Hunters shot 157,273 deer during the November portion of Missouri’s Firearms Deer Season. Biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation say this is a significant decrease from last year and from the long-term average and say contributing factors vary by region.
This year’s November harvest is 23 percent fewer than in 2012, when hunters checked the third-largest number of deer in the November season’s history. This year’s figure also is 24 percent below the past 10-year average.
Because it influences both deer and hunter behavior, weather always plays a role in determining deer harvest. But Resource Scientist Emily Flinn says weather’s role was perhaps the least important factor in holding down this year’s November harvest.
“The weather could have been much better for hunting on both weekends of the season,” says Flinn. “But with an 11-day season, there was plenty of opportunity for hunters to make up for lost time. Other factors clearly were at work.”
Those other factors, says Flinn, differ from region to region. For example, the harvest in southern Missouri often is strongly affected by acorn abundance. When acorns are scarce, as they were in 2012, deer must move around more and leave the shelter of forest to find food. That makes them more vulnerable to hunters, a fact that led to a particularly strong deer harvest in southern Missouri last year. The resulting reduction in deer numbers, combined with more abundant acorns this year, held down this year’s deer harvest in parts of southern Missouri.
Deer numbers are down throughout Missouri because of last year’s unusually severe outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases. These diseases occur every year, but they are most prevalent in drought years, when deer are forced to gather around stagnant water that breeds biting flies that spread the diseases. Flinn says last year’s losses to hemorrhagic diseases were intensified in some parts of the state by the strong 2012 deer harvest.
“Losses to disease are extremely difficult to measure,” says Flinn. “Last year’s outbreak seemed to be worse in northeastern and central Missouri, and it certainly played an important role in limiting this year’s harvest.”
Meanwhile a decade-long downward trend in deer numbers continues in northwestern and north-central Missouri. It began with increased availability of antlerless deer permits and other regulation changes aimed at reducing the deer herd in that area.
The conservation department recorded five firearms-related incidents during the November portion. None was fatal. Four were self-inflicted. Two involved loaded firearms in or around motor vehicles, one involved a hunter climbing into a tree stand with a loaded rifle, and one involved a hunter who fell asleep with his finger on the trigger. The only shooter/victim incident involved one hunter mistaking the movement of another hunter for a deer during a drive. The only reported fatality during the November portion was a hunter who fell from a tree stand.
The antlerless portion of firearms deer season opened Tuesday, Nov. 26, and will continue through Dec. 8. The alternative methods portion opens Dec. 21 and runs through Dec. 31. Last is the late youth portion, which is Jan. 4 and 5.