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Rain erodes Missouri’s opening weekend deer harvest

From the Missouri Department of Natural Resources

-- Steady rainfall that soaked much of Missouri Nov. 15 contributed to a drop in the number of deer taken during the opening weekend of the November deer season.

Hunters checked 86,202 deer during the first weekend of the November portion of firearms deer season, Nov. 14 through 24. That is 12 percent fewer than last year. Top counties were Texas with 1,765 deer checked, Howell with 1,761 and Wayne with 1,587.

Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen attributed the dip in harvest to widespread and locally heavy rainfall on Sunday. Although deer harvests depend on several factors, Hansen said weather clearly was the dominant influence on this year’s opening-weekend. He noted that the number of deer checked on Saturday was about 2,500 more than last year. The big drop-off happened on Sunday, when the rain really set in. Counties in southeast Missouri, where hunters had excellent weather throughout the weekend, had about the same or bigger harvests than in 2008.

Hansen said that in the past, hunters usually shot approximately 60 percent of the November deer harvest on opening weekend. If that held true this year, the November deer harvest would be around 144,000. However, the 60/40 ratio is less predictable now than in the past.

Among less significant factors holding down the opening-weekend harvest, Hansen mentioned reduced deer populations in some parts of northern Missouri. “There is no question that we have fewer deer in many areas now than we did five years ago,” he said. “That could put a brake on the harvest, but on the other hand, several counties in the northern half of the state actually saw increases in opening-weekend harvest compared to last year. The deer population remains strong in those areas. It just isn’t as big as it used to be, and that’s not a bad thing.”  Increased interest in bucks with large antlers is another factor that Hansen said might have contributed to a smaller opening-weekend harvest. With more than 30 days of deer season ahead of them, hunters looking for trophies feel less motivated to shoot the first deer that comes along.

Finally, Hansen said the expansion of the four-point rule to 65 counties and parts of three others is another minor factor contributing to a lower overall deer harvest. Limiting the harvest to antlerless deer or bucks with at least four points on one side forces hunters to pass up shots at young bucks. In some areas, this increases the chances hunters will see and shoot antlerless deer. However, some hunters will hold out for legal bucks, or will not see other legal deer. Consequently, the total number of deer killed declines for two or three years after the four-point rule goes into effect, even though the number of does harvested may increase.

The total deer harvest in areas with the four-point rule often rises back to pre-restriction levels after two or three years, as 1- and 2-year-old bucks grow large enough to be legal. Hunters who prefer to shoot big-antlered bucks like the rule because it allows more deer to develop big antlers. The purpose of the four-point rule is to achieve better control of deer populations by increasing the ratio of bucks to does in the population. The opening-weekend harvest seems to indicate the four-point rule is working. Antlerless deer made up 52 percent of the opening-weekend harvest this year, compared to 47 to 50 percent in the past few years.

The Conservation Department recorded four firearms-related deer hunting incidents during the opening weekend.

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