Managing the Herd
"What do you think?" That's a question the Missouri Department of Conservation has been asking deer hunters and landowners throughout the state. Their answers will help determine the future of deer management in Missouri.
Today, Missouri is blessed with abundant wildlife, but it hasn't always been that way. Although early settlers reported large numbers of deer and other wildlife, unregulated market hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries nearly eliminated deer in Missouri. By 1925, fewer than 400 white-tailed deer remained in the entire state.
Concerned sportsmen and women demanded change. The Missouri Conservation Commission was established in 1937. The Commission closed the deer-hunting season in 1938, thus beginning the important work of wildlife management and restoration. Those efforts proved successful, and today Missouri is home to nearly a million white-tailed deer.
For the first few years, the guiding principle of deer management was relatively simple: protect the does so the herd could grow. Wildlife biologists have long known that does are the key to successful deer herd management. If does are protected, the herd will expand. The opposite is likewise true. Increasing the doe harvest limits a herd's reproductive potential.
The strategy of protecting does was effective, and deer numbers began to increase. In 1944, the first "modern" deer hunting season for bucks only was opened in a few Missouri counties. By 1951, deer numbers had increased sufficiently to allow limited harvest of antlerless deer in selected areas.
Deer numbers continued to increase. Beginning in 1959, hunters could pursue deer statewide. Deer management units were established in 1970, and the quota system followed in 1974. These two innovations made it possible to manage deer on a more local level. Bonus Deer permits valid for antlerless deer became available in 1987. The first muzzleloader season was held in 1988. The Antlerless-Only portion of the firearms season was added in 1996, and the Youth-Only portion began in 2001.
Beginning with the 2002 season, Any-Deer permits were valid statewide, and in 2003 hunters could purchase and fill any number of Bonus Deer permits in many deer management units.
Because hunting is the primary tool used to manage deer, hunting regulations must continue to change periodically to reflect changes in the deer herd and new management goals.
Deer management in Missouri is now at another crossroads. Surveys indicate that over the past decade, the average age of deer hunters has increased from