The Key to Successful Deer Management

As the autumn sun sets on the far ridge, I hear the faint rustling of leaves. The sound grows louder as a doe approaches upwind of my tree stand. In years past I would have made the slow, deliberate movements to get into position and wait for a nice broadside shot. Not today. As she eases her way into a shooting lane, my bow remains on the hanger. I want to increase deer numbers on the property, so the decision is easy. I watch her munch on freshly dropped acorns and wander out of range.

Although antlerless permits are available in unlimited quantities for both archery and firearms seasons in the county I hunt, I had already decided to pass on does months earlier. It is important to remember that unlimited antlerless permits provide flexibility for landowners and hunters to make management decisions that are appropriate for their individual situations—they are not site-specific harvest recommendations. For me, the right decision was to not use an available antlerless permit and let the doe walk—hopefully to raise a few more healthy fawns.

Appropriate doe harvest is a vital part of successful deer management and one of the most misunderstood. As a deer biologist for the Department of Conservation, a frequent question I get from hunters and landowners is “how many does should I shoot?” On the surface, this might seem like a pretty simple question to answer; however, many factors must be taken into consideration. In this article, I’ll explain the role of antlerless harvest limits and provide landowners and hunters with a practical guide to make harvest decisions that meet their management goals.

Antlerless Harvest Limits

The Department of Conservation sets antlerless deer limits on a county-by-county basis. The Department’s deer management goal is to maintain deer populations at levels that provide adequate opportunities for hunters and people who enjoy watching deer, but low enough to minimize crop and landscape damage and deer-vehicle accidents. The availability of antlerless permits in any number is intended to provide landowners and hunters with the flexibility to make harvest management decisions that are appropriate for their property and deer management goals. The availability of antlerless permits does not necessarily mean that hunters need to harvest more does in that county.

More than 90 percent of Missouri is in private ownership and, as a result, landowners largely dictate the distribution of hunters and hunting pressure. There are