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Missouri deer harvest follows regional trend

From Missouri Department of Conservation

-- Hunters checked 50,507 deer during Missouri’s archery season, bringing the state’s overall deer harvest to 250,787. That number is down from the 10-year average of 293,056.

The archery harvest was the second largest in Missouri history, reflecting the growing popularity of bowhunting. Resource scientist Jason Sumners said the overall decrease is in line with deer-harvest figures from other Midwestern states.

“Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota all reported decreases of 7 to 26 percent in their firearms deer harvests,” Sumners said. “The factors responsible for those decreases differ from state to state, but the history is similar.”

The history relates to the challenges state agencies have faced in managing deer numbers in the past 10 to 20 years.

When deer restoration programs that began in the 1930s and 1940s came to fruition, agencies faced a challenge of balancing populations that provide hunting without unacceptable levels of human-deer conflict.

Reversing the decades-long emphasis on protecting female deer from harvest, biologists increasingly urged hunters to shoot does. The goal was to shift the sex ratio of deer herds from doe-heavy to a 50:50 mix of bucks and does, reduce deer population growth in some areas, hold deer numbers steady in others and reduce numbers in areas significantly above deer population targets.

Over 15 years, the brakes were applied to deer population growth, but a perfect storm of conditions arrived no one could have anticipated.

Conditions were driven by a severe drought that began in 2012, continued into 2013, and caused the worst outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases – blue tongue and epizootic hemorrhagic disease, collectively referred to as HD – in recorded history.

Losses deepened when the lack of acorns forced deer to move more during the 2012 deer season, making it easier for hunters and contributing to the second-largest deer harvest in Missouri history.

Hunter behavior changes slowly; consequently, harvests in the first and second years after a HD die-off remain stable. By the time hunters adjust harvest behavior, a significant loss has accumulated.

The Conservation Department Regulations Committee will consider these factors, along with the many hunter comments, when drafting recommendations for 2014-2015 deer-hunting regulations.

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