50 Years of Archery Deer Hunting
It is past the time of shadows. In the still half-light, a white-tailed doe warily nibbles her way along the wooded ridge. Nearby, a hunter, who had been leaning into the fissured trunk of a thick oak, raises and draws his bow. He pauses, releases the string.
Stung and startled, the doe crashes away. After several bounds, she buckles, falls to the ground, makes a brief commotion among the leaves and dies.
That hunt might have taken place last fall, or it could have occurred more than 30,000 years ago. Archery deer hunting, a popular sport today, extends back into prehistory, to the time of caves and stone tools.
Missouri's regulated deer season began 50 years ago, in 1946. Not long before that time, deer were about as uncommon as ostriches in the state. Thanks in large part to market hunting and illegal hunting, it was estimated that only about 2,500 deer lived in Missouri during the 1930s, most of them in a few Ozark counties.
Deer numbers began to rebound after deer seasons were closed to protect the remaining deer and the Conservation Department began an ambitious deer and deer habitat restoration program. Even with these efforts and a change in public attitudes toward illegal harvest, deer probably numbered less than 25,000 when the archery season began. Today we have upwards of 750,000 deer.
That first season, only one county - Crawford - was open to archery deer hunting for bucks only. The season lasted a mere three days, and 73 archers participated. Among them were at least five women.
That first archery season was a big event. The Steelville Boosters Club hosted a barbecue for all the archers on Saturday evening of the hunt. And the bowhunters put on an archery demonstration at the local ball diamond.
Because archery hunting was so new, the Conservation Department didn't know what to expect from the sport. To be prepared for any eventuality, they sent almost as many agents to Crawford County as there were bowhunters.
"There just weren't enough deer around," says Earl Hoyt Jr., who was at the first hunt and later would establish Hoyt Archery Co. "Out of all the hunters, only one archer saw a deer and that was Jack Compton, who was famous among us archery rabbit hunters for his sharp eyes."
Taney County was next to open, in 1948, with a 9-day season, but none of the 62 hunters who purchased archery permits were successful.