COLUMBIA — In recent years, deer were so abundant in Missouri that hunters in some areas were allowed to purchase an unlimited number of tags to kill antlerless deer.
Hunters and conservationists, however, have noticed a decrease in the deer population in Boone and other counties, and the Missouri Department of Conservation continues to review ways to manage the herd.
New limits on permits for antlerless deer — does or young bucks without antlers — are already in place for the fall, and hunters have been asked to share their thoughts on overall management issues at a public meeting on Wednesday in Columbia.
In 2012, the Conservation Department estimated that white-tailed deer in Boone County numbered more than 18,000 — a 13 percent decrease from the 10-year average, according to Emily Flinn, a deer biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The number of total deer killed in Boone County has also decreased, from 3,254 in 2012-13 to 2,583 in 2013-14, according to statistics on the department's website.
Flinn said the decline in numbers has been caused by a combination of liberal hunting regulations and a recent outbreak of fatal hemorrhagic disease that periodically breaks out among the deer population.
In Boone County, the Department of Conservation has already restricted antlerless permits for hunting with firearms to two in urban hunting zones such as the one around Columbia and one in rural areas. Other changes — such as making the start of the firearms season later — are being considered and are open for feedback.
The agency has been holding open houses throughout the state as a forum for discussion and information sharing among hunters, property owners and anyone else who is interested in the wild deer population.
The final open house will be from 3 to 8 p.m Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn Magnolia Room, 3300 Vandiver Drive.
One of the possible changes being discussed involves moving the start of the November hunting season a week later in order to avoid the peakrut, or breeding season.
Flinn, who has attended eight of the previous meetings, said the discussion so far has been positive, and the public has been open to hearing the reasons behind the decisions being considered. There has also been a good turnout.
Flinn said the meetings to date have been productive.
"We've had good conversations with the folks that have attended," she said. "There has been good one-on-one interaction."
Kelsey Brandkamp has been interested in hunting her entire life and comes from a family of hunters. She works at Powder Horn Guns and Sporting Goods in Columbia and has hunted in Boone County for 12 years. Like other hunters, she has noticed that deer are becoming more scarce as the years go by.
Brandkamp also has a positive outlook on the new proposed regulations.
"The new regulations are perfect," she said. "They should have been passed five years ago, but these things take time."
More information about the open house can be found online at the Department of Conservation's website. For those who cannot attend, the website also contains PDFs of the handouts as well as a way to post comments and feedback online.