Acorn availability, crop harvest, the four-point rule and population
shifts caused by last year's harvest and hemorrhagic disease all will
affect the final tally from this year's November firearms deer hunt.
JEFFERSON CITYMissouri's top white-tailed deer expert says the number of deer killed during the 11-day November portion of firearms deer season could be down slightly this year. In the end, however, the deer harvest will depend on a variety of offsetting factors, including the perennial wild card, weather.
Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen says he expects a harvest of approximately 200,000 deer during the November hunt. This overall prediction takes into account regional variations and assumes average weather.
Hansen said hunters in the Ozarks are likely to check fewer deer this year than they did in 2009. He bases this prediction on two factors, both related to the availability of deer's autumn food mainstay, acorns.
Acorns were scarce in the Ozarks last year. As a result, deer were concentrated in areas where food was available, and this made hunters' work easier.
"Hunters had a banner year in the Ozarks last year," said Hansen. "They shot a bunch of deer, and that could have some negative effect on this year's harvest."
This year, acorns are abundant across much of the Ozarks. Hansen says this will magnify the effect of last year's strong deer kill. Fewer deer will be spread out over a larger area, making them more difficult for hunters to find.
He said the Ozarks' long-term prospects are good, however, with gradual growth of the region's deer population over the last 25 years.
Deer-hunting prospects are bright in northern Missouri, where the harvest was down last year.
"I think that we under-harvested deer in parts of northern Missouri last year because weather conditions delayed the corn harvest," said Hansen. "With so much standing corn, deer had lots of places to hide, and we carried over more deer than normal in that region. Most crops should be out of the fields by deer season this year, and my expectation is the harvest should be up a little bit in northern Missouri."
Hansen notes, however, that northern Missouri's deer population is smaller than it was five years ago. He says that is a good thing.
"We needed to get the numbers down in some areas. Of course, deer are never distributed evenly across a landscape, and the fact that numbers are down across that region means that people in some areas have fewer deer than they would like and others have more than they would like. But I still think they will have a good season up there, and they could shoot more deer than they did last year because of the crop situation."
Hansen said deer numbers have been down a little in western Missouri in recent years because of hemorrhagic disease. He said that region's deer population is recovering well and hunters there can expect a good season.
Hunters in the 35 northern and western Missouri counties where the four-point antler restriction went into effect in 2008 can expect to see more bucks with large antlers, according to Hansen.
"What we have seen in the counties where the four-point rule first went into effect is that the third year is when people really start reaping the benefits," he said. "Lots of hunters will see bucks with antlers like they have never seen before. Some people are going to say, Wow! Where did all these bucks come from?'"
With so many opposing trends, Hansen said he hesitates to guess how many hunters will check deer during the November hunt.
"If you force me to guess, I would guess the harvest will be not quite as high as last year."
Whatever the November harvest turns out to be, the final tally for the season is unlikely to be much different than last year's.
"We have reached a point in Missouri where most hunters have all the time they need to shoot a deer," said Hansen. "Back when the November hunt was the entire firearms deer season, a low harvest on opening weekend meant the final harvest total would be down that year. Today, if you aren't successful in November, you still have 12 days of antlerless hunting and 11 days of muzzleloader hunting to make up lost ground. We have many more muzzleloader hunters today than we did 20 years ago, and today's muzzleloaders are much more efficient than the traditional guns that we started with. That tends to reduce year-to-year variations in harvest."
Last year's November deer kill of 193,155 was 4 percent below the 2008 November harvest. That was mainly because of widespread, heavy rainfall during the opening weekend. Hunters went on to make up that difference and more during the antlerless, muzzleloader, youth and archery portions of the season after the November hunt. The combined 2009-2010 archery and firearms deer harvest of 299,461 was the fourth-largest on record.
Full details about deer hunting are available in the 2010 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet. It is available wherever hunting permits are sold and online at http://bit.ly/bHgKv2.