The message came across loud and clear.
Missouri deer hunters wanted changes. And wildlife officials with the Department of Conservation listened.
After several months of hearing numerous and often angry complaints about the rapid decline in the deer population in some parts of the state, biologists introduced sweeping changes to reduce the harvest of does. Those measures were approved last week by the Missouri Conservation Commission.
Under the new regulations, firearms deer hunters will be limited to one antlerless permit in much of the state. That comes after several years in which hunters in many counties were allowed unlimited antlerless tags.
Many Missouri residents, upset that they were seeing far fewer deer than they had in the past, faulted that unlimited harvest of does. They said a reduction in doe permits should be the first step in aiding the deer recovery. The Department of Conservation, after studying population trends, took the action many hunters desired.
“I’m really surprised that they listened to the hunters and didn’t let money or politics take priority,” said Mark Rutliff of Liberty, one of the hunters who was most vocal in pleading with the Department of Conservation for changes. “I have to give them credit.
“An overwhelming number of people complained. And they listened.”
Jason Sumners, deer biologist for the Department of Conservation, agreed that public input played a major role in the decision.
“It wasn’t only hunters who contacted us. Wildlife watchers also complained about seeing far fewer deer,” Sumners said. “We have to try to reach that fine line between the minimum level that hunters want to see and the maximum level that landowners will tolerate. And it was obvious that we needed to make some changes.”
The limitless harvest of does was allowed during the years when Missouri’s deer herd was skyrocketing as a way to control populations, Sumners said. But that tactic came under fire when the cumulative effects of years of liberal regulations, combined with mortality from a several outbreak of hemorrhagic disease, reduced deer numbers and hunting success last fall.
“Our regulations committee considers the changing status of the deer herd across the state — along with feedback from hunters, landowners and others — each year as it reviews recommendations for deer-hunting regulations,” Sumners said.
There will be exceptions to the regulation allowing hunters only one antlerless firearms permit. Hunters will be able to fill two antlerless permits in Chariton, Randolph, Macon, Linn, Sullivan and Adair counties, which surround the area where the contagious chronic wasting disease has been found in a small number of deer.
Hunters also can receive two antlerless permits in urban zones, where deer numbers are typically higher, and in Barton, Howell and Oregon counties, where whitetails are doing well. But in most of the state, major changes are in store.
The change will only affect firearms hunting, which accounts for the bulk of the state’s deer harvest. Archery limits will remain as they have been. Season structure and dates also will remain much the same as in recent years, Sumners said.
“We anticipate this regulation will be biologically meaningful,” Sumners said. “It could result in a reduction of 30,000 to 40,000 in our antlerless harvest.”