Missouri is entering a new era of deer management.
The Department of Conservation is coming off a period in which whitetails were abundant, hunting regulations were liberal and harvests were high. In some counties, especially in northern Missouri, hunters were allowed unlimited number of does during the firearms season and those who desired venison in the freezer had little trouble filling as many tags as they wanted.
But things have changed. In a hurry.
Last season will be remembered as the year of the big crash. The effects of a severe outbreak of hemorrhagic disease, combined with cumulative effects of those liberal hunting regulations, cut the deer population by as much as 20 percent in some counties. Hunters complained of seeing far fewer deer, and wildlife biologists scrambled to find ways to rebuild the once mighty herd.
The Department of Conservation fired the first shot in April when it issued far more restrictive regulations for the 2014-2015 season. Wildlife managers cut the number of antlerless deer hunters may take during the firearms season to either one or two in most counties north of Interstate 70. In addition, they limited hunters to only one antlered buck during the firearms season.
Now there are signs that the restrictions might not be over. The Department of Conservation has spent late June and early July touring the state for a series of public meetings designed to test the wind over a series of proposed regulation changes that would take place in future years.
Among the proposals:
Moving the regular firearms season back a week to allow for more deer to finish the rut.
Reducing the antlered buck limit to one per season, whether it be the combined archery and firearms season or only the archery season.
Reducing the length of or eliminated the firearms antlerless season.
Allowing everyone, not just hunters with disabilities, to use crossbows during the archery season.
All of these measures are still in the talking stage. In fact, that’s why wildlife managers are meeting with the public across Missouri, trying to gather hunter opinions.
“We’ve gone from a period when we had to deal with a herd that was rapidly growing to a period of declining deer numbers in a relatively short period of time,” said Jason Sumners, a deer biologist for the Department of Conservation. “Obviously, we have to adjust to the times.
“Deer numbers are down and it will take a few years for them to bounce back. Changes in regulations aren’t going to bring the deer back overnight, but they can help.”
Emily Flinn, another deer biologist for the Department of Conservation, agreed.
“We want to get to the point where were have balance,” she said. “We want a healthy deer herd, hunter recruitment and retention and landowner tolerance.
“We don’t want to have drastic changes in the deer herd, because then we would constantly have to be adjusting hunting regulations.”
To reach Brent Frazee, The Star’s outdoors editor, call 816-234-4319 or send email to email@example.com.