The Experimental Antler Point Restriction

The 475,000 Missourians who hunt white-tailed deer and the many Missourians who enjoy the thrill of seeing the graceful animals in the wild believe that as far as Missouri’s deer herd goes, “the more the better.”

On the other hand, landowners who see deer feeding in their fields and motorists who worry about deer on the roadsides might say Missouri has too many deer.

Balancing the interests of these groups with opposing viewpoints is a challenge the Conservation Department continually addresses.

Our most effective tool for managing deer numbers is hunting. Surveys tell us, however, that this tool might not be as reliable in the future as it has been in the past because the average age of deer hunters in Missouri is slowly increasing, which suggests declines in the number of deer hunters might occur.

The Conservation Department has been testing various regulations that might enable us to manage deer populations with fewer hunters. Studies clearly tell us that the best way to control deer numbers is to balance the ratio of bucks to does in the population. If two out of three deer are does, for example, you’re more likely to have population bulges than if the numbers of does and bucks were closer to equal. The proportion of does in the total population is one key to manageable deer numbers.

Since 2004 we have been testing an Antler Point Restriction in 29 Missouri counties to see if it would reduce the percentage of does in the deer population. The APR requires a buck to have at least 4 points on one side to be legal. The restriction applied to the archery season and all portions of the firearms season except the youth portion. The expectation was that restricting the bucks that could be taken would promote a larger doe harvest. An additional benefit of this restriction would be that more bucks survive longer and grow antlers large enough to be considered trophies by hunters.

We selected two groups of counties for the APR—a northern and a central group. The northern group of counties was mostly agricultural land with generally high deer densities. The central group of APR counties was Ozark fringe, where deer densities are moderate. We separated the northern and central APR counties when evaluating the effects of the APR.

Originally, we planned to evaluate the biological effects of the APR and hunter and landowner attitudes toward deer management and the APR for three