I’m not quite sure which is the most accurate description, but I am sure that the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Managed Hunt program is either the agency’s worst best-kept secret or its best worst-kept secret. On the one hand, the program has a cadre of enthusiastic–to say nothing of optimistic–would-be participants whose number far exceeds the number the program can accommodate. But on the other hand, most of the state’s deer hunters either don’t know the program exists or else think they’re not interested.
I was one of those disinterested deer hunters for many years. Then, primarily on a whim, I submitted an application for a two-day hunt scheduled in early January. I beat the odds and drew a permit, but neither the weather nor the deer were overly impressed with my good fortune. Even so, I remember it as a good hunt, and, besides, I only lacked three of filling the three tags that came with the permit.
The hunt I participated in isn’t being offered this year, but there are 80 hunts open to anyone at least 11 years old, one hunt limited to women at least 11 years old, 15 hunts limited to youths 15 and under and 17 hunts reserved for hunters with serious physical disabilities.
The hunts are further subdivided by allowable weapons. There are hunts limited to vertical-limbed bows, hunts where all types of bows are allowed and others that include atlatls. There are muzzleloader and cap and ball hunts, one hunt that includes modern shotguns with blackpowder weapons, two shotgun-only hunts and nine hunts for users of centerfire rifles, handguns, shotguns and air guns.
Here’s where things get complicated. If you want to play the Managed Hunt game, you must submit an application for one–and only one–hunt through the MDC website by July 31. You can apply as an individual, or, if you and your buddies want to put all your eggs in one basket, up to six people can be listed on a single application and will be drawn–or not drawn–together.
The Managed Hunt tab on the MDC website contains a wealth of information you’ll want to study before applying for a hunt. Begin with the list of hunts. Note the allowable weapons, the type and number of deer that can be taken and the dates and locations of each hunt. This information will probably be enough to eliminate most of the hunts out of hand.
After jotting down the numbers of the hunts you’re still considering, click on the link to statistics from prior years. This chart provides the odds of drawing a permit and the hunter success rate for each hunt.
To me–although obviously not to everyone–extremely low hunter success rates are enough to cross a hunt off my list. That’s not the case with long odds against drawing a permit. In fact, the hunt I’m the most tempted to apply for this year is drawn by less than ten percent of its applicants.
It’s hard to go so far as to call it fortunate, but unsuccessful applicants earn one “preference point” per year. Each preference point is the equivalent of entering the applicant’s name one additional time in the drawing. I’ve been unsuccessful the last two years, so this year, my name will be in the hat three times no matter which hunt I apply for.
The names of the successful applicants will be available on the MDC website, beginning on September 1. Successful applicants will also receive maps of the hunt location and other pertinent information by mail.
If you’re lucky enough to be drawn for a Managed Hunt, I highly recommend spending as much time on the area as possible prior to the hunt. Not taking that advice was a significant reason why I still had all of my tags at the end of my last Managed Hunt. It took place on a large Conservation Area where I’d never hunted deer, but that I thought I knew fairly well, because I’d hunted small game there many times. Of all people, I should have known better.
Please note that the advice in the previous paragraph will be useless if your application gets bounced, because you failed to follow all of the instructions to the letter. Don’t try to scam the system by applying for more than one hunt. Computers are impossible to fool, and they’re merciless.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]