COLUMBIA — For deer hunters, this year has been one of weather extremes. The firearms deer season last month was plagued by temperatures too warm for most hunters’ preferences. And this month’s nine-day antlerless deer season, which runs through Sunday, has been marked by ice that has kept hunters out of the woods and away from their stands.
As of Friday morning, 10,119 deer were killed statewide during the anterless season, according to Missouri Department of Conservation. That’s less than half of the deer killed in each of the past three years.
That number includes 1,568 deer killed in the Central Region, which includes Boone County and 14 other counties, as of Thursday afternoon, Boone County conservation agent Robyn Raisch said.
Boone County is one of 73 Missouri counties where the antlerless deer season occurs.
“The antlerless season has been in existence for five or six years,” Raisch said. “It’s an attempt to harvest additional antlerless deer, like does. Button bucks are also legal.
“It just gives hunters another opportunity to reduce the deer herd in that portion of the state and keep population numbers in check,” Raisch said. “Those counties have higher deer densities that need to be kept under control through deer management by hunters in another season.”
Only hunters with firearms permits left over from the November season are allowed to hunt deer during the antlerless season.
“The department has tried to reduce the deer population in some areas over the past year,” said Tom Strother, a protection regional supervisor with the conservation department. “With a higher deer population, food and habitat will be affected. A lower deer population is better for the overall deer herd because the deer that are there will have plenty of quality food to eat.”
Deer are “browsers” who walk the woods and fields foraging for vegetation. Strother said there is no one thing deer like to eat. “They eat clover and alfalfa, which are full of water. They also eat regular grass, like fescue. They particularly like acorns from oak trees, but they are difficult to find in the ice and snow. They also eat the buds off trees and shrubs.”
During icy weather, food sources are limited. Scott Rice, Boone County conservation agent, said deer like crop fields, especially winter wheat that’s just coming up.
“They have to paw through the ice and snow cover to feed,” Strother said. “However, during bad weather, some animals do die. That’s just Mother Nature’s way of taking care of the deer population. It’s a natural thing for animals to die due to harsh winter weather.”
Even with Mother Nature balancing out deer numbers, there are opportunities for hunters.
“This year was the fourth largest deer kill on record, but it wasn’t a record-setting year,” Rice said. “You can’t have a record kill every year.”
With fewer deer being killed this year, some official question whether the state can handle the deer population.
“The land has a carrying capacity, and most places probably aren’t at capacity,” Rice said. “The department will implement management for lowering the deer population if necessary. The deer are still there.”
He also stressed hunting safety.
“Hunters must be more persistent, but don’t climb into a slippery tree. Maybe do more ground hunting.” Rice said. He said the icy weather can be beneficial for deer hunters.
“Deer sometimes feed in concentrated areas.” Rice said. “If a hunter is lucky enough to stumble onto one of those areas, that’s good.”