2003 Deer Harvest Tops 290,000

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Missouri's 2003 deer harvest topped 290,000, setting a record but falling short of the Conservation Department's goals for doe harvest.

Hunters killed 208,834 deer during the 2003 firearms portion of deer season in November. That is 4 percent fewer than in 2002. However, hunters made up the deficit in December, taking 11,184 deer during the muzzleloader portion of deer season (a 19 percent increase) and 25,545 during the antlerless-only portion (a 90-percent increase). Archers killed 33,526 deer last year, a 13 percent increase from 2002.

The dramatic harvest increase during the antlerless-only portion was partly the result of unlimited availability of antlerless-only hunting permits in many areas. Reduced cost of the permits contributed to the larger harvest, too. However, the increase still only accounted for 4 percent of the total deer harvest.

Adding deer taken during the youth-only season (9,117, +22 percent), those taken in managed deer hunts (2,291, +14 percent), and those bagged during the new urban deer hunting season, (134), the 2003 harvest totaled 290,631. The final tally was 4 percent more than 2002.

Pike County led 2003 overall deer harvest totals with 6,139 deer killed. Benton County was second with 5,789, and Boone County came in third with 5,676. Other top-ten counties were: Callaway, 5,635; St. Clair, 4,962; Morgan, 4,675; Texas, 4,619; Oregon, 4,219; Henry, 4,173; and Monroe, 4,162.

The 2003 deer harvest was 52 percent male deer. Male deer comprised 54 percent of the total harvest in 2002.

"Naturally, we were glad to see the harvest shift a little toward does," said Conservation Department Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen. "That was what we were hoping to accomplish by reducing the price of antlerless-only deer hunting permits and increasing the number of those permits that hunters could buy. However, the size of the increase still is not large enough to make a significant difference in the sex structure of the deer herd statewide."

Going into the 2003 hunting season, the state's deer herd was about 60 percent does and 40 percent bucks. To control deer numbers and offer hunters the chance to kill more older bucks, the Conservation Department would like to shift the ratio to 45 percent bucks and 55 percent does. Hansen said this is not likely to happen unless the Conservation Department finds some other way to convince hunters to take more does.

The agency is considering changes in deer regulations to achieve its deer management goals. Hansen and other Conservation Department biologists have discussed changes under consideration with hunters and non-hunters public meetings statewide. The agency plans to develop a new deer management strategy based on the responses received at those meetings, and test these strategies in a pilot area this fall.

The Conservation Department noted that changes in permit procedures this year could place a premium on buying deer permits early. The 2004 hunting season is the first in which all hunters will need formal deer hunting permits. Qualifying landowners will not have to pay for permits to hunt on their own property. However, they will have to go to permit vendors to pick up free permits. This means that an undetermined number -- perhaps tens of thousands -- of Missourians will visit permit vendors for the first time this year.

"Lots of people wait until the last minute to buy deer hunting permits every year," said Wildlife Programs Supervisor Bill Heatherly. "That means standing in line in some places if you buy your permit a day or two before the season opens. This year, the lines will be longer, and in the event of a telephone outage or a power failure, it could be a problem. Smart hunters will buy their permits early to avoid the last-minute crush."