Deer Hunting: Getting Started

This fact is hard to imagine: By 1925, unregulated hunting and changes in habitat had reduced Missouri’s white-tailed deer population to an estimated 395 animals statewide. At the time, many wildlife managers thought whitetails were likely on their way to elimination from the state. Proper conservation, however, prevented this tragedy.

Today, Missouri’s white-tailed deer population is estimated at more than 1 million animals — more than existed in the area before settlement by Europeans.

Hunting opportunities for white-tailed deer in the Show-Me State have never been better. If you want to give it a try, here’s how.

A Little Natural History

It pays to know the life history and habits of the animals you hunt. Here’s a quick rundown on whitetails.

In Missouri, most white-tailed deer are born in late May and early June after a gestation period of six and a half to seven months. Twins are most common. At birth, white-tailed fawns have their eyes open and can stand and walk, though feebly. For three to four weeks they tend to remain hidden in cover while their mother stays close by. After this time, fawns travel with their mother and begin the process of weaning. Three to five months after birth, fawns begin the process of molting and growing their winter coat, which results in losing their white spots.

The most obvious difference between male and female white-tailed deer is that most males have antlers. Under the influence of hormones, antlers grow and are shed every year. Bucks shed their antlers in late winter or early spring and immediately begin growing a new set, a process that takes five to six months.

Fawn bucks typically have “buttons” that by fall can be seen as slight swellings under the skin. By 11/2 years of age, almost all bucks have antlers that are visible externally. Depending on a number of factors, including diet and heredity, antlers during a buck’s second winter may be unbranched “spikes” or multi-pointed. As bucks age, their antlers grow larger and heavier. White-tailed bucks tend to be in their physical prime between 21/2 and 71/2 years of age. Past that, due to old age, antler size decreases.

The daily routine of white-tailed deer varies with the season and weather, but generally follows a pattern of movement from feeding to bedding areas early and late in the day. Much deer activity occurs at night. Mature bucks are often