With deer hunters gearing up for fall hunting, a pair of experts with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) offer their insight on Missouri deer numbers and factors that can impact fall deer hunting.
According to MDC Deer Biologists Emily Flinn and Jason Sumners, deer populations in the northern, western and central parts of the state remain below desired levels. However, they note populations in these areas should be slowly rebounding because of recent cuts in firearms antlerless permit allocations and hunters voluntarily reducing antlerless harvest. In southern Missouri, deer populations range from stable to slowly increasing. In southeastern counties, deer populations have increased.
NORTHWEST: Some of the most dramatic deer population declines in Missouri over the last 10-years have occurred in the northwest region, explained Flinn. However, because deer populations vary locally, not all areas have low deer numbers.
“Decreased deer populations are a result of naturally occurring hemorrhagic disease (HD) outbreaks, previous liberalized harvest regulations, and land-use changes,” she said. “The most significant declines have occurred in Atchison, Buchanan, Clinton, DeKalb, and Holt counties. However, deer populations should be slowly rebounding because of recent cuts in firearms antlerless permit allocation and hunters voluntarily reducing antlerless harvest. However, some counties – including Worth, Harrison, and Mercer – continue to exhibit fairly stable harvest trends compared to other northwest counties.”
Flinn said that biting midge flies spread viruses that cause HD. The disease hit the region particularly hard in 2012. In areas where deer numbers are still below desired levels from HD and other factors, she advised hunters to reduce their antlerless harvests to allow deer populations to rebound.
“Additionally, if crop harvest is delayed then it could impact early deer hunting by providing more cover and food sources, causing deer to be distributed more widely throughout the landscape,” she said.
KANSAS CITY AREA: While populations vary throughout the Kansas City area, rural population declines are a result of long-term high doe harvest and the 2012 hemorrhagic disease outbreak. Across much of the Kansas City region, deer numbers should begin to slowly increase over the next few years with continued conservative antlerless harvest. Flinn advised that in rural areas where the deer population is not increasing as quickly as desired, hunters should reduce the antlerless harvest to allow the population to rebound.
SOUTHWEST: Deer numbers in southwestern counties are slowly increasing due to conservative antlerless harvest regulations implemented in 2009. The region includes rural, suburban, and urban areas along with varying habitat.
“So it’s important to be aware of local conditions when determining the appropriate antlerless harvest in accordance with population goals,” Flinn said. “As the deer population in the southwest region increases, some future liberalization of antlerless harvest opportunities may be necessary to maintain deer populations at desired levels.”
OZARKS: Deer numbers in the Ozarks have remained generally stable to slightly increasing, noted Flinn. In forest-dominated areas such as the Ozarks, acorn production can significantly influence harvest based more on where deer are than how many deer may be an area. Early indications of acorn production for this fall show a good red-oak production and an average white-oak production.
“Harvest doesn’t always reflect population numbers in these areas, but often is a reflection of annual acorn production,” Flinn said. “For example when acorn production is high, deer are more widely distributed on the landscape and have to travel less to acquire food. This can result in a reduced potential for encountering hunters.”
SOUTHEAST: According to Sumners, deer populations are relatively diverse in this region due to varying habitat cover and use, and the impact of harvest regulations. Several counties have experienced gradual population increases including Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Madison, and Stoddard.
“However, Ste. Genevieve County has experienced deer population declines due to high hunting pressure, coupled with a shift in harvest from bucks to does that resulted from the antler-point-restriction, or APR,” Sumners said. “Therefore, the APR has been removed, starting with this fall’s hunting season, to allow the population to grow.”
ST. LOUIS AREA: Deer numbers in the St. Louis region have generally remained stable for the past several years. However, deer populations can vary among and within a county as result of varying hunter densities and hunting limitations in urban areas.
“In urban areas, archery methods, hunting access, adequate doe harvest, and public education are important for successful deer management to lower or maintain deer numbers as needed,” Flinn said. “In rural counties, antlerless harvest drives population trends, so if local deer numbers are below desired levels, then hunters need to reduce their antlerless harvest.”
NORTHEAST: Deer populations in the northeast region have generally declined over the last 10-years as a result of hemorrhagic disease (HD) outbreaks and previous liberalized harvest regulations. However, deer populations should be slowly rebounding because of recent cuts in firearms antlerless permit allocation and hunters voluntarily reducing antlerless harvest.
“Biting midge flies spread viruses that cause HD and disease outbreaks occurred locally throughout several counties in 2012, 2013, and 2015,” Sumners said. “In areas that have had HD outbreaks, we encourage hunters to reduce their antlerless harvests this year as needed to help increase local deer numbers. However, this is not representative of all northeast areas as deer populations vary locally due to hunter density and goals, hemorrhagic disease outbreaks, habitat cover and use.”
He added that hunters should evaluate local conditions and work with neighbors to determine and harvest the appropriate number of does to meet population goals. Additionally, if crop harvest is delayed then it could impact early deer hunting by providing more cover and food sources, causing deer to be distributed throughout the landscape.
CENTRAL MISSOURI: “Deer numbers vary among counties in central Missouri,” Sumners said, “however, most populations in these areas should be slowly rebounding because of recent cuts in firearms antlerless permit allocations and hunters voluntarily reducing their antlerless harvests. Reducing the number of does being harvested will help increase deer numbers by having more does left to produce more fawns.”
CWD IN CENTRAL AND NORTHEAST
In contrast to a desire to generally increase deer numbers in central and northeast Missouri, MDC implemented two new deer-hunting regulation changes in eight central and five northeast counties starting this fall to reduce or stabilize deer numbers. The changes are an effort to help limit the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in the areas. The disease has been found in Adair, Linn and Macon counties in northeast Missouri and in Cole County in Central Missouri.
The regulation changes eliminate the antler-point restriction (APR) and increase the availability of antlerless permits from one to two in the Department’s recently expanded CWD Management Zone in northeast Missouri of Knox, Putnam, Schuyler, Scotland and Shelby counties. The same regulation changes were implemented in 2012 in MDC’s original CWD Management Zone in the region of Adair, Chariton, Linn, Macon, Randolph, and Sullivan counties. The regulation changes also apply to the central-Missouri counties of Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Miller, Moniteau, Morgan and Osage.
Sumners said the APR regulation change is aimed at no longer protecting young bucks from harvest.
“Young bucks can potentially spread the disease to new areas as they search for new territories and mates,” he said. “And the additional antlerless harvest opportunities can help prevent undesired population increases in local deer numbers in and around where CWD has been found.”
To help slow the spread of CWD, MDC also strongly encourages deer hunters not to move whole carcasses out of the 11 northeast and eight central counties that make the MDC’s CWD Management Zone.
“CWD can be spread to new areas and infect new deer through infected carcass parts or soil contaminated by infected carcass parts,” Sumners said. “We recommend removing meat in the field and leaving the carcass behind. If hunters must move a carcass before processing, place the remaining carcass parts after processing in trash bags and properly dispose of them through a trash service or landfill.”
MDC also asks hunters and landowner to not feed deer or place minerals because CWD is transmitted from deer to deer and can spread more easily when deer gather in unnaturally concentrated numbers.
Sumners also asks hunters who harvest deer in the 11 northeast and eight central counties of the MDC CWD Management Zone to have their deer tested for CWD. Participating locations can be found on pages 8-9 in the Department’s 2015 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet, or on the MDC website at www.mdc.mo.gov. It only takes a few minutes to collect a sample, and there is no charge to the hunter for testing. Hunters can also receive test results for their harvested deer.
“And report any deer that look sick or are acting strange to MDC staff,” he said.
Get more information on deer numbers and trends from the MDC Deer Population Status Report at mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/resources/2015/06/2014_15deerstatus.pdf.
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