If you’ve been on a very extended vacation to some exotic locale, you may not know that the Missouri Department of Conservation has recommended several changes to the state’s deer hunting regulations, or that these proposals have already cleared the first hurdle toward enactment. Don’t be embarrassed. I haven’t been across the state line for more than a week at a time since God was in grade school, and I was only vaguely aware anything serious was afoot until I saw a short blurb about it in the space directly below my column a few weeks ago.
I searched the agency’s website and then contacted Emily Flinn, who is a MDC deer biologist familiar with the research which led up to the proposed new regulations. She was very pleasant and seemed willing to address any question I asked. That said, after I hung up the telephone, I felt like I’d been outplayed by a master, despite the fact that based on the timber of her voice, I’d guess I was interviewing sources before she was born.
But be that as it may, based on my analysis of the tone of what I’ve read and heard, it seems to me that the MDC hopes that its latest efforts to “maintain the state’s deer herd while providing more (emphasis mine) opportunities for hunters” will be seen as a fait accompli. This is anything but the case. Beginning on October second and running through the end of the month, separate comments on each of the proposed changes can be left at www.mdc.mo.gov. Click on “regulations changes” on the right side of the home page and follow the instructions. This public comment period is statutory, and all comments will be forwarded to the Conservation Commission for use during its deliberations. After considering all of the input from every source, the commission has the option of approving the proposed regulations after making changes in them or it can approve them as written or it can withdraw any or all of them.
To me, the most egregious proposed change is to shorten the November portion of the firearms season from 11 to nine days. According to the biologist I interviewed, this would reduce “hunter/days” by “seven percent” and the deer harvest “between four and six percent.” In other words, the loss of hunting opportunity would be approximately double the gain in harvest reduction.
Everyone agrees that bowhunters take a statistically insignificant number of deer. What possible justification could there be to, for all practical purposes, limit bowhunters to one antlered buck? This will accomplish nothing except to rob bowhunters of the type of hunting opportunity they crave, while encouraging them to shoot more antlerless deer.
Sometimes hunter opportunity truly does need to be sacrificed in order to maintain the deer herd, and due to disease and other factors, this is one of those times. The proposed regulations address this by reducing the antlerless only season to three days. Even though I would have preferred further restrictions on the use of antlerless permits in exchange for a longer open season, I intend to vote with the MDC on this one.
The one regulation change I’m 100 percent in favor of would allow crossbows to be used in all archery seasons. The prejudice against bows with horizontal limbs has never been based on anything other than the opposition of a few very vocal — and very elitist — devotees of bows with vertical limbs. Oddly enough, most of the bows used by the people who say crossbows are unfair are equipped with the latest cams, stabilizers, sights and mechanical releases.
At least for the 2016-2017 season, the length of the alternative methods season will remain unchanged. It will start a few days later and will extend into January far enough to encompass both Christmas and New Year’s Day. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on how high deer hunting is on your family’s holiday activity list.
I’d be the first to admit that it’s hard to keep my opinions unsullied by the fact that I loathe giving up any of what I feel were hard-won and well-earned days I could spend in the woods hunting my favorite big game animal. That’s why even now, when it’s obvious that deer numbers are down from what they were five years ago, I want to make sure the problem is addressed in the most efficient and least disruptive manner possible.
As I’ve noted, I believe some of these proposals fail that test, and I intend to make use of my opportunity to try to influence the Conservation Commission’s final decision. Whether or not you agree with my take on any or all of the proposed changes, please take advantage of the only chance left to speak up. The Conservation Commission has a lengthy track record of taking individual citizen’s opinions into account, but it can’t do that with your’s if it’s members don’t know what you think.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]