HARRISBURG — Dave Rotert wants the deer back.
Rotert owns 48 acres of woods about a half-mile off U.S. 63 in Boone County. He used to feed 200 pounds of corn to deer on his land every week. Now, he said, 50 pounds a month gets the job done.
Here are the steps representatives of the Missouri Department of Conservation suggest for those interested in forming cooperatives to manage whitetail deer populations:
- Hold an initial meeting to gauge interest.
- Select at least two to three people to serve on a steering committee.
- Define clear objectives, and develop an organizational structure.
- Develop a written management plan that explains the cooperative's goals and its strategies for achieving them.
- Develop a membership agreement that is not overly restrictive.
- Develop a marketing and advertising plan to recruit members within the targeted area.
- Hold a general meeting to ratify bylaws and vote in leaders.
- Hold workshops to teach members how to adhere to the cooperative's rules.
He used to see six to eight deer every night. Now, he said, he might see two in two months. And although he used to hunt about 20 days a year, he hunted only three days during 2010 and didn't kill a deer.
“I miss them,” Rotert said. “There were just so few deer. I did not want to shoot at all.”
Rotert was one of about 200 people who attended a Friday night meeting at the Harrisburg Lions Club that was called by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Property owners in the Perche Creek watershed have been complaining to the department that they're seeing far fewer deer than in years past. The goal of the meeting was to hear their concerns and offer suggestions for forming a landowner cooperative that could agree on goals for managing the deer herd.
The consensus at the meeting was that the declining number of deer is the result of epizootic hemorrhagic disease and more liberal harvest regulations. In recent years, the Conservation Department has allowed hunters in most parts of the state to kill one buck, plus as many antlerless deer as they want, as long as they buy the required permits. Killing does have a much bigger impact on deer populations.
Mike Burks lives 3 miles west of Harrisburg. "It is crazy," he said of the hunting regulations. "It has become too liberal. You can take a gun and just go out shooting.”
The meeting lasted two hours. Landowners and deer hunters expressed their thoughts and listened to presentations on the history of deer management in Missouri and on strategies for forming a landowner cooperative.
Lonnie Hansen, a resource scientist and deer biologist for the Conservation Department, said the biggest concern expressed at the meeting was the “lack of deer.”
Last year on the opening day of firearm season, Josh Reams saw four deer while he hunted from sunrise to sunset. Several years ago, he said, it was more common to see four deer every hour.
Some also worried about the quality of the deer they shoot. Burks shot a buck in the fall whose rack scored 142 points. The bucks he killed in each of the previous two years scored in the 170s, he said.
Representatives of the Conservation Department encouraged landowners to form a wildlife cooperative and suggested several steps for doing so. The idea drew different reactions from those who gathered at the meeting.
Rotert said he would welcome a cooperative.
“Oh, absolutely. I want to see more deer,” he said. “They don’t understand fences and boundaries, so you have to have the entire area to cooperate.”
Joa Garcia, who has been hunting for 35 years, said he, too, would consider the cooperative. "The regulation of the Conservation Department is macro-management, but the cooperative is micro-management. So this is what you need.”
Sam Coy, who's been hunting for 17 years, said he'll wait to see whether the Conservation Department tweaks regulations before considering a partnership.
Altogether 41 people signed up for the cooperative. Jason Sumners, a resource scientist with the Conservation Department, said a smaller meeting will follow. Meanwhile, the department will survey landowners and deer hunters and hold internal discussions about regulations for next year's deer seasons. Those rules should be made public in May.