only four counties in this region experienced increases in harvest: Audrain up 237 deer in harvest, Gasconade up 171. And less significantly, Montgomery was up 77 deer, Callaway up 11.
"This region is getting into the Ozark fringe where southern parts of this area have lots more timber and fescue pasture and the northern parts have more agriculture," Hansen said. "This is definitely one of the top three areas in terms of deer habitat in Missouri."
Hansen attributes the big decrease in deer harvest numbers in the region last year to the high acorn yield Missouri experienced.
"You're seeing what effect a big acorn crop has on deer harvest in this region by last year's harvest numbers," Hansen stated. "Some areas in this region are 40 percent or more timbered."
Of course by now you know that an abundance of acorns keeps deer hidden in the timber and doesn't force them out into open areas to feed. They don't have to move much in search of a food source and are therefore harder to hunt. That was a predominant factor in regions where there was a lot of oak timber last year.
"A couple of counties like Boone and Howard in this region are experiencing considerably lower deer populations," Hansen said. "We are probably going to have to reduce deer harvest in these counties to help increase the population there. Overall, hunters can expect harvest numbers to be about the same or down slightly in this region."
Part of the deer decline in those two counties is from recent EHD outbreaks and partly because of liberal deer hunting regulations allowing the harvest of too many antlerless deer.
ST. LOUIS REGION
The eight-county St. Louis Region once again finished third in terms of estimated deer densities with 23.9 deer per square-mile. But this area came in dead last out of all eight regions statewide in terms of combined deer harvest numbers last season with hunters bagging only 21,687 deer.
The top three counties in harvest in the area last year were Franklin with 4,239 deer taken, Lincoln 3,543, and Jefferson 3,456. Those same three counties made Missouri's Top 20 harvest counties list last season with Franklin coming in sixth statewide, Lincoln 16th, and Jefferson 19th.
Hunters should note that the region experienced a significant decrease in deer harvest by 4,232 fewer whitetails than the previous year. Three counties saw the biggest deer harvest declines last year. Crawford was down an amazing 1,696 deer, Franklin down 849, and Washington down 825. The only county that saw an increase in harvest was Lincoln with an insignificant 24 additional deer killed.
"The St. Louis region has an overall good deer population and a variety of habitat," Hansen said. "Of course you have very high densities of deer in the urban areas, and you have the more agricultural areas in the northern parts of this region, and more Ozarkian habitat in southern counties."
Hansen predicts harvest to be up in the region this year primarily because of the acorn effect.
Keep in mind that harvest numbers in the region are perennial lower than most of the other regions. Not because of fewer deer, but because it is the smallest region in number of counties within its borders, and gaining access to hunt in some of the urban areas is difficult at best.
KANSAS CITY REGION
The 12-county Kansas City region climbed up a couple of notches on the deer density meter as it now ranks fourth with 22.5 deer per square-mile. That number is up 3.8 deer per sq. mile!
In terms of deer harvest last year, the area once again finished in sixth place statewide with 30,478 deer harvested. That total is almost a mirror image of the prior year's harvest with a decline of only 33 deer.
The top three counties in harvest numbers were Benton with 4,706 deer taken, St. Clair 3,730, and Henry 3,255. Two of those counties finished in the Top 20 harvest counties in Missouri last year. Benton ranked third overall statewide, and St. Clair 12th.
Hunters should note that although Benton County came in first in the region and third statewide last year, hunters in that county still experienced an 872 deer harvest decline. Hunters in Henry County saw the largest increase in harvest with 367 more deer killed last season.
"The habitat here is average in terms of its value to whitetails," Hansen said. "Similar to the St. Louis Region, you have urban deer, then agricultural habitat north of Kansas City, and poorer habitat south of the city. I expect deer harvest to be similar or up a bit here."
The 19-county Northwest Region fell from fourth to fifth place in estimated deer densities with 21.4 deer per square-mile. Even though the harvest was down a notch, densities increased by .7 deer per square mile here.
The area came in third in terms of combined overall deer harvest numbers last year with 40,810 deer taken. That figure is almost identical to the 2009 season total of 40,957, with only a 147-deer harvest deficit.
The top three counties in combined deer harvest numbers were Harrison with 3,455 deer, Nodaway 3,351, and Linn at 3,212. Harrison was the only county in the region that made Missouri Top 20 harvest list last year coming in 20th statewide.
"This region has some great deer habitat and I expect hunters will experience a very similar harvest to last year's kill," Hansen said. "Weather will probably be the driving force that determines whether hunters kill more or less deer here."
Hunters should note that no counties experienced any significant increases or decreases in harvest numbers from the prior year's totals.
This 12-county region ranks sixth in deer densities and fifth in harvest numbers.
The estimated deer density per square-mile is 19.5, which is up .4 deer from last year. Hunters in the region killed 32,162 deer last year. That number was 9,073 fewer deer, and was the largest decline in deer harvest numbers from the previous year out of all eight regions!
The top three counties in the area were Howell with 4,270 deer taken, Texas 4,072, and Oregon with 3,557. Each of those counties made Missouri's Top 20 harvest list. Howell finished 4th statewide; Texas 8th; and Oregon 15th.
Hunters should note that nine of the counties in the area experienced the biggest declines in deer harvest last year. Texas was down a whopping 1,609 deer, while Dent was down 1,293, Phelps 1,054, Oregon down 945, Howell 841, Shannon 824, Carter 666, and Pulaski down 554. No counties in this region saw an increase in harvest last year.
"This region really suffered in harvest because of the acorn affect last year, but we expected it to happen," Hansen said. "Most areas in this region are 70 to 80 percent forested, which isn't necessarily good habitat for deer. But as long as we don't have another bumper crop of acorns, I expect harvest to increase here this coming season."
This 17-county region ranks seventh out of eight regions in deer density with about 16.5 deer per square-mile. That number is up .3 deer psm from last season. Hunters in this area killed a total of 36,270 deer in all seasons combined last year. That total is down just 829 from the previous season. The top three counties in the area were Laclede with 3,811 deer killed, Dallas 3,074 and Hickory at 2,991. Laclede County also made the state's Top 20 list in harvest totals last year, coming in at 11th place.
Hunters should note that Laclede and Dallas counties saw the biggest decline in harvest numbers last year with 448 and 337 fewer deer taken respectively. The county with the most noticeable increase in deer harvest was Jasper with 341 more.
"This region has a good combo of habitat, and the deer populations vary accordingly here," Hansen said. "In 2008 we had to reduce antlerless tags here from unlimited to just one, and that change has really helped this region. And now we are in pretty good shape here. I expect hunters may take a few more deer here this year."
This 16-county region finished dead last in deer density with only 13.8 deer per square-mile. Although it is up .1 deer psm, that number is dismal. Keep in mind, however, that the bootheel is included in the region and there are very few deer in that area of the state.
Hunters in the region tagged 22,922 whitetails last season, ranking the area seventh out of eight regions in terms of combined deer harvested last year. That total is down 4,118, a substantial decline from the previous year's harvest numbers.
The top three counties in harvest last year were Wayne with 2,942 deer, Bollinger with 2,774, and Perry 2,427. No county within the region made the state's Top 20 harvest list.
Hunters should note that six counties in the region saw the largest declines in harvest numbers. Hunters in Wayne County experienced a devastating 1,516 decline in deer harvested last year. The other counties with considerable harvest deficits were Bollinger down 646, St. Francois down 624, Iron 552, Madison 461, and Ste. Genevieve down 437. The only county that enjoyed a noticeable increase in harvest last year was Reynolds, up 311 deer.
"Deer numbers in this region vary more greatly than in any other area," Hansen said. "You've got counties with good habitat like Perry and Ste. Genevieve counties, but then you have rugged, poor habitat like Reynolds and Iron counties, and then the essentially deerless bootheel."
Hansen said that despite the heavy floods the region experienced this spring, deer harvest should remain the same or even be up a little.
Missouri's deer herd remains stable; hunters with a little know-how can go just about anywhere in the state and fill at least one tag. The variables that determine harvest numbers nowadays are mast production, weather and deer disease. Of course, none of these X-factors are predictable, but things are looking good for this fall's deer seasons.
"Overall, I expect to see a slight increase in harvest this year," Hansen predicted. "I believe that for the most part, deer harvest in northern Missouri will be about the same, while hunters in the Ozarks will take more deer this year."