With an evolving herd in the state, and many changes over the years including land uses, hunters and other Missouri residents with an interest in white-tailed deer are encouraged to express their opinions on management of the state’s deer herd at regional meetings planned in June and July by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
In this region, Jason Sumners, MDC deer biologist, said come-and-go style meetings will be held at Missouri State University in Springfield on Tuesday, June 17, and the following day, a deer management open house will commence in the Cornell Auditorium in Plaster Hall at Missouri Southern State University, 3950 Newman Road, Joplin. All 14 such meetings around the state will run from 3 to 8 p.m.
Sumners said deer management has changed drastically over the decades.
“The deer population changed, hunter expectations, hunter desires, public expectations and desires as to how we do deer management have all changed,” he said.
He said the department has done a pulse check to ask, “Where have we been? Where are we? And where do we need to be headed?” Sumners said a deer management plan was then drafted, and MDC is asking the public to comment on that plan and its primary goals, as well as future approaches to deer regulations that meet today’s goals.
“They’re not the same as they were 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, which was the time when most of our regulation structure was built,” he said.
Sumners said the goal was to restore the deer population from the 1930s until the 1980s, “So we had broad scale, very restrictive regulations trying to grow deer numbers. As deer numbers grew, we’ve liberalized regulations.” As deer populations have been impacted, he said the focus has shifted to more localized management efforts.
Sumners said the harvest goal for many people no longer is to shoot their first deer, “it’s to shoot a good buck or a specific type of deer.” He said management focus has shifted much more to property-by-property, managing local hunting pressure, “so we just need to make sure that our regulations match up with the dynamics of the deer population as well as expectations of the public and their desires of how we manage that deer population.”
Several factors affect the herd, according to Sumners, including habitat, which he said affects the availability of resources, which determines productivity and how fast the deer population grows.
“Our hunting regulations significantly impact the population in that it determines primarily what type and how many deer get harvested.” Sumners continued, “Hunter numbers, hunter density, is it consistent around the state? And the more hunters you have the more pressure you put on the population; so that affects local deer numbers.”
He said the severity and frequency over the last several years of hemorrhagic disease outbreaks have significantly impacted the population in some parts of the state.
Sumners said feedback received from hunters and others interested in the state’s deer herd will help with the decision-making process.
“We’re really looking for folks to identify issues that we’ve missed – is there something that we’re not considering that we should be considering? Are we way off base in some of our thought processes? Are we on track?” he said.
Sumners said the department continually gathers public input, and conducts random surveys of 35,000 firearms hunters, 35,000 archery hunters and 18,000 deer hunters on a regular basis to gauge their attitudes toward deer populations and deer management.
“We want to make sure that’s clearly reflected in what the public is telling us,” he said.
If you cannot attend any of the meetings, Sumners advised that all of the information is available on the department website at mdc.mo.gov, and search deer open houses. He said all print materials provided at the meetings is available on-line, as well as the ability to provide comments.
Sumners concluded, “If folks aren’t able to attend any of the meetings, then they can still have their voices heard.”