Deer Management for the Future

Successful deer management depends on the cooperation of hunters. The Department of Conservation collects biological data on deer to track reproductive and mortality rates. We also conduct public surveys and hold public meetings to get people's input so we can improve our deer management.

Deer management is always a "work-in-progress," a planned response to deer population growth, changes in hunter harvest patterns, and public opinion. Because hunting regulations are our primary tools for managing Missouri's deer herd, our hunting seasons have evolved from very limited, bucks-only opportunities to the much more liberal regulations of today.

The 2004 deer hunting seasons represent a major shift in how we manage deer. Driving this change is the continued imbalance of Missouri's deer herd, which still contains an overabundance of does in many parts of the state. Good management requires that we bring the numbers into a more favorable balance by taking more does from the population.

At the same time, steady harvest pressure on yearling and 2-year-old bucks has kept their numbers consistently low and allowed only a few to survive to the older age classes. More and more Missouri deer hunters are telling us they would like the opportunity to take larger bucks.

Wildlife biologists believe that both goals are best accomplished by balancing the sex and age structure of the herd. As the proportion of does in the population decreases, the number of does that must be taken each year to control deer herd growth also decreases, even though the overall number of deer does not change. Decreasing the proportion of does will increase the proportion of bucks, including bucks in the older age classes.

We came up with several potential hunting regulation changes that would help maintain a balanced and healthy deer population. Before choosing one, however, we wanted to consult hunters and landowners to find out which management option they would favor and support.

This past year, we conducted 23 public meetings throughout Missouri. At each meeting we presented five deer management options and encouraged people to tell us which they preferred. We tallied 2,901 written responses. To gain an even broader-based picture of attitudes toward possible management changes, we also conducted statewide random surveys of deer hunters and landowners.

As you might expect, the meetings and written comments revealed a wide range of opinions regarding deer management issues. However, one option—antler-point restrictions—enjoyed broad public support.

Pilot program

In April, the Conservation Commission approved a pilot program to test