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Missouri bowhunters take more than 50,000 deer

From the Missouri Department of Conservation

-- Bowhunters might have been looking for ways to feed families and friends. They might have been hunting for charity. Or maybe they are just getting better at what they do. Whatever the reason, Missouri bowhunters checked more than deer and turkeys than ever before during the four-month archery season.

Archery Deer Harvest Sets Record

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, archers shot 51,972 deer between Sept. 15 and Jan. 15. That is an increase of 7,538 or 17 percent from the previous archery harvest record. It is the first time in the archery season’s 64-year history that the harvest has topped 50,000.

“The number of archers has increased a bit the last three or four years,” said Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen, who oversees Missouri’s deer-management program. “This might explain some of the harvest increase, but I do not think it explains all of the harvest change. Deer numbers have been stable in most parts of the state in recent years, while they have decreased slightly in other areas. I am not sure why we continue to set records. I think over time archers have become more skilled. Archery equipment has gotten better, too.”

The 2009-2010 archery deer kill topped the previous record of 44,434, which was set in the 2008-2009 archery season. Top counties in 2009-2010 were St. Louis with 1,076 deer checked, Jackson with 1,048 and Franklin with 1,013.

The Conservation Department issued 356,246 antlerless deer hunting permits for the 2009-2010 archery season, compared to 338,229 in 2008-2009. This increase of 11,082 permits was mostly due to a jump of 8,020 in archery antlerless deer hunting permit sales.

Hansen said increased sales of archery antlerless permits might reflect the slow economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 9.5 percent of Missourians were unemployed in November. A $7 antlerless tag enabled many unemployed hunters to put 60 pounds of lean, red meat in the freezer, an inexpensive way to stretch a grocery budget.

The Conservation Federation of Missouri reported brisk activity in the state’s approximately 180 Share the Harvest programs, which encourage hunters to donate venison to food pantries and other charities. Many of these locally organized programs pay the entire cost of processing donated deer. This makes it easy for skilled hunters to share with less fortunate neighbors. Last year, hunters donated more than 250,000 pounds of venison through Share the Harvest.

Missouri held its first archery deer season in Crawford County in 1946. The season lasted three days, and hunters were limited to taking bucks. In spite of liberalizations that included doubling the season length, permitting the harvest of does and opening 40 additional counties, archers bagged only eight deer during the first eight years of the season.

Archery turkey harvest a record, too

Archers shot 3,298 wild turkeys during the 2009-10 season, setting another record. Top archery turkey counties were Franklin with 95 checked, Texas with 80 and Wright with 71.

Resource Scientist Tom Dailey took over Missouri’s turkey management program in 2008, a tough time for the state’s turkey flock. Cold, wet springs have cut into turkey nesting success over the past five years. A freak Easter freeze in 2007 and record rainfall in 2008 and 2009 delivered a one-two punch to the state’s turkey flock at a time when the state’s turkey flock had reached a natural plateau.

“I’m excited,” said Dailey. “There have not been too many record highs during my career. The growth phase of our turkey population ended more than a decade ago. After years of setting harvest records every year or two, things leveled off, and then we got this run of bad luck with spring weather. It is a welcome change to have archers post this new record fall harvest.”

Like Hansen, Dailey attributes the record archery turkey harvest to advances in hunting skill and equipment.

“A hunting culture takes time to develop,” said Dailey. “As older archers accumulate knowledge and pass it on to new hunters, the hunting population gets more skilled and savvy. Bows have gotten much better and there are special broadheads for turkey hunting. I wonder, too, if increasing use of ground blinds might be contributing to success.”

He said another key to the record archery harvest was an abundance of young turkeys in the Ozarks.  Reproduction last spring and summer was up in the Ozarks, but down in northern Missouri where much of the record rainfall fell. Seventy-four percent of the archery turkey harvest was taken in counties along or south of I-70.

Dailey said the combined fall harvest of 11,649 from firearms and archery seasons, will have no effect on the number of turkeys available this spring. The fall harvest, which amounts to less than 3 percent of the statewide turkey population, is insignificant compared to normal annual losses to predators, disease and other natural causes.  –By Jim Low

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