Rifle shots shattered the usual silence of the countryside Saturday as firearms deer season officially opened in Boone County. The nice weather meant plenty of deer, and hunters could be found roaming the county or checking their deer at one of four Boone County checking sites.
The Bittings family traveled more than 150 miles from Marshfield to hunt with their friend, Robert Riesenmy, whom they first met 10 years ago on a pow-wow circuit. The Bittings are Cherokee, and Riesenmy is of Osage and French descent.
Every year, the Bittings return to Boone County at the start of hunting season to observe ancient traditions and catch up with Riesenmy and his wife, Maggie.
“I’ve stressed to Travis the natural order of hunting,” Thomas Bitting said. “Our goal is not to eat any meat from the store. We hunt deer (and) squirrels, trap coyotes and raise cattle on our farm.”
On Saturday, Travis Bitting had an encounter with a 12-point buck.
“I was tracing the doe I had shot when I looked up and saw a buck coming toward me,” Travis Bitting said. “He got within 15 yards before he turned and I took him down.”
Travis Bitting’s grandfather is a retired taxidermist. He promised Travis he would come out of retirement if the 16-year-old ever got a big buck.
A stroke of luck
Mark Robb of Columbia will also need the skill of a taxidermist. Robb arrived at the Blue Acres check station with a smile because he overcame his usual first-day drought.
“I’ve been hunting since I was 11, and this was the first time I got a buck on opening morning,” Robb said.
Missouri Department of Conservation employees, who encourage the hunting of does, gathered around Robb’s kill to admire the 14-point rack.
Robb donated the meat to the Share the Harvest program and plans to have the rack mounted. Share the Harvest donates venison to the Missouri Food Bank.
Robb shot the buck on a 3,000-acre piece of land south of Boonville that he and five friends lease.
“Even hunting farms go for a premium price, and there are fewer good areas in Boone County to hunt for free then there used to be,” Robb said.
Robb said part of the attraction of hunting is listening to and observing animals in their natural setting. While perched silently in his deer stand Saturday, 19 does, 17 turkeys, eight bucks and three coyotes crossed his path. He also heard bobcat scream.
Not all hunters were as lucky as Robb. Tanner Ragan, 10, of Hallsville, ascended a deer stand for the first time at 5:45 a.m. Saturday. Tanner’s father, Roland Ragan, built a two-person stand near Huntsdale so they could hunt together.
“Tanner got a great look at a 6-point buck from 12 yards, but by the time he was ready to fire, the buck took off,” Ragan said. “It couldn’t have been a better example for him to appreciate how fast a deer can leave your sights.”
Ragan said his son was eager to return Sunday, but they had to clean and butcher the doe that he shot.
Another shot at the game
The Ragans said they are planning to take advantage of the muzzle-loading season, which runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 7.
“I get a kick out of hunting with black powder, but yesterday I was out for meat,” Ragan said. “If Tanner or I get the same opportunity to get a buck with a muzzleloader, I’ll relish that.”
The Missouri Conservation Department was stationed at two checkpoints in Boone County on Saturday collecting samples to test for chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease transmitted by deer and elk. Brian Flowers, an outdoor skills specialist in outreach education for the department, said the collection is part of a three-year program to sample the entire state.
This season the department is sampling 200 deer from each of the following counties: Boone, Audrain, Osage, Saline, Miller and Maries. Last season, department employees had to decapitate deer and examine the brain stems to test for CWD.
This year, a quick incision under the jaw allows conservation specialists to easily remove the pharyngeal gland. The gland, which is about the size of a peanut, is then sent to a lab for testing. If it tests positive for CWD, the department identifies the zone where the deer came from and notifies the hunter. The department then begins testing aggressively in that area.
Last year no cases of CWD were found in Missouri.
While there are plenty of deer in Boone County, a few hunters couldn’t resist the urge to gain a greater advantage. Boone County Conservation Agent Scott Rice and other agents wrote three tickets Saturday for hunters who were baiting deer with piles of corn under their deer stands.
Rice also wrote a ticket for “wanton wasting,” which is intentionally leaving a deer that could be consumed. The hunter didn’t want the small deer to count towards his hunting tag, Rice said.
This weekend’s favorable hunting conditions also were good for the taxidermy profession.
“We’ve been so busy, we are not even concerned about counting how many have been brought in,” said Jim Cook, owner of Cook’s Taxidermy. “Right now we are focusing on getting the heads skinned and in the freezer.”