Hunters in most parts of Missouri will find plenty of deer in the November Portion of Firearms Deer Season that opened Saturday, but they need to check out changes in hunting regulations before the season starts.
This year’s firearms deer season includes 42 days in six portions:
* Urban. Oct. 9-12
* Early youth, Oct. 31-Nov. 1
* November, Nov. 14-24
* Antlerless, Nov. 25-Dec. 6
* Muzzleloader, Dec. 19-29 and
* Late youth, Jan. 2-3.
Hunters should note that the order of the antlerless and muzzleloader portions is reversed this year compared to what it has always been in the past. Other changes include:
* Young hunters must be at least 6 years old to obtain landowner hunting permits.
* Reduced-cost nonresident landowner permits no longer are available.
* When mentoring a firearms hunter who is not hunter-education certified and not hunting on a landowner permit, all mentors, including landowners on their own land, must be at least 18 years old and hunter-education certified unless they were born before Jan. 1, 1967.
* Qualifying nonresident students may purchase resident permits, except lifetime permits.
* New areas with antler-point restrictions include Ste. Genevieve County and the parts of Cass and Jefferson counties not included in the new urban deer zones.
* The part of Franklin County in the St. Louis Urban Deer Zone no longer is under the antler-point restriction.
* Legal air-powered firearms may be used during firearms managed deer hunts.
* Deer hunting seasons and methods are restricted on some conservation areas this year, and some area regulations have changed.
Details of these changes are explained in the 2009 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold. The same information is available at www.mdc.mo.gov/13924.
Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen says hunters will find deer plentiful throughout most of Missouri this year. Furthermore, he said they will find more mature bucks in much of the state, thanks to a regulation that went into effect in 2004. That is when the Missouri Department of Conservation implemented the “four-point rule.”
Under the regulation, hunters in 29 counties in northwest and central Missouri have not been allowed to take antlered deer unless they have at least four points measuring 1 inch or larger on one side of their antlers. Few deer achieve this degree of antler development before they are 2.5 years old. In effect, the antler-point restriction is a minimum age limit, giving bucks time to mature and grow larger antlers. They also gain experience, making them more wary and challenging to hunt.
Long-term studies show that white-tailed deer bucks’ antlers attain only 25 to 35 percent of their maximum size when they are 1.5 years old. The figure increases to 60 percent for 2.5-year-olds. Three and one-half-year-old bucks’ antlers are 75 to 80 percent of maximum size, while those 4.5 years old grow antlers that are 90 to 95 percent as large as they ever will grow.
Hansen said the total number of deer taken by hunters typically decreases the first year that antler-point restrictions are in effect in a particular area. However, the number of does taken may increase, improving the conservation department’s ability to control deer numbers. The total number of deer taken in antler-point restriction areas gradually climbs back to nearly its previous level as antlered deer mature and grow larger antlers, making them legal for hunters to shoot.
Hansen points to the ages of deer taken by hunters in counties with the antler-point restriction four years after the rule went into effect. The number of 2.5-year-old deer was up 20 percent compared to counties without the restriction. The number of 3.5-year-old deer was 62 percent greater in antler-point restriction counties, and the number of 4.5-year-old deer was up an astonishing 202 percent.
“You have to be a bit cautious about the big differences in 3.5- and 4.5-year-olds,” said Hansen. “The number of deer that hunters take in those age classes is small, so even a modest difference in the absolute number of deer shot translates into a big percentage difference. Nevertheless, a significant difference is attributable to the antler-point restriction.”
Not surprisingly, hunters who focus on mature bucks have been enthusiastic promoters of the four-point rule. This popular support has encouraged the conservation department to expand the regulation to 65 counties and parts of three more.
The conservation department reminds hunters that Missouri’s population of black bears, while still small, is growing. That means more hunters are likely to encounter bears.
Black bears are naturally shy and avoid human contact. If you see a bear, do not make eye contact. Back away slowly while speaking in a normal voice. If a bear visits your hunting camp in search of food, get in a vehicle and make noise to frighten the bear away. Always report bear encounters to the nearest conservation department office.
The conservation department also urges hunters to buy firewood locally and burn it before leaving their hunting areas. Moving firewood from place to place can spread devastating forest pests, such as the emerald ash borer and the gypsy moth.
This year’s abundance of firearms deer hunting opportunities represents an amazing change for those who remember the early days of modern deer hunting in Missouri. There was no deer hunting season from when the newly created Missouri Department of Conservation began deer-restoration work in 1937 until 1944. In the early years, the season was for bucks only and lasted just two days. Only 20 counties were open to deer hunting, and the season always was held in November.
As deer numbers grew, the conservation commission lengthened the season. The state’s deer population eventually grew large enough to justify a second season for hunters using muzzle-loading firearms. This season extended firearms deer hunting into early December.
By the 1990s, the number of deer in some areas grew large enough to create problems with crop damage and deer-vehicle accidents. This called for deer hunting regulations aimed at reducing deer numbers or maintaining them at desired levels, rather than increasing them. Shooting does is the key to controlling deer numbers, and this fact led to the first-ever antlerless-only deer season in January of 1997. The conservation commission later moved the antlerless season into December, following the muzzleloader season. This year, for the first time, the antlerless hunt will follow immediately on the heels of the regular November season, and the muzzleloader hunt will take place in late December, followed by the late youth portion of deer season in January.