Opening Weekend Deer Harvest a Record

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A mixed bag of factors, including excellent weather, abundant permits and help from out-of-state resulted in a record opening-weekend firearms deer harvest in Missouri.

Hunters checked an unprecedented 133,136 deer during the first two days of the November Segment of Firearms deer season Nov. 13 and 14. That is up 22,141 from last year and 5,885 more than the previous record set in 2002.

In most years, the opening-weekend deer kill comprises approximately 60 percent of the deer taken during the November hunt. If this holds true this year, the November firearms deer harvest could top 220,000. Missouri's top three deer harvest counties on opening weekend were Callaway with 2,572 deer checked, Howell with 2,516 and Texas with 2,385.

Regional totals from check stations were: northeast, 20,806; central, 17,145; northwest, 16,464; Ozark, 12,794; southwest, 12,745; Kansas City, 12,005; southeast, 8,945; St. Louis, 8,385. These figures do not include 23,683 deer checked by landowners using the new TeleCheck system.

The Missouri Department of Conservation recorded two firearms-related hunting accidents during the opening weekend. Neither accident was fatal.

The size of the state's deer herd, estimated at 1 million, is part of the reason for the strong harvest. However, deer numbers have been stable in most of the state for several years, so other factors must be at work, too.

One of those factors is weather. Opening day was sunny and pleasant, yet cool enough to encourage deer to move around looking for food. Continued cool weather without rain the second day ensured that hunters would stay outdoors and get a good start on the 11-day season. Another factor that contributed to the record-setting harvest was a poor acorn crop in most parts of the state. Deer rely heavily on acorns for food. In years when acorns are scarce, deer tend to gather in areas where food is available. This makes them easier for hunters to find.

Increased availability of antlerless permits helped, too. These permits cost $7 and allow hunters to shoot does or young bucks with antlers less than 3 inches long. Any-deer permits allow hunters to shoot antlered or antlerless deer, but they cost $17.

Venison from does and young deer tastes better and is more tender. Hunters who take does or young deer on antlerless tags retain the option of shooting an antlered deer later with an any-deer tag.

In many parts of the state, hunters can fill as many antlerless permits as they want. The Share the Harvest Program, coordinated by the Conservation Federation of Missouri, allows hunters to donate deer to food banks, often at little or no cost. This is a charitable incentive for hunters to continue hunting after they have as much venison as they want for themselves.

Approximately 450,000 hunters got a record 757,956 deer hunting permits for the opening weekend. That includes 455,060 permits sold and 302,896 distributed free of charge to landowners.

So far this season, hunters from other states bought 13,260 Nonresident Any-Deer Permits and 11,356 Nonresident Antlerless Permits worth more than $2 million. Expenditures on gas, food, lodging, equipment, supplies, guide fees and other hunting needs boosted the flow of nonresident cash into the Show-Me State to the tens of millions, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

For more information about deer hunting or Share the Harvest, get a copy of the 2004 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting information guide, available wherever hunting permits are sold.