JEFFERSON CITYTorrential rains, snow and sub-zero temperatures failed to deter Missouri hunters from posting the fourth-largest deer harvest ever, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The 2009-2010 deer season closed Jan. 15 with the end of archery hunting. Altogether, hunters checked 299,461 deer.
The firearms deer season got off to a good start as hunters bagged nearly twice as many deer during the four-day urban portion of firearms deer season as they had the previous year. Youths maintained this pace, checking almost 3,000 more deer in the two-day early youth portion than in 2008.
Things slowed down dramatically during opening weekend of the November portion. Torrential rains descended on much of the state on the second day, reducing deer activity and keeping many hunters indoors. With half the weekend washed out, hunters killed only 86,200 deer.
Opening weekend ordinarily accounts for approximately 60 percent of the November portion harvest. In 2008, hunters checked more than 98,000 deer on opening weekend, and that was down considerably from the record of more than 133,000 set in 2004.
Hunters made up some of the opening-weekend deficit of 12,000 deer during the remaining nine days of the November hunt, but still closed that portion with a modest harvest of 193,155.
Ten years ago, a reduced November harvest guaranteed a low end-of-season tally. But with the 12-day antlerless portion still ahead, plus 11 days of muzzleloader hunting and a two-day late youth portion still to come, hunters rallied to catch up.
The antlerless harvest topped the previous year by more than 7,000. Muzzleloader hunters set a new record during their portion of the season, a 55-percent increase from the previous year. Young hunters shot 1,706 deer during the late youth portion, in spite of brutally cold weather. This made the total youth harvest, a 44-percent increase from 2008.
Firearms hunters handed the baton to archers with a comfortable lead of 10,000 deer on the 2008 deer harvest. Bowhunters never looked back, topping the record archery harvest set in 2008 by 7,538. The deer that archers checked made Missouri's 2009-2010 deer harvest the fourth-largest on record.
The 2009-2010 deer season included 42 days of firearms hunting and 112 days of archery hunting. Seasons and harvest totals were:
n Urban portion Oct. 9-12 1,242.
n Early youth portion Oct. 31-Nov. 1 13,328.
n November portion Nov. 14-24 193,155
n Antlerless portion Nov. 25-Dec. 6 22,151.
n Muzzleloader portion Dec. 19-29 15,907
n Late youth portion Jan. 2-3 1,706.
n Archery season Sept. 15-Nov. 13 and Nov. 25-Jan 15 51,972.
n Total 299,461
ARCHERY DEER HARVEST SETS RECORD
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, archers shot 51,972 deer between Sept. 15 and Jan. 15. That is an increase of 7,538 or 17 percent from the previous archery harvest record. It is the first time in the archery season's 64-year history that the harvest has topped 50,000.
"The number of archers has increased a bit the last three or four years," said Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen, who oversees Missouri's deer-management program. "This might explain some of the harvest increase, but I do not think it explains all of the harvest change. Deer numbers have been stable in most parts of the state in recent years, while they have decreased slightly in other areas. I am not sure why we continue to set records. I think over time archers have become more skilled. Archery equipment has gotten better, too."
The 2009-2010 archery deer kill topped the previous record of 44,434, which was set in the 2008-2009 archery season. Top counties in 2009-2010 were St. Louis with 1,076 deer checked, Jackson with 1,048 and Franklin with 1,013.
The Conservation Department issued 356,246 antlerless deer hunting permits for the 2009-2010 archery season, compared to 338,229 in 2008-2009. This increase of 11,082 permits was mostly due to a jump of 8,020 in archery antlerless deer hunting permit sales.
Hansen said increased sales of archery antlerless permits might reflect the slow economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 9.5 percent of Missourians were unemployed in November. A $7 antlerless tag enabled many unemployed hunters to put 60 pounds of lean, red meat in the freezer, an inexpensive way to stretch their grocery budgets.
The Conservation Federation of Missouri reported brisk activity in the state's approximately 180 Share the Harvest programs, which encourage hunters to donate venison to food pantries and other charities. Many of these locally organized programs pay the entire cost of processing donated deer. This makes it easy for skilled hunters to share their bounty with less fortunate neighbors. Last year, hunters donated more than 250,000 pounds of venison through Share the Harvest.
Missouri held its first archery deer season in Crawford County in 1946. The season lasted just three days, and hunters were limited to taking bucks. In spite of liberalizations that included doubling the season length, permitting the harvest of does and opening 40 additional counties, archers bagged only eight deer during the first eight years of the season.
Archers also shot 3,298 wild turkeys during the 2009-10 season, setting another record.