About half a million hunters will hit Missouri’s woods and fields beginning Saturday, when the 2020 firearms deer season begins.
A combination of factors suggests they’re going to do well.
The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Jason Isabelle, who helps manage the state’s deer population, said it’s in good shape. There are about 1.4 million whitetail deer in the state, and the herd has been steadily growing in southern and central Missouri since 2012’s hemorrhagic disease outbreak.
Then there’s COVID-19. Spokesperson Joe Jerek said the Conservation Department thinks it will have an impact.
“We are expecting more hunter effort due to an increase of free time and less social options available,” Jerek said. “We saw that with the spring turkey season and fishing in the spring and summer.”
Adam Doerhoff, conservation agent for Boone County, said he doesn’t expect many hunters will stay home because of the virus.
“A majority of Missouri’s 500,000 active hunter population is expected to show up,” he said. “They’ll of course be asked to observe standard COVID safety procedures, but since the hunting is usually done alone or in pairs, the risk is relatively minimal.”
Weather also plays a role, Doerhoff said. Deer become more active when temperatures cool, which creates better hunting opportunities. Forecasts call for high temperatures in the 50s this weekend, much cooler than most of early November.
Hunters in Missouri across all the different seasons — archery, firearms, alternative weapons and special youth and managed hunts — have killed around 250,000 to 300,000 deer in each of the past 10 years. In 2012-13, they killed 313,254. About a third of the annual deer kill happens during the opening weekend of the November firearms season.
The season extends through Nov. 24. Another season in which hunters can kill only antlerless deer is scheduled for Dec. 4-6.
Thus far, chronic wasting disease hasn’t had a significant impact on deer numbers in Missouri. The Conservation Department has established four management zones spanning 30 counties to contain the spread of the disease, which is always fatal. None of the zones includes Boone or any of its surrounding counties.
Hunters who kill deer in those zones in recent years have been required to have them tested for chronic wasting disease, but this year it will be voluntary on Saturday and Sunday because of COVID-19. Seventy-one testing stations will be open. More information about the disease and management zones is available on the Conservation Department’s website.
Deer hunting has a tremendous impact on the state’s economy. The department has estimated it’s up to generating $1.1 billion per year.
Much of that comes from out-of-state hunters, 35,000 of whom are expected this season.
“It’s more than just hunting,” Isabelle said. “It helps to stimulate the economy. Lodging, businesses, traveling — all of it sees a boost during the season.”
Even in-state hunters have to have their supplies. Hand warmers. Gloves. Maybe a new gun. Camo, knives, sharpening stones.
Then there’s bullets. Those are hard to come by this year. Many calibers of ammunition good for deer hunting are sold out.
Surf MidwayUSA’s online ammunition store for calibers such as .223, .243, .270, .308 and the most popular, .30-06, and you’ll find dozens of products “out of stock and/or temporarily unavailable.”
MidwayUSA founder and CEO Larry Potterfield, a deer hunter himself, said in an email that his company can’t offer back-ordered bullets if it can’t get firm delivery dates from its suppliers but it usually offers a “remind me” service for such items.
“This political year has caused an increase in demand for guns and ammunition, far beyond the ability of the manufacturers to supply,” Potterfield said. “All ammunition manufacturers that we know are operating at 100% of their production capacity.”
Columbia’s Bass Pro Shop feels the effect.
“Pretty much every popular caliber for deer hunting in Missouri is sold out,”said Bass Pro’s hunting sales manager, Jesse Thompson. “Handgun ammo has become very popular, so most of the manufacturers have shifted all of their production into handgun ammunition.”
Thompson suggests that elections and politics are driving forces behind the ammunition shortage.
“Politicians saying on one side they’re coming for the AR-style rifles, high-capacity rifles, they’re going to take them away,” Thompson said. “People are stocking up because they may not be available.”
Thompson said deer hunters for the most part have been understanding.
“In one weekend we might have 1,000 people walk in here and ask about ammo. We’re all in a bad spot.”