sedaliademocrat.com

Deer hunters will face new choices this fall

July 4, 2014

The 2014 Fall Deer and Turkey brochure is now available, which, I suppose, makes the regulatory changes it contains official. Now it’s up to the state’s hundreds of thousands of deer hunters to make whatever strategic changes that will be necessary to adapt to them.


The most far-reaching change is the reduction of firearms antlerless permits from unlimited to one across most of the state. The Missouri Department of Conservation made this change in response to a sometimes real, sometimes perceived reduction in deer numbers due to an exceptionally severe and widespread outbreak of two closely related hemorrhagic diseases in 2012 and 2013.


I don’t question the need for the MDC to take action, and it has my sympathy for being in the very unenviable position of balancing its obligation to do what’s best for the deer while responding to the conflicting concerns expressed by the state’s citizens simultaneously. Even so, I can’t resist pointing out that there were a lot of numerical options between unlimited and one, a fact the MDC acknowledges by allowing landowners to have two free antlerless permits.


The new regulation will inevitably achieve its purpose, which is to reduce the harvest of antlerless deer. Since the thrice-accursed antler point restriction, which has been reducing the harvest of antlered deer for several years will remain in place, the new regulatory combo will end the seemingly endless string of record or near record deer harvests hunters have come to expect.


The truth be told, a large majority of the deer permits issued each fall went unfilled under the old rules. But despite that fact, I worry that the real/perceived loss of opportunities to harvest a deer will not only discourage potential hunters, but novice hunters as well.


I’m also concerned that Share the Harvest is doomed to be the poster child for the rule of unintended consequences. Most deer hunters–and I must admit that includes me–fill their own and their friends’ freezers first. This year I’ll be out of firearms tags before that happens.


Unlike a large majority of firearms deer hunters, I’m also an avid bowhunter, so if some of my pre-season dreams and schemes bear fruit, I’ll have venison to spare. I’ll also get to spend a lot more time hunting. That’s a hopefully not too subtle hint either to give bowhunting a try for the first time or to revitalize an activity you’ve been neglecting since firearms seasons and limits first became what we all thought was permanently generous.


The MDC’s longstanding but ever-improving Managed Deer Hunt program is another way both to extend your hunting time and to increase the number of permits you can fill. Be forewarned, however, that Managed Deer Hunts, most of which are held in urban areas, state parks and other areas not normally open to deer hunting, are extremely popular, at least partly because deer taken on them do not count against the taker’s regular limits.


Potential participants must select and apply online for one–and only one–hunt between July 1 and July 31. Applications must be perfect, so follow the directions on the web site (mdc.mo.gov) carefully.


Hunts are divided by who can participate (anyone, youth only or handicapped only) and subdivided by allowable weapons and by the number and sex of deer that can be taken. Hunts are usually–but not always–only a few days long and are scheduled for every month from October through January.


Before choosing a hunt, I strongly suggest reviewing that hunt’s prior year statistics, which are also available on the MDC’s website. You’ll find that the odds of drawing a permit for a given hunt range from less than 10 percent to 100 percent. Hunter success rates range from zero to more than 50 percent. There doesn’t seem to be any definite correlation between the odds of getting a permit and the odds of tagging a deer.


I’ve participated in one Managed Deer Hunt. It was an enjoyable experience, despite my failure to shoot even one deer out of the three allowed. I’m going to start applying for a hunt every year. If I’m not drawn, I’ll get a preference point which, in effect, will enter my name twice in next year’s drawing. My preference points will accumulate for a lifetime or until I’m drawn for a hunt.


That sounds like a good deal to me.