Adjusting deer hunting seasons and portions could help the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) with managing the state's deer population.
Adjusting deer hunting seasons and portions could help the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) with managing the state’s deer population.
The MDC is holding 14 informal open houses across the state, asking for feedback from hunters, landowners and wildlife enthusiasts as department officials work toward a strategic direction for deer management in the state over the next 10 years. The first open house was held Monday, June 16, in Rolla.
The MDC provided attendees with information on deer management, including how some possible changes to deer hunting season and portions would affect the deer population in Missouri.
According to the MDC, current Missouri deer hunting season regulations were made during a time of rapidly growing deer populations, coupled with a concern that hunters wouldn’t be able, or willing, to harvest enough does to stabilize or decrease deer numbers in much of rural Missouri.
However, that is not the case in many parts of the state today.
“Effective population management revolves around ensuring appropriate levels of harvest, which is affected by seasons and portions, season timing, methods, buck harvest limits, availability of permits, and several other factors,” according to the department.
One of the seasons being evaluated is the archery season.
“With the increasing popularity of the archery season, we (MDC staff) have received an increasing number of requests to expand the season to include crossbows, which are currently only allowed with a hunting method exemption,” according to the MDC.
The crossbow has never been allowed during the archery deer hunting season in Missouri, except where physical disability — confirmed by a physician — prevented use of a “regular” bow, meaning a long, recurve or compound bow.
According to conservation officials, currently more than 10,000 hunting method exemptions are in effect to allow people with disabilities to use a crossbow during the archery deer season.
Support and requests for allowing crossbows during the archery season has been increasing over the last few years, according to state conservation officials. A 2012 survey of 18,000 Missouri deer hunters indicated that 46 percent approve and 33 percent disapprove of allowing crossbows during the archery season.
A 2008 report also found that age 40 is the point where archery participation diverges from firearms deer hunter participation.
“If, as suspected, physical limitations further the decline in participation of middle-aged archery hunters, allowing the use of alternative methods of harvest, such as crossbows, could prolong participation for several years for those (who) still retain a desire to hunt,” according to the department. “In an effort to recruit younger hunters, retain older hunters and provide an additional tool for urban deer management, we are considering expanding the archery season to include crossbows.”
The goal of setting the firearms deer season during the November portion was to minimize doe harvest and maximize buck harvest.
“This was appropriate because we were most interested in protecting antlerless deer and did not care if we took a high proportion of the antlered bucks,” according to the conservation department.
Additionally, when the November portion was established many hunters were restricted to taking an antlered deer only and were not selective.
However, a growing deer population throughout the 1980s and 1990s caused the department to begin shifting from a buck harvest emphasis to a doe harvest emphasis. And deer hunters are becoming increasingly selective.
According to the department, the current November portion timing also results in the removal of bucks during the peak of the breeding period.
For example, the current timing means that only 42 percent of the breeding occurs prior to the November portion, but a one-week later shift would mean that approximately 75 percent of the does would breed prior to opening of this portion of the deer season, according to the MDC.
“A one-week later shift to the firearms deer season would result in a slight increase in overall antlerless harvest and slight decrease buck harvest,” according to the MDC.
The MDC also states that starting the November portion of the deer season one week later would also incorporate the Thanksgiving holiday, which would provide additional opportunities for people who have a limited number of days to hunt.
“This may be helpful in our efforts to recruit youth and improve hunter retention,” according to the MDC.
The antlerless portion of the firearms deer season was implemented in 1996 as an effort to increase the harvest of antlerless deer in response to a rapidly growing deer population in portions of the state, according to the conservation department. The portion began with two days and was expanded to nine days in 2003.
However, according to the MDC, the antlerless portion has not resulted in a significant overall increase in antlerless harvest. “Much of the harvest occurring during the antlerless portion is likely the result of shifting antlerless harvest out of the November portion,” according to the department. “When we consider the changes to the population across much of Missouri that has occurred over the past several years, the additional antlerless harvest opportunities provided by the antlerless portion are no longer necessary to meet population management goals.”
Removing or reducing the length of the antlerless portion of the deer season also may result in fewer conflicts that occur between other hunters because of the length of the current deer hunting seasons.
Traditionally, deer management did not limit or restrict buck harvest. As population management goals shift toward encouraging antlerless harvest and hunters’ desire to see more bucks in older age-classes, wildlife biologists have begun to consider the restrictions on buck harvest as a tool to manage the sex ratio and age structure of the deer population, conservation officials said.
A point restriction has not reduced the total buck harvest, so one option to consider is reducing the total number of bucks an individual could harvest to reduce pressure on the buck segment of the population, according to the MDC.
The more than 400,000 deer hunters who only hunt during the firearms portion of the deer season are currently limited to only one antlered buck because they don’t hunt during the archery season. A reduction in the antlered buck limit to one would affect the approximately 120,000 hunters that participate either only in the archery season or both the archery and firearms seasons.