COLUMBIA — Dusty Walter spends a lot of time in the woods as head of research for the MU Center for Agroforestry, but work will be the last thing on his mind when he goes afield this weekend.
“When I’m out in the woods, I’m working,” Walter said. “When I’m hunting, I just get to enjoy being out there.”
Walter has hunted for about 25 years.
Saturday marks the beginning of the rifle portion of Missouri’s deer hunting season, which runs from Nov. 10-20, and Tom Strother of the Missouri Department of Conservation is expecting 500,000 hunters to participate statewide.
“This is what most hunters wait for year-round,” Strother said.
In the fourth rifle season since the antler point restrictions took effect, Strother said the four-point rule is starting to pay off for hunters.
Antler point restrictions in Boone and certain other counties mean that an antlered deer can only be taken if it has at least four 1-inch points on one side or antlers less than 3 inches long. The restrictions are designed to give hunters more opportunities to shoot big bucks.
“There hasn’t been a survey to say there are more bucks,” Strother said. “But reports we’re getting is we are seeing the results of it. People are very happy with the four-point rule.”
Walter said he has seen more evidence of bucks using his property than in past years, but he doesn’t know if his observations are related to the antler restrictions.
“We think it’s going to be a good year, but not a record-breaking year,” Strother said.
Walter said one of hunting’s important aspects is the bonds it creates in families. His fondest memories are of rabbit hunting with his grandfather. Walter enjoyed how his grandfather passed his hunting knowledge down to him.
“I still enjoy thinking about going out with him,” Walter said. Walter’s daughter is too young to go rifle hunting for deer, but he plans to go out with her when she’s older.
“It’s a time for families to enjoy what it’s like to be out in nature and hear the woods around you,” Walter said.
The November rifle season also can mean an economic boom for stores selling hunting gear.
“The rifle season is big,” said Trip Moynihan, promotions manager at Bass Pro Shop. “The past few weeks we really see a big increase.”
Bass Pro Shop will hold “Big Buck Day” on Saturday, when hunters can bring their deer to the shop to compete for prizes. Categories range from “first deer in” to “highest green score” for the biggest rack, Moynihan said.
Bass Pro will also be a place where hunters can participate in Share the Harvest, a program that donates extra deer meat to the Central Missouri Food Bank and other charities throughout the state. If a hunter donates his deer to Bass Pro Shop, the hunter will not have to pay the processing fees. The fee will be picked up by area businesses. Last year, Bass Pro collected more than 5,000 pounds of venison for Share the Harvest and is expecting more this year.
Hunters can also bring their deer to meat processors participating in Share the Harvest throughout the state, and they can tell the processor how much meat they would like to donate.
The Safari Club International has helped coordinate Share the Harvest with meat processors in a six-county area including Boone County. Earl Cannon, the Safari Club’s coordinator for Share the Harvest, said the club collected almost 25,000 pounds of venison last year. With the addition of another meat processing plant in Mexico, Mo., the club is expecting close to 30,000 pounds this year.