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|
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.
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