This past weekend, Missouri hunters culled nearly 100,000 deer from the state’s herd — possibly setting a new firearms opening weekend record.
The state Department of Conservation reported Tuesday that hunters harvested 99,567 deer during the two-day opening weekend of the November portion of the 2018 firearms deer season.
That is the highest in at least eight years, according to the department’s online harvest summary. Before that, opening weekend numbers were not counted separately from the rest of the season.
“We have no details behind (the increase), but in general it was a good opening weekend,” said Joe Jerek, a spokesman for the conservation department. “As far as the weather goes, it was cold and crisp. That gets deer up and moving.”
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Missouri has specified hunting seasons for firearms and archery and other restrictions. The firearms season continues through Nov. 20. Archery deer season reopens Nov. 21 through Jan. 15. The season for hunting antler-less deer with firearms is Nov. 30 to Dec. 2.
Missouri does not allow hunters to use automatic weapons or self-loading firearms with more than 11 cartridges. Pistols, rifles and shotguns are allowed.
Running deer harvest totals for all seasons in Missouri are tallied on an interactive map.
The Missouri county with the highest harvest was Franklin, near St. Louis, with 2,057. The county with the fewest was Pemiscot in the Bootheel with 25.
Hunters took 307 deer in Jackson County on opening weekend, compared to 232 in Clay County, 221 in Platte County and 766 in Cass County.
Firearms hunters harvested 96,131 deer in Missouri during opening firearms weekend last year. The total harvest for 2016-17 was 263,834 deer. Hunters also donated 289,292 pounds of venison last year in the state’s Share the Harvest program.
Because there are few predators in Missouri, without hunting the deer population would soon get too large, resulting in widespread starvation. Hunting still leaves plenty of deer left to reproduce.
“Opening firearms weekend is huge in Missouri,” Jerek said. “Hunting is a big tradition for a lot of families and communities.”
The conservation department estimates the state’s nearly half a million deer hunters and almost 2 million wildlife watchers give a $1 billion annual boost to the state and local economies.
Comparable harvest numbers were not available for Kansas, where firearms deer hunting season does not begin until Nov. 28. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism reported a total harvest of 95,813 deer in the 2015-16 season.
Outdoor Life estimates Kansas has 627,000 whitetail deer in the east as well as 46,000 mule deer in the western part of the state, while Missouri has 1 million to 1.2 million whitetail. The outlook for the 2018 deer harvest in Kansas is looking “fairly average,” according to the site.
According to the Boone & Crockett Club, a North American wildlife conservation organization, Missouri and Kansas rank eighth and ninth, respectively, among the 10 best states and provinces since 2010 for big buck deer hunting. The others are Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Kentucky, Ohio, Saskatchewan and Texas.
The deer population in Missouri is also facing some disease threats.
In northwest Missouri, the population continues to recover from a 2012 hemorrhagic disease outbreak, according to Outdoor Life.
Since 2001, Missouri officials also have been monitoring a threat to the state’s deer population from Chronic Wasting Disease, a neurological condition that causes degeneration of the brain and death in members of the deer family, called cervids. There is no vaccine or cure. Although CWD remains relatively rare in Missouri, it is slowly spreading. It is more prevalent in Wyoming and Colorado. Officials say it is impossible to eliminate once it becomes well established.