If you were outdoors before first light this morning–and I know a lot of you were–you may have heard a distant mournful wail. It was me. With the only possible exception of passing up a chance at free food and drink, I am committing outdoor writing’s most serious sin–I’m indoors on opening day of the firearms deer season. To make matters worse, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.
But in my own defense, I was distracted. My vision has been on an ever steeper slippery slope for the past several years and had begun to seriously impact my hunting and shooting. So when my optometrist told me a few weeks ago that I was a candidate for cataract surgery, I told him to set it up without stopping to think about deer season, an oversight that resulted in one surgery on October 28 and another on November 11. Oops!
Eyes heal amazingly quickly, but I find myself trapped in deer hunting’s version of Catch 22: I’m medically cleared to hunt, to shoot and to field dress a deer, but I’m strictly forbidden to drag one from the kill site to my vehicle. Not exactly a miner detail.
Fortunately, I learned years ago that, contrary to popular belief and common practice, Missouri’s firearms deer season does not end on November 15. To the contrary, the last firearms season of the year doesn’t end until December 29. I’ll be as able to drag elephants as I ever was by then.
About now, several somebodies are saying, “But wait. According to the harvest statistics, missing opening weekend greatly reduces a hunter’s chance to fill his tag. On the surface, this argument sounds valid. In the 2015 November firearms season–the only one of the state’s deer seasons that, in an of itself, accounts for a statistically significant number of deer–55 percent of the total harvest took place on opening weekend. Pettis and Benton counties followed suit with 52 percent and 58 percent of their respective harvests coming on opening weekend.
But while those figures are factual, they aren’t completely truthful. So many more hunters are afield on opening weekend than at any other time, it’s certainly possible that a smaller percentage of hunters are successful when the woods are at there most crowded. It’s undeniably true that a far fewer number of hunters will kill well over 40 percent of the season’s total harvest during its final nine days.
Yes, there are fewer deer available after the opening weekend onslaught, but with precious few exceptions, there will still be plenty of deer left alive even on heavily used public land. It’s also true that an enterprising drug salesman could make a fortune Monday morning selling Valium ® to deer all across the state, but even drug-free whitetails calm down and resume their daily routines far more quickly than many people believe.
I hope to hunt the last few days of the November firearms season, and I will definitely be in the woods during the antlerless portion of the season. That said, it’s the alternative methods season that I’m really looking froward to, and not just because of my health situation. This is the state’s most underused and underappreciated segment of the season. This year it runs from December 19-29, and, with the exception of centerfire rifles, just about any weapon that’s legal in any other season is OK.
To illustrate just how uncrowded this season is, in 2015 only 67 deer were tagged in Pettis County and public land-rich Benton county recorded only 151. In other words, if you either have to or want to hunt public land, the alternative methods season is 11 days of deer hunting you simply can’t pass up.
I won’t try to kid you; my eyes are just about my only body part I wouldn’t risk to be deer hunting on opening day, because there’s a magic about it that far surpasses any arguments about whether or not it’s the best day to fill a tag. On the other hand, being able to hunt in at least relative solitude and to be able to employ whatever tactics I think best for the given situation is very important to me.
But perhaps most important, except on large tracts of closely controlled private land, on opening day it’s far better to be lucky than good. Some notable exceptions notwithstanding, I’ve never had much luck depending on luck. I’d far rather take my chances with the skills I’ve learned over 50 years of deer hunting.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]