Opening Weekend Deer Harvest Down 23 Percent

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Missouri deer hunters checked 23 percent fewer deer than last year during the opening weekend of the November firearms deer season Nov. 12 and 13. The decrease reflected conditions predicted by the Missouri Department of Conservation and weather that hampered hunters' efforts.

This year's opening weekend harvest was 102,545. Last year's figure was a record 133,136.

Conservation Department biologists predicted a smaller-than-average deer harvest this year because oak trees produced a bumper crop of acorns, which are the dietary mainstay of deer across much of the state. Hunters have best luck finding deer when acorns are scarce, because deer must travel widely to find food, and gather around available food sources. Widespread abundance of acorns means deer don't have to go far for food and are scattered.

Warm, wet weather on opening day also helped hold down the number of deer killed. Deer are less active during warm weather, and rain keeps some hunters indoors. In contrast, weather during last year's opening weekend was nearly perfect for hunting.

Hunters can make up lost ground in the remaining nine days of the November firearms deer season with favorable conditions. In 2003, the opening weekend harvest was down 16,256 compared to the 2002 opener. By the end of the season they had closed that gap by more than 6,000 deer. Long-range weather forecasts predict mostly sunny weather with cooler temperatures for most of the remainder of this year's November firearms deer season.

The Conservation Department recorded five nonfatal firearms-related deer hunting accidents and one fatality during the weekend. That is the largest number since 1994 and nearly twice the 10-year average.

The top three deer-harvest counties were Callaway with 2,144 deer checked, Benton with 2,097 and Pike with 1,885.

Regional harvest totals were: Northeast, 19,250; Central, 16,519; Northwest, 16,210; Kansas City, 11,795; Ozark, 11,726; Southwest, 11,578; Southeast, 8,048; and St. Louis, 7,418.

Antlered deer made up 47 percent of the opening-weekend harvest. Does were 39 percent, and button bucks accounted for 14 percent.