Saturday’s start of the 11-day firearms deer season brings big business for Missouri and a continued effort to curb the growing overpopulation problem among whitetail deer.
Deer posed no threat 80 years ago when there were only about 400 of them in the state. Conservation efforts in the mid-20th century, however, not only restored the herd but also set in motion a population explosion — taking the number of deer in Missouri to nearly 1 million. About 20,000 of the animals are estimated to live in Boone County alone.
As the herd grows and people expand into deer domains, the number of deer-vehicle collisions and the amount of property and crop damage have increased. The Missouri Department of Conservation estimated that more than 9,000 vehicular collisions with deer took place in the state last year. About 400 such collisions happen in Boone County every year, most of them within the city limits, research biologist Lonnie Hansen of the Conservation Department said.
“Despite being a tremendous resource for hunters and citizens in Missouri, deer can be very destructive,” Hansen said. “By my estimation, deer-car collisions are to blame for some $10 million per year in property damage in the state. I would imagine that crop damage would be in the millions as well.”
Robyn Raisch, a conservation agent, said he received about 75 complaints this year from residents perturbed by deer.
“Every year it seems as though we get more and more of these sorts of phone calls,” Raisch said.
Deer hunting seems to be the best solution to the problem — and it’s also a money-maker. The sale of deer-hunting permits earns an estimated $12 million per year for the Conservation Department. Nationally, deer tags are among the largest sources of funding for fish-and-game agencies.
“Deer seasons are big business,” Hansen said. “In addition to what hunting brings to the Conservation Department, it also generates approximately $800 million a year in business activity.”
“I’m speaking of food, gas, motels, hunting equipment, meat processing and so on. Hunting has become a hugely popular recreational activity. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the steady stream of cars heading northbound on 63 highway Friday evening.”
Aside from boosting the state’s economy, Chris Lohmann of Columbia believes hunters play a vital role in maintaining natural order.
“Sure, it sounds great to think that disease and starvation will naturally set in and sustain an acceptable population, but this simply isn’t true in this day and age,” Lohmann said of a popular argument against the need for hunting. “Starvation would not occur due to the abundance of crops available for consumption. In the absence of a deer harvest, I can guarantee that car-deer collisions and crop damage would increase substantially.”
Last year, about 425,000 hunters set a record by bagging 254,367 deer during the firearms season.
This year, however, the number could fall, given experimental antler restrictions that will take effect in Boone and 28 other counties. The new rules specify that bucks cannot be killed unless they have at least four points on one side of their racks.
Hansen said that although the new rules might bring the total deer kill down, they might result in more female deer kills. The effect on deer reproduction could reduce the size of the herd further in the long run.
“If this year’s harvest includes more does and fewer bucks, we could actually harvest fewer deer overall and leave a bigger dent on the state’s deer population in years to come,” he said.