Missouri whitetail population in decline


There is no denying that the whitetail population in Missouri is on the decline, but we are not alone. Hunters are reporting to seeing less deer all across the midwest, from Kansas to Indiana and Minnesota to Arkansas. The harvest totals from previous seasons are down 15-30% in all of these states. Missouri ranks near the top of those percentages. The numbers back up the concerns deer hunters are expressing. On average Missouri is down 31.75% over the previous four years! A downward trend in northwestern and north-central Missouri has been occurring for over a decade now. These two regions of the state are down some 25% over THAT time. It all began with unlimited antlerless permits that put a focus on reducing the herds in these areas. While many hunters are seeing a decline in the population there are many counties in the southern part of the state where the deer herd is plentiful. Listed below are the past five seasons harvest numbers.

Season     Antlered Buck       Button Buck              Doe          Deer Total
2009 107,805 43,504 148,152 299,461
2010 104,477 38,372 131,945 274,794
2011 114776 39,974 136,858 291,598
2012 120,731 42,358 148,215 311,304
2013 84,200 25,345 90,734 200,279

The 2013 harvest numbers vs. the previous four years:
2009 – 33%
2010 – 27%
2011 – 31%
2012 – 36%

What’s happening? The weather can’t be blamed for such a drastic decline from previous years even with rain on opening day and extreme gusty winds on the second day of firearms season. Missouri Conservation Department Resource Scientist Jason Sumners puts it into perspective quiet well:

“The distribution of our deer harvest over the course of the season has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. “Back then, people only had nine days to hunt with modern firearms, so a significant reduction in the opening-weekend harvest was almost certain to result in a reduced deer harvest for the year. Today, Firearms Deer Season spans 42 days, so there is no rush to shoot a deer the first two days of the November Portion.”

“Last year’s (2012) opening-weekend harvest of 69,614 was the smallest opening-weekend harvest in more than 20 years. Yet, in spite of that slow start, hunters shot enough deer during the remainder of the firearms deer season to post the third-largest total deer harvest in Missouri history.” I have over 22 years of hunting experience (all in the Show Me State) so I have been witness to all of these changes firsthand. It’s not the weather that is affecting the harvest numbers. Hunters have more opportunities to hunt deer than ever before.

Is mother nature at work here? It’s widely known that the diseases EHD or epizootic hemorrhagic disease and blue-tongue were a major factor on reducing deer populations nation wide in 2012 and 2013. There are no accurate reports on how many deer died, but its safe to assume it was a lot more than was reported. I know of hunters who did not report the dead deer they found to the Missouri Department of Conservation. However the diseases occur in most years, but are most prevalent during drought conditions. It is transmitted by biological vectors In North America, this is most often the biting midge, Culicoides variipennis. Typically, outbreaks occur in late summer to early fall and end after a hard frost. It’s clear the disease killed MANY more deer than anyone will ever know. A top 3 all time harvest in the fall of 2012 only compounded the problem with the decline.

On an episode of Midwest Whitetail (web-based hunting show) in 2012 my father talks with our local conservation agent about the effects of the disease. We brought this to the viewers of the show in hopes of spreading awareness to the issue for landowners around the country dealing with the issue. The message was clear, it was widespread throughout the midwest and if you were finding dead deer you needed to adjust your harvest. You can watch that segment by clicking the following link and forwarding to the 14 minute mark of the video:



What can we do now? The number of deer taken during the hunting seasons are what affects the population size for the most part. Other facts like predation and vehicle collisions play a factor as well though. However hunters by and large control the population. Most of Missouri has liberal bag limits so hunters share a big portion of our current problem. The deer harvest decisions you make for your property should be solely based on your observations and management objectives! My grandfather used to tell me stories about seeing his first deer or first turkey on the farm. On the other end of the spectrum I remember back in the 90’s when we were shooting 20 deer a year just to keep up with the rapidly growing population. There was widespread crop damage. That brought the farming industry begging for reduced population and working in conjunction with the insurance companies to the regulations we have today. We’ve adjusted significantly, especially with all of these factors at work. The fact of the matter is there has been a change in habitat that is playing a part in all of the reduction too. Big farming operations are leasing and buying up land and farming ground that wasn’t fit to grow crops on previously, but provided nutrition and cover for wildlife. Other government programs have expired on properties and folks are converting those acres from cover to food. Things are not looking up. Everyone needs to band together and voice their opinion on what they would like to see.

The biggest thing we can do as hunters or land managers is to reduce the amount you pull the trigger. My father conducted an extensive deer survey this past summer on his property with the use of trail cameras. The data gave us a ratio of 3:1 does to bucks. Our biggest challenge is growing mature bucks. With gun fire reigning down on the animals for 42 days DURING their most vulnerable time of the year its easy to figure out where the problem lies. You can only control what happens on your own property or the property to which you hunt. I’m making sure my voice is heard and will continue to do so. I’m not naive enough to think it can’t get worse if things don’t change.

What I would like to see:
1. Gun season moved out of the rut, to the first weekend after Thanksgiving.

2. Reduce the unlimited doe tags. Go back to the old system of giving out tags based on counties or regions and the populations of the individual herds.

3. Remove over the counter non-resident tags. Go to a draw system based on regions

4. Move the first portion of the Youth Season to September when deer are on feeding patterns, not during rutting behavior

If you have opinions about how Missouri’s deer regulations should be changed, wildlife biologist Jason Sumners encourages you to contact the Missouri Conservation Commission’s regulations committee. You can submit suggestions by email to Denise Bateman, secretary of the committee, at denise.bateman @mdc.mo.gov or by regular mail at MDC Regulations Committee, Attn: Denise Bateman, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

Leave a reply below with your concerns or vote in my poll!

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33 Responses to “Missouri whitetail population in decline”

  1. Michael kopp Says:

    I think we need to keep the regular and youth rifle season where they are.

    We need to get rid of unlimited doe tags.

    We need to get rid of over the counter non-resident tags.

    We need to get rid of the regular second doe season but keep the second youth season.

    • Agree with M. Kopp except for the non-resident they don’t hurt the population 90% of them come to Mo to kill a mature buck not does or button bucks. The herd was in great shape until unlimited tags started. The rifle season was the same time but if you have 42 days to kill all the button bucks then their won’t be many bucks left to grow to mature or many does left to produce more.

      • timberland Says:

        The reduced herd size is exactly what the MDC was trying to do when they implemented these regulations. Like it or not, this is a success in their eyes.

      • I agree with Vernon McFadden , the season is to long. I live in Fl. and own 131 acers in southern Mo. I know that I bring a lot to my deer heard in my area . I permote QDMA in my area . I also spend a lot of money on food plots , lime ,fertilizer and minerals year around. I would be pissed off if I had to draw a tag.

        • So you don’t currently get landowner tags because you have to be a permant resident of the state? I’m asking because I don’t know. I know that’s how it works in Iowa, but I didn’t know that was the rule here. I guess that could explain why mark Drury changed his residency to Iowa since MO is over the counter.
          I fully believe if you are a landowner in ANY state that you should get hunting tags as a resident landowner or some exemption could be made for landowners of non residents etc.

          Anyway, my agenda is to get the length of the gun season reduced and the timing of it out if the primary rut.

  2. I think most of it is Mother Nature at work. I would like to see the doe season shortened up to 3 or 4 days and the youth season moved to the end of sept or first of oct. Mainly because the weather is nicer for the young kids to be out and enjoy some of their first times in the woods.
    I agree with you, the main way to manage is done by the trigger finger.

  3. Anthony Peoples Says:

    Very well written article. I agree 110% with every point and every suggested change. 42 days of firearm pressure is too much. We need a firearms portion out of the rut, too many young deer are getting killed at their most vulnerable time and we are not reaching our potential. We are stuck in a mediocre rut. I wouldn’t even mind seeing our “any deer” tags limited to at most two, might make certain someone’s a little more selective (I’d really like to see everyone just get one any deer tag but I know that wouldn’t sit well). Very good article!!

    • Anthony, I’m very surprised to see you in favor of doing away with NR over the counter tags since you’re a real estate agent and particularly the agent benefiting from the sale of the 1,300+ ac. where we hunt. I’m not in favor of doing away with NR over the counter sales, especially after the investment we’ve made in MO. I’m certainly as concerned as the rest of you but NR hunters have very little impact on the deer herd. We are very selective choosing to only harvest mature bucks, 3 over the past 3 years on our place. We have also been making sound doe harvest decisions solely based on our observations and management objectives to benefit the herd. To this point we have not killed any button bucks either.

      Like Jeff Propst said below, with the habitat and the great genetics Missouri has it certainly has the potential to be one of the greatest whitetail states in the country. Looking at the state antlerless deer harvest totals, button bucks account for at least 1 in every 5 antlerless deer killed. With a deer herd in decline and a high percentage button bucks harvested with the liberal use of doe tags, I’m very much in favor of limiting antlerless deer tags. Like the rest of you, I’m also in favor of moving the gun season to the post rut period. It wouldn’t bother me to reduce the number of days in the gun season either. In reviewing the youth season harvest numbers compared to the total harvest, the 1st youth season’s harvest impact is also minimal. Would moving the 1st youth season to September do more harm than good to the antlerless deer harvest numbers? Would it also put young bucks that make the AR restrictions more at risk? I’m concerned it would for both! For that reason I’m not in favor of moving the 1st youth season to September.

  4. This is a great article and I completely agree with the author and his viewpoints… Missouri has the same exact land as Iowa, but what keeps us from having the same amount of mature animals? We have a firearm season right in the middle of the rut when young bucks are most vulnerable. Not only is this hurting the mature animal population, but also the population in general. Changing the seasons like the author mentioned could completely put Missouri over the top to be the best hunting state in the U.S.

  5. Nice job on the blog article. definitely move the firearms season AND the youth season. Now would also be a good time to change the Youth season to antlerless only. It should have been set up that way in the first place. It would take the pressure off kids to shoot something with horns. If a youth wants to hunt an antlered deer, they can wait until the regular season to do that. It would cut down the potential for illegal take and would still allow young hunters to get in the field. Win win.

  6. Jeff Propst Says:

    We have the potential to be the greatest whitetail state in the Midwest, perhaps the nation, the habitat it here, and great genetics. the antlerless killing needs to be curtailed, and move the firearms season out of the prime of the rut and shorten the season, seasons are too long, we do not need unlimited antlerless hunting during firearms season, then another antlerless season, that needs to stop. Missouri has an awesome resource here, and with a little fine tuning on behalf of our Cons Dept, it will only get better.

    Jeff Propst

  7. bill broeker Says:

    When and only when the MDC gets over their greed for revenue will any changes take place. I have good friends that are heavily involved in the politics of deer hunting in Missouri and the response they get every time from the MDC is “we are not going to give up any revenue”!!! That statement makes it clear when any changes will happen….never!! We have a people problem…not a deer problem! Can the problem be fixed…NO its politics people!!…why? Because “it does not belong to man who is walking to even direct his step”

  8. Terry Herrin Says:

    There are probably a lot of opinions on this. I have been deer hunting in Mo. for 38 years so here is mine. 1. Keep the 4 point restriction. 2. Shorten the season to 9 days. 3. Do away with the doe only season. 4. Do away with the alternative methods season. 5. Only allow 1 doe to be taken in a year. I have crops but I think we need to keep what ever changes are implemented in affect, until crop farmers are screaming they can’t stand it.

  9. FYI: The final 2013 harvest was 250,786, not 200,279. They updated the link in the past 24 hours.

  10. […] Missouri whitetail population in decline – HuntMO365: My pal Andy Yost shares figures and thoughts on the alarming decline in whitetail populations across Missouri. […]

  11. Some of us hunters hunt for the Meat, I prefer to kill doe over bucks all day long. I hunted archery and rifle this year and did not take one animal. On a property where deer used to be seen daily I was lucky to catch a glimpse of two doe last week only. I did see 3 bucks all of which were too far to shoot during archery and did not see anything during rifle. I typically try to kill 3 deer a year this is enough to feed my family until the next season. The only reason I hunt horns is for recording purposes no one wants to watch doe being killed on a show day in and day out. I worked hard this season not to have it pay off. My suggestions.
    Draw system for out of state residents.
    Keep unlimited doe to counties where the population is abundant ie Holt County and those counties with CWD.
    Move fire arms season out of the rut and limit it to 9 days – if needed antlerless portion move that back to January and limit it too 4 days. Also, why have a firearms season and black powder then add alternative? Put them all together in one!

  12. MDC won’t do a damn thing until the revenue from ALL deer tags sold drops to a level that MDC is uncomfortable with. Not with just Deer, but with all wildlife, in MDC’s eyes it’s all about selling permits and the revenue those permit generate.

  13. KARL ALTHAGE Says:

    bow hunting should be included in limits not additional

  14. Ryan Wilson Says:

    Is clear to me that we have a ridiculous amount of time to hunt dear (archery, rifle, black powder, doe only, youth season twice). It needs to have more regulations and less time. And yes these out of state hunters need to go into a lottery as well. I’ve always said it you should get two tags a years that’s it! Your choices to fill them with your bow our gun.

  15. Here are my suggestions: – Reduce the antlerless bag limit to 2 (unless denoted by the state)
    – No antlerless harvest after October
    – Keep the otc non-resident permits
    It’s a simple fix. Moving the antlerless harvest to earlier in the season will allow the bred does to produce fawns

  16. Move the youth hunt to September. This will allow a better harvest for the next generation.

    Limit the number of antlerless tags. This will help raise the population back.

    Moving the firearm season will help reduce hunters form killing smaller backs and will kill less bucks. This will also give the bucks time to breed the does!!

  17. I don’t live in Missouri . but I do live in northwestern Pa. Our season starts a month before rifle season and most counties don’t end till almost till the last week of January. That’s way to long . not only you have veteran hunters you have Jr hunters now. That is now double the kill on the deer population . in my 26 years of hunting I’ve seen a really big decline in deer population . and also in small game animals to. What have noticed is that the PA game commission has put coyotes in big numbers to cut the population. They deny it. Growing up as a little kid never seen them till I was a adult . they need to cut the season down to where it was fifteen yes ago two week buck three day doe same thing with early archery take it out of rut let the bucks mate more with less stress.

  18. Jimmy Dorrell Says:

    Just as the article reads, there is a lot we can do to improve our deer season.
    First off move rifle season completely out of the rut. (Wanna hunt them in the rut, learn to bow hunt) Missouri is surrounded by the top 3 record book deer states yet cannot produce anywhere near the amount of big deer as the others. Why is that?! Cause rut is over giving the smaller bucks a chance to grow by the time gun season starts.
    DOES…. Limit them to 2 per Hunter or draw like the late 80’s. And if there is that much of a shortage make the non resident a lottery type tag. Just my thoughts but seems to work for our surrounding states.

  19. I have hunted northern Missouri my hole life Sullivan county to be exact I think having unlimited doe tags is stupid and having such a long deer season is wiping all the deers out all the does that have been impregnated are dead.I spend lots of money to keep food plots out and to do good deer management then you have people next to us that lease there land and the people that hunt it shoot anything that moves because they have unlimited tags

  20. Robert Robson Says:

    I agree with many above
    1. Absolutely must move the firearms season out of the rut
    2. No more than 3 deer total all seasons combined
    3. Non resident landowners( and Family) should not have to go through a draw for their tags. All other non-residents should have to get drawn.
    4. Youth season should be earlier when it is warmer however I feel they should be allowed to shoot any deer.
    5. Drop the 4 point rule. Here’s why landowners, trophy hunters what do You want your non trophy conscious neighbor shooting that spike with 10 inch spikes, or that perfect small 8 pointer with real potential? He will be happy taking either. I am a landowner and several times have now had to pass on deer with less than desirable antler characteristics that I would like to remove from the herd.
    I saw so few deer that I elected not to harvest one this year so I agree a change must be made! This has gotten worse year by year. With no real change in farming practices in my area. All adjacent Landowners I spoke with same thing.

  21. 1). I would like to see regular firearm season pushed back.

    2). Eliminate antlerless season.

    3). Leave youth where it’s currently at.

    4). Possible have “alternative” season late September/early October.

    The endless killing of does needs to end. I hunt on a 300 acre farm in NE Missouri and the deer numbers have drastically decreases the last 5-7 years.

  22. jared kossuth Says:

    I am actually writing a proposal on this very concern. As conservationists we make up only a small fraction of the people who elect for changes. This concern is a parallel to today’s government and economic issues. It is too much persuaded by politics. Insurance companies are who I blame most. They have a lot more leverage than us as hunters have in the deciding factors. They want deer gone so they don’t have to dish out those premiums. In a nutshell here is what must happen. 1) no more unlimited antlerless deer-with all the does that get killed “just cause you can” also comes a lot of young bucks. Which leads me to 2) don’t count a 2 inch spike as antlerless. I’m not saying that you should get in trouble if you mistakingly shoot one. I’m saying that there should be some kind of point system and if you do kill one it has more weight than a doe does. For example: you get 6 pts a year and you can only kill 2 antlered bucks. Any buck counts as 2 points but only the over 3 inch bucks count towards your limit of 2. Once you get 6 points your done. You could legally kill 2 antlered bucks and still have 2.points left. If u kill a button buck now your done. If u don’t then u can get 2 does. If u kill a doe and have one point left then mistakenly get a button buck then that overage point gets deducted from nxt year.(this is for archery)…3)go back to manual check ins- it’s gonna keep people more honest. I suspect a lot more deer get killed and never called in. 4) cough some money up and get more agents. 1 or 2 per county is pathetic

  23. CA Blystone Says:

    everyone screams doe harvest doe harvest doe harvest know you wonder why the deer population is down EHD and Bluetongue played a big part in the lower number moving the rifle season effects the buck harvest in my opinion taking it back to nine days would be nice as well as reducing the other firearm seasons as well move archery season back to DEC. 31st also would like to see a earlier youth season dont like the call in system would like to see em go back the check in stations and the state approved tag applied think there are allot of animals shot that are never checked in as well

  24. […] on region, from south to north); down 18 percent in Iowa; down 23 percent in Missouri, as this blog […]

  25. Piss on your rule 4

  26. Thanks for sharing yokur info. I really appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next post thank
    you once again.

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