What do the latest Missouri deer hunting numbers tell us?
Missouri hunters reported lower-than-usual deer sightings and harvest numbers during the 2013-14 hunting season. The numbers are, as the state's Department of Conservation reported, comparable to surrounding states' totals.
But, Missouri's 11-day November firearm season only showing a harvest total of 157,272 deer. That number may not look that small - especially to deer hunting outsiders - but since 2012 numbers for gun season were more in the vein of 205,000 deer, it's easy to understand why Missouri deer hunters are getting a bit worried.
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To make matters worse, the 2013 season will go down in history as the lowest for firearms since 1993. And it's not for lack of trying or interest: Missouri sold its usual level of deer hunting licenses. Hunters just didn't see as many whitetails, and therefore, didn't get a chance to shoot as many either.
Furthermore, 2012's season was one of the most prosperous on record for Missouri deer hunting, with nearly 300,000 whitetails taken across all gun and bow hunting seasons. For deer hunting figures to decline as quickly as they have, many hunters worry that something very worrisome may be afoot.
One possible culprit is epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which Missouri deer herds saw a sizable outbreak of back in the summer of 2012. Representatives of the Missouri Department of Conservation expected the plague, an infectious virus that causes oft-fatal hemorrhages among whitetail deer, to reduce herd sizes and deer harvest numbers for the 2013-hunting season. However, the massive 23 percent decrease in firearm harvest numbers was a considerably larger hit than the Department of Conservation expected to take.
Now, hunters throughout Missouri are criticizing the Department of Conservation for not taking steps to further regulate deer hunting. Many are worried that, since hunting season proceeded normally this year - instead of giving deer herds a chance to rest and recuperate - numbers will only be worse come next fall.
If another harsh outbreak of disease hits the Missouri deer herd this summer, or if drought or other problematic weather problems threaten the herd, Missouri hunters could be facing another poor season next time around.
One of the problems right now is that Missouri's deer herd doesn't have the penchant for breeding and repopulating that it once did.
For years, the state was known among deer hunters for its seemingly limitless number of does. However, the Department of Conservation has allowed hunters to target does without a bag limit or a quota in some areas of the state. And while Missouri does are certainly not in danger of extinction or anything close to it, they are also not anywhere near as numerous as they once were.
Because of that fact, the state's struggling deer herd will take awhile to recover from its slump. In other words, deer hunting enthusiasts in Missouri may want to consider looking elsewhere if they want to experience a good hunting season come 2014.