Missouri Deer Hunts
Recently as a Missouri deer outfitter providing Missouri deer hunts to whitetail deer enthusiasts I had a hunter who had a Missouri deer hunt booked for 2010 who phoned me. He stated, “I would like to change my Missouri deer hunt to another State because I don’t think Missouri deer hunting is as good as some of the other States you run hunts in.” This was a hunter I had booked just weeks prior and in a short time he had somehow decided he needed to switch to a different State to hunt whitetail deer if he wanted to kill a real “bruiser”. My first thought which I kept to myself was, “This hunter is already starting to “guide the guide” and he’s not even in camp yet. Of course I didn’t say this to him for I feared insulting him, however I began to educate him very quickly in a humble manner.
I thought to myself, “Does this guy know the biggest non typical buck in history came from Missouri, or that the third highest scoring typical buck came from the results of a Missouri deer hunt. What does Missouri have to do to get some respect anyway?”
The problem the average whitetail deer hunter has in selecting a destination to hunt trophy whitetail deer in is the act of watching too much Outdoor Television. Despite the fact I love deer hunting more than just about anything I no longer watch Outdoor Television. Having been a Missouri deer outfitter as well as many other States in excess of 10 years, I often times feel like the kid that has just discovered there is no Santa Claus. Having been invited by multiple television shows to film inside a high fence and then say on television the hunt occurred in the wild (which I have always declined) I know much of what we see on Outdoor Television is not real. In fact I recently hired an employee who used to work on television with a large Outdoor Company who produces their own television show. This employee told me that almost every deer the television crew harvested on television, he had bottle fed and was domesticated.
Therefore, whitetail deer hunters often select their deer hunting destination for the Fall based upon what they see on Outdoor Television. Right now those shows are focusing on Iowa, Pike County Illinois, Texas, and several other destinations. Thus the average whitetail deer hunter wants to book a hunt in the location that they are seeing the most television shows filmed from. Problem is the data they are collecting is inaccurate. Therefore the destination they sometimes choose is the wrong choice.
Whitetail Deer Outfitters tend to do the same thing. Outfitters pop up in the most highly publicized locations in order to draw in the most interest for making money. Missouri deer hunting is the most overlooked destination in the entire Midwest in my opinion. Deer hunts in Missouri are some of the finest the Midwest has to offer to any whitetail deer hunter. In fact in 2009 while 14 hunters were in my camp bow hunting deer in Missouri they saw 116 record book deer in 10 days and had 42 shot opportunities at them at less than 30 yards. I would put those odds up against any other location without doubt. Lets discuss Missouri deer hunting in depth in order to educate those that know little about the State of Missouri.
Rather than bore you with the historical evolution of Missouri deer hunts let us begin with some current information that has seem to have went unannounced. Northern Missouri deer hunting continues to secretly birth some of the biggest whitetail bucks in the entire nation. It is beyond me how experts claim that Ohio, Kentucky, or any other State in the Midwest is “the sleeper.” Without a doubt Missouri deer hunting in its Northern Plains Region is the best “sleeper state” for whitetail deer hunting in the entire Midwest.
I have been a resident of the State of Missouri for 45 years. In that time I have watched whitetail deer hunting in Missouri evolve from average to excellent. In 2005 the State of Missouri enacted a law wherein whitetail deer hunters could not harvest a buck unless it had 4 points on one beam. Think of this. A State laying between Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas in its Northern regions having this type of mandate put on it. To be honest the first couple years of the new law we were still on great whitetail deer in Missouri, however other States were better. However in the last two years Missouri deer hunts have been nothing short of awesome, and has absolutely laid claim to being the “sleeping giant” of the Midwest.
Want proof that Missouri deer hunts have drastically improved? We collect detailed statistical data here at IMB Outfitters to come up with honest and forthright success rates. Look at the trend below to see just how much of an increase in success Missouri deer hunts have produced in getting hunters shots at record book whitetails.
The following success rates reflect the hunters average percentage at getting a shot at a record book whitetail buck in Missouri during different time phases with IMB Outfitters:
From 2006 to 2009 non rut success rates on Missouri deer hunts with IMB Outfitters have increased from 62% to 105%.
From 2006 to 2009 rut hunt success rates on Missouri deer hunts with IMB Outfitters have increased from 128% to 154%.
From 2006 to 2009 late season muzzleloader hunt success rates on Missouri deer hunts with IMB Outfitters have increased from 42% to 107%.
Simply shocking! To top this off in 2009 due to massive rainfalls during the Missouri whitetail deer firearms season the State of Missouri recorded its lowest deer harvest with firearms in 16 year. THIS MEANS 2010 WILL YIELD TRIPLE THE DEER AND DOUBLE THE SIZE. It literally poured down rain for 9 days in a row.
The trick to a successful Missouri deer hunt is location. Missouri is often overlooked because the Southern 2/3rds of the State just simply is not great deer hunting. However the Northern portion of the State that is surrounded by Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas is nothing short of phenomenal. Think of this, if you were to drive straight West from Pike County Illinois to the hottest Zone in Kansas you would just be 45 minutes South of Iowa. The ground in Missouri lying North of that route holds some of the biggest bucks in the world. Missouri ranks #5 in the record books for number of entries and has done so with hunters literally utilizing only 1/3 of the State which is the Plains Region in the Northern Counties of Macon, Shelby, Knox, and Putnam. Missouri deer hunts are nothing to overlook when in the correct location.
Missouri deer outfitters are few and far between when offering a quality hunt. While IMB Outfitters does have some competition in our other States, in Missouri I literally don’t know of another Missouri deer outfitter within a 60 miles radius of our facility that is doing anything more than running what I call “Hill Billy Hunts”. (That radius is probably much larger if the truth be known.) Thus while this may make some other Missouri deer outfitters mad it’s true that most of the Missouri deer outfitters are “Mom and Pop Organizations” with the best of intentions. Good intentions are admirable but don’t rely on those good intentions to result in your successful harvest of a trophy buck. Select IMB Outfitters to assure you wrap up a “solid” Missouri deer hunt.
IMB Outfitters has been a Missouri deer outfitter offering prime Missouri deer hunts for over 10 years. In fact I recall when we first began running Missouri deer hunts farmers that I approached didn’t really understand the concept of what a Missouri deer outfitter or outfitting was. True!
The State of Missouri offers archery hunts as early as September 15 and as late as January 10. A rifle rut firearms season falls normally the 3rd weekend of November, as well as late muzzleloader hunting for whitetail deer from 10 days in the middle of December. Tags are sold over the counter for Missouri deer hunts.
The rest of this article regarding Missouri deer hunting will showcase facts and stories regarding some of the largest deer ever harvested on a Missouri deer hunt, as well as a historical background on Missouri deer hunting.
BIGGEST WHITETAIL BUCKS HARVESTED ON MISSOURI DEER HUNTS
LARRY GIBSON BUCK. Number Three Typical -- The Gibson Buck
Larry Gibson (1971)
Randolph County, Missouri
Now owned by the Missouri Show-Me Big Bucks Club
While the history of virtually every other superbuck is well documented, virtually nothing is known about the third place typical buck or the man who took it during the fall of 1971 in Randolph County of northcentral Missouri. We do know that Larry Gibson was out to fill his freezer with a supply of venison the morning he stepped into the bush, gun in hand. He was out to take the first deer that crossed his path and he did. Only difference was that the deer he took happened to carry a 12-point rack that was dwarfed only by the Jordan Buck.
But that meant little to Gibson. He gladly took the meat and sold the antlers to the Missouri Show-Me Big Bucks Club for $200. The club which maintains records of Missouri deer with some 1,844 typical and 330 nontypical deer on file admits that it has been offered as much as $50,000 for the rack, but has no intention of selling, no matter what the price. In the meantime, Larry Gibson has simply disappeared into the background, leaving no address. Relatives say he moved to Kansas or Colorado, but has absolutely no wish to be contacted in respect to the superbuck that's known by his name.
Nevertheless, in this story there's an inspiration and a hidden promise in the fact that virtually anybody has a chance at taking a superbuck. These animals are not reserved for the highly sophisticated hunters who are lucky enough to live in superbuck country and capable of deploying endless resources in the single-minded quest for one particular monster whitetail. Rather, it drives home the realization that the next deer that steps out in front of ordinary hunters like you and I might be a young spikehorn as easily as it might be the buck of a lifetime.
MISSOURI MONARCH. Missouri deer hunts
The Missouri Monarch is a buck that hunters can only dream about. That is because it was not hunter-harvested, but the big white-tailed buck is the current world record non-typical white-tailed buck. Yes, that’s big! The deer was smart enough — or lucky enough — to avoid hunters despite spending it’s life in the shadows of a major metropolitan area. The story all started on November 25, 1981, when Missouri Department of Conservation Agent Mike Helland was sent on what appeared to be a routine patrol call in St. Louis County. The white-tailed deer was discovered by a hunter, but it was not shot with bullet or arrow.
The toothless buck was found dead, apparently of natural causes. The deer had a non-typical antler rack that measured 333 7/8 under the complicated Boone and Crockett trophy scoring system. The massive antlers shattered the record from Texas of 286 points, which had stood since 1892. The buck’s antlers had an inside spread of 25 1/8 inches and weighed 11 1/4 pounds. However, there is no definite explanation for the tremendous antler growth exhibited by the deer, but the deer grew a monstrous rack between spring and winter.
The Missouri Monach was 4 1/2 years old and had a full-body weight of 250 pounds. The buck had a deformity in the lower jaw, causing it to be set back a few inches. According to Department biologists, the deformity may have been caused by a canine bite early in the buck’s life. The injury consisted of a small puncture hole in the lower jaw bone that apparently resulted in an infection that caused a total loss of his lower incisor teeth.
RANDY SIMONITCH BUCK. Missouri deer hunts 279 inches
First off, this deer had been seen several times before he was shot. Mary, Randy and a few other local folks had been catching glimpses of him since July. And while this buck and some smaller buddies were seen in various spots, as summer wore on, most sightings of the big deer were in that ordinary-looking field right behind the Dempsey home.
Earlier in the year, the field had been in wheat. After cutting that crop, Mary's husband, Bobby, had decided to plant some late soybeans. With good rains over the summer, they soon had grown tall enough to hide every part of a bedded deer.
Every part, that is, except the top few inches of a tall, 9-pound rack.
Because nobody had had a good look at the buck's headgear earlier in the summer, there was some debate over how many points it carried. Randy figured there were 16 to 18, and as far as he could tell, the rack was quite typical. But then again, Randy's only chances to glass the rack came while the deer was bedded in the beans, and at most, all that could be seen were the tallest points.
"A lot of the time, the rack would disappear while you were glassing the field," the bowhunter notes. "I guess the buck was putting his head down to sleep or eat. When that happened, there was no sign of a deer even being in that field."
The odds of tagging this trophy definitely weren't in Randy's favor. Pike County is heavily hunted, especially during the mid-November rifle season. This falls during peak rut, and the buck could be anywhere then. If he strayed far in search of a doe, he just might find another hunter's bullet instead.
Bow season thus seemed to offer Randy's best chance of getting the buck. But would he still be in the field then? It was one thing to see a big buck in the open during the summer, quite another to find him there during hunting season.
And potentially complicating the matter were the events of Sept. 21, just 10 days before bow season.
As Mary was mowing her lawn that day, she looked out into the field and once again saw the top of the buck's white rack floating above the beans. What followed was a close encounter of the non-typical kind.
"I decided to get the video camera and try to see if I could get that deer on tape," Mary says. "I went out into the field and just started walking straight toward him with the camera, really not even trying to be quiet."
The resulting video footage is as thrilling as it is unique. It shows the rack growing in the viewfinder as Mary closes the gap - and still the hidden buck holds his ground. Finally, when Mary gets to within only a few bean rows of the deer, his rack almost fills the screen - and then, resigned to the fact he's been discovered, he leaps up and bounds from the field!
I think I'd have passed out, but Mary stayed calm; in fact, she just turned off the camera, walked home and finished mowing! Only after that chore was done did she phone Randy to tell him what had happened.
Even after the tape had been played a number of times, the rack's true size wasn't as obvious to Randy or Mary as you might assume. "We could tell he had a lot of points," Randy says, "but there were still strips of velvet hanging off the rack, and it was hard to tell exactly what was antler and what was velvet."
Of course, such details could wait. For now, Randy had two questions far more pressing: (1) would the buck still be bedding in the field once bow season opened?; and (2) if so, would Mary kindly call to let Randy know about it?
Only 12 days later, on the third day of bow season, both questions were answered in the affirmative.
It was midmorning, and Randy had just returned home from hunting on his land. The phone rang; it was Mary, calling to let her neighbor know she'd just seen the white rack out in the beans again.
And with no more thought than that, one of the biggest decisions in deer-hunting history was made. Mary picked up the phone to call Randy, and a few minutes later, his pickup pulled into the Dempseys' driveway.
STALKING INTO HISTORY
It now was around 10 a.m., and a bright sun was pushing the temperature toward an eventual afternoon high in the mid-80s. Mary and Randy walked to the back yard to verify the buck's position. He once again was bedded in his usual spot in the field, no more than a football field from the back fence of the yard. Mary wished her guest luck in his effort to sneak up on the monster, but then went back to what she'd been doing inside the house.
You'd think Randy's stalk would have been planned out in greater detail than the Allied invasion of Normandy. But you'd be wrong. His plan was so simple he didn't even check the wind direction!
"I couldn't tell you which way it was blowing from," Randy admits. "All I was thinking about was trying to pick a route that would let me get into shooting range without being seen. I ended up deciding to go around to the right (northeast) of the deer before starting toward him."
And so, a step at a time, Randy began easing toward the huge rack in the sea of green. The buck, for his part, apparently had no clue he was in trouble; his rack never turned to indicate he'd heard or smelled the stalker, even as Randy was drawing nearer with each quiet step through the 4-foot-high beans.
It took the bowhunter perhaps an hour to close to within 25 yards of his quarry. As Randy knelt there in the beans, he felt he now was close enough to kill the deer - but to this point, he still couldn't see anything but the top of the rack.
Should Randy wait for the buck to stand up to relieve himself, as almost certainly would happen before dark? Or should he try to coax the animal onto his feet without spooking him? The latter idea held more appeal, Randy decided, so he put his call to his mouth, drew his left-handed bow and gave a few grunts.
Within seconds, the buck was on his feet and just standing there, his body quartering sharply away from the hunter. Randy wasn't sure if the deer heard him or coincidentally picked that moment to stand up on his own, but it didn't matter. When the sight pin settled on the animal's last rib, the archer released the string.
As the arrow entered behind the diaphragm and angled forward, the deer bolted southward through the beans, across a small cattle pasture, over the county road and into another bean field. Randy watched the monster run for some distance before losing sight of him.
Several slow hours of trailing took the bowhunter more than a quarter-mile, finally onto his own land. The sign suggested the deer had headed for a corn field.
"There wasn't all that much of a blood trail to follow," Randy recalls. "By this point, I was just looking for the deer as much as for blood. I was walking along a tree line that leads toward the corn field when I looked up ahead and saw him lying dead."
As the bowhunter began to admire the wild-looking rack, he knew he'd greatly underestimated its size, even after having had the advantage of studying it on Mary's video. Forget the question of whether the buck had 16 or 18 points - there were maybe that many on each antler!
But even after Randy had his prize into the pickup, he had no real idea that he'd just made whitetail history. Nor, it seems, did anyone at the check station. But when the bowhunter got to Jamie Graham's Wild Creations taxidermy studio in nearby Frankford, the mighty buck's significance was recognized. As soon as Jamie looked into the truck, he knew he was staring at a world-class buck. Later that day Missouri Show Me Big Bucks Club measurer Jay Hurd rough-scored the "green" rack as a likely state record, and news of the tremendous trophy began spreading across Missouri at warp speed.
After the mandatory 60-day drying period, official Pope and Young measurer John Detjen gave the 33-point monster a net non-typical entry score of 269 7/8. If upheld by a P&Y panel, that score would make the Simonitch buck the No. 2 whitetail in the bowhunting record book.
A few months later, at P&Y's biennial convention in Salt Lake City, the massive rack's entry score was indeed confirmed by the panel. As a result, Randy's deer is now officially the all-time No. 2 P&Y non-typical. He trails only Del Austin's 1962 Nebraska buck, which nets 279 7/8. Ken Fowler's 257 0/8-inch Kansas trophy from 1988 was previously in second place.
In addition, the Simonitch buck is the highest-scoring Missouri whitetail ever taken by a hunter, regardless of weapon type. Duane Linscott's 259 5/8-point Boone and Crockett trophy, taken by rifle in Chariton County in 1985, previously held that title. And Randy's trophy blew away the state bow record, which had been held by Glen Young's 220 7/8-point Scotland County buck from 1996.
(The state's overall record in the non-typical category, the 333 7/8-point "Missouri Monarch" from St. Louis, is also the world's top-scoring whitetail ever. But that 44-point giant apparently died of natural causes a day or so before being found by hunter Dave Beckman in 1981.)
KEN BARCUS BUCK 225 INCHES. Missouri deer hunts.
This Missouri hunter took the featured 225 inch buck and one decade later to the day harvested a second buck scoring 203 inches nontypical. Somebody needs to ask Ken Barcus if Missouri deer hunting is a worthwhile venture. I’ve lived in Missouri for 43 years and absolutely know what we have here. In fact over 13 years of outfitting the largest deer ever harvested by IMB Outfitters is 216 inches in the State of Missouri on a Missouri deer hunt with IMB Outfitters.
JEFF BRUNK BUCK. Missouri deer hunts.
19 year old Brunk called the buk a “phantom”. In the late 1969 this deer with pure white antlers which scored 199 inches was killed as a result of still hunting, which may or may not be the largest whitetail ever killed by a still hunter or stalk hunter. More proof Missouri Deer Hunting is simply the “Rodney Dangerfield of the Whitetail Industry……….no respect…………………or could it be a lack of commercialization?
KEVIN THOMAS BUCK. Missouri deer hunts.
The whitetail records continue to shatter in Missouri. In 1985, Duane Linscott shot a magnificent 27 point buck in Chariton County which netted a whopping 259 5/8 inches as a non-typical, making it the biggest whitetail ever killed in Missouri by a hunter. For 16 years, Linscott reigned at the top of the heap of hunters in the Missouri Show-Me Big Bucks Club record book. However, the 2001 firearms season ended this record too with a gigantic non-typical buck taken from a central Missouri farm.
Kevin Thomas of Sweet Springs, MO and his family have a rich tradition of deer hunting in their history. Kevin and his three brothers are avid whitetail hunters thanks to their deer hunting parents Robert and Alberta. For years, Robert Thomas, the patriarch of the family, held the Thomas family whitetail record with a 163 1/8-inch 10 point buck he bagged in Benton County in 1985. Little did he know it but Kevin was about to topple his father's record as well as Missouri's state non-typical hunter-killed whitetail record during the 2001 deer season!
Kevin Thomas is like most deer hunters in Missouri. He is a hard working family man who takes his deer hunting seriously. With 16 years of deer hunting experience under his belt he is not a novice to be sure but he never would have dreamed what he would tag on Nov. 10, 2001.
It was the opening morning of Missouri's November firearms season and Kevin was hunting a 300-acre farm in Saline County. In case you didn't know, Saline County is located in central Missouri, south of the Missouri River, northwest of Jefferson City and west of Columbia.
Neighboring counties south of the Missouri River are Lafeyette, Johnson, Pettis and Cooper. Counties north of the river are Carroll, Chariton and Howard. Now that you have an idea of where Kevin Thomas was hunting let's take a closer look at the habitat on the 300-acre farm he was actually on.
That country music song by the Dixie Chicks, "Wide Open Spaces", best describes the farm. In fact, the only cover on the place is a five-acre patch of brush, the rest is all row-crops. Just after 6 a.m. on that fateful opening day last year, Kevin was carefully walking across one of the fields to his hunting box he has built which sets about two feet off the ground overlooking a hollow. Kevin was walking to his stand and was about half-way across a waterway in the field which contained corn on the top half and beans at the bottom. With just four rows of corn left in the field Kevin spotted a deer about 150 yards from him.
The hunter strained his eyes but couldn't tell whether the deer was a doe or a buck until it turned its head and he then knew it had a rack on its head. Not necessarily being a trophy hunter that was good enough for Kevin. He watched as the deer continued walking in his direction. The buck continued toward Kevin until he was a mere 45 yards away! Even at this close range he couldn't tell what size rack the buck sported because his eyes were watering badly from the high winds in the field. How big the buck was didn't really matter to Kevin he just wanted to fill his tag and with one shot to the top of the deer's shoulder from his Remington 700 .30/06, the buck was down for good.
It wasn't until Kevin walked over to the fallen deer down at the bottom of the gully did he know just how unique and large his buck was. The deer had an enormous rack with antler tines sticking up and in all directions, 33 points total! Oddly enough, the rack also had lots of velvet on it! Once Kevin saw this trophy whitetail he started dancing around and once the initial excitement wore off he sat atop the terrace admiring the gigantic buck. He knew he had some kind of record.
After Kevin's heart returned to normal rhythm, he went and acquired the assistance of the farmer across the road to help get the big whitetail out of the field which he estimates to have weighed about 250 pounds!
The Boone & Crockett score sheet says it all. The dimensions of Kevin Thomas' record book buck are as follows: --Number of points on the right antler 16; left antler 17. --Inside spread is 13 inches; greatest spread is 18 2/8 inches. --Length of right main beam is 20 6/8 inches; left main beam is 22 4/8 inches. --Length of G2 on right antler is 9 1/8 inch; left antler 10 6/8 inch. --Total inches of abnormal points on right antler is 92 inches; left antler 88 4/8 inches. When you add the 101 6/8 inches from the basic racks subtotal to the 180 4/8 inches of abnormal point inches, the Kevin Thomas buck nets a whopping 282 2/8 inches as a non-typical making it Missouri's new #1 hunter-killed buck of all time!
Biologically Speaking If you are like me, you are probably wondering how a deer could possibly ever grow a rack like this one. I asked Missouri Department of Conservation wildlife research biologist Lonnie Hansen that question. "It's hard to say what caused this particular buck to grow such a cactus rack," Hansen said. "We would first have to find out whether or not the rack was completely calcified. If it wasn't, maybe some sort of hormonal imbalance kept the buck from producing enough testosterone and that's why it still had velvet on it."
Hansen went on to say that some pen-raised deer that were once infected with hemmoraghic disease (EHD a.k.a blue-tongue) grew an oddly configured rack the next year. A very distinct possibility is that when the antlers pedicels were first in development as small velvet covered nubs on the bucks head, the buck could have possibly hit his head into a tree or some other object, damaging those pedicels and causing the rack to develop so abnormally. "The fact that the rack still had velvet suggests a hormonal imbalance," Hansen said. "However, the buck might have been completely healthy but with the odd configuration it simply might not have been able to rub off the velvet itself."
When asked about the number of trophy whitetail records that continue to be broken in Missouri, Hansen suggested that hunter attitudes and the State's permit system may have something to do with it. "I feel that more and more hunters are becoming selective and changing their attitudes about the size of buck they harvest," Hansen said. "I believe this factor alone has a lot to do with the any-deer and bonus permits that are available to hunters now in Missouri. I believe that a lot of deer hunters are now filling their freezer with antlerless deer on their bonus permits and holding out for trophy class bucks with their any-deer permit."
For The Record Book Dale Ream is director of records for the Missouri Show-Me Big Bucks Club which is Missouri's whitetail deer record keeping system. Dale who personally measures and records hundreds of Missouri trophy bucks each year knows as much as anyone when it comes to record book bucks. "I believe this buck is a by-product of EHD (epizoic hemmoraghic disease)," Ream said. "Missouri had a big outbreak of EHD in north Missouri about three years ago and several smaller outbreaks since then."
According to Ream, the Thomas buck isn't the only buck like this that has been taken recently in Missouri. The only difference is that the other bucks were smaller but had the same characteristics. "You can't technically call this buck a cactus buck because cactus bucks do not ever shed their antlers," Ream said. "The Thomas buck appears to have been in the process of shedding it's velvet and it looks like the antlers were solidified so this isn't a cactus racked." Also, the Thomas buck had testicles and cactus bucks either don't have any testicles or their testes never drop.
The Missouri Show-Me Big Bucks Club published the first edition of Missouri's whitetail record book in 1999. If you would like to order a copy of the book or be put on a mailing list for the 2nd edition which will be published in a couple of years, or if you have a trophy buck that you would like scored, you can call Dale Ream at 660-947-3650 660-947-3650 .
Kevin Thomas will reign at the top of the hunter heap as Missouri's #1 non-typical whitetail. How long he will stay on top remains to be seen. The only record that seems untouchable is the 333 7/8-inch non-typical state and world record found dead back in 1981 in St. Louis County. Who know though, with the way the records keep toppling, maybe you will be sitting on top of the next world record after this year's deer seasons
HISTORY OF MISSOURI DEER HUNTING
All Missouri deer hunting counties were opened to the hunting of bucks in 1959. In 2002, the buck-only tag was eliminated and a deer of either sex has been allowed in all counties since then with no limit on the number of hunters who can obtain these permits.
Missouri deer hunting offers a wide range of hunting conditions. The Ozark region in southern Missouri has large areas of solid timber. As much as 85 percent of some counties are wooded. The central counties have cultivated land mixed with woods in about a 50:50 ratio. The prairie region in northern and western Missouri is mainly agricultural land with woody cover confined to woodlots or along streams and is by far superior to all other regions.
The history of white-tailed deer in Missouri shows positive and negative influences humans can have on wildlife. During presettlement times, the whitetail was abundant for missouri deer hunting, especially in the more fertile and diverse habitats of northern Missouri. The influx of European settlers to Missouri during the last half of the 19th century coincided with a rapid decline in the missouri deer hunting population. Unrestricted market hunting and habitat destruction, such as cutting, burning, farming and grazing forest lands, contributed most to this decline.
Token laws restricting the killing of deer were passed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but they went largely unenforced. In 1925, the state’s deer herd was estimated to be only around 400. In response to these findings, the Missouri State Legislature declared deer season closed and made the first substantial effort to enforce its regulation. At the same time, deer brought to Missouri from Michigan were released onto five refuges in the Ozarks. In 1931, deer season reopened but resulted in a small harvest, which indicated a low population that was stable or declining.
Only when the first Conservation Commission formed in 1937 did significant efforts to restore the whitetail begin to succeed. The Commission closed deer hunting season from 1938 to 1943. During this closure, additional deer were stocked from Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and from existing refuges within the state. Enforcement of the Wildlife Code of Missouri by professionally trained conservation agents helped deter poaching. By 1944, the statewide deer population soared to 15,000, and Missouri held its first deer season since the recovery effort had begun.
Missouri’s deer management program has come a long way since 1944. That year, 7,557 hunters took 583 deer during a two-day, bucks-only season in 20 southern Missouri counties. In recent years, nearly 500,000 gun and bow hunters typically harvest around 300,000 deer annually during statewide seasons. Missourians can take pride in the widespread restoration of this major wildlife species.
Successful deer management requires flexibility in response to changing conditions. The white-tailed deer is strongly affected by hunter pressure; populations can be underharvested or overharvested. The penalties for either are great. With underharvest, crop damage and deer-vehicle accidents may increase. Overharvest means several years of slow recovery, especially in Ozark habitat where forage quality is lower. Successful management is maintaining the delicate harvest balance.
Many tools are necessary to accomplish this balancing act. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Missouri had short any-deer seasons. As hunting pressure increased, this type of management became outdated because harvest of does could not be controlled. Since then, deer management has gradually evolved from a quota system based on deer management units to a county-based system where quotas are no longer used. Today harvest and deer populations are managed by allowing various numbers of archery and firearms antlerless permits to be used in each county.
The firearms deer hunting season is now composed of different portions that provide the varied hunting opportunities Missourians enjoy. The current season structure accommodates different hunting methods and styles, and also specific user groups. Consequently, it satisfies the great demand for deer hunting without harming the resource, and also provides multiple weekends of hunting for those who cannot hunt on weekdays.
It wasn't long ago that just seeing a white-tailed deer in Missouri was a great conversation item in the community. Many deer hunters still pursuing the sport today remember when just catching a fleeting glimpse of antlers was a real happening in Missouri.
Consider that as recently as 1950, Missouri had only a six-day firearms deer season permitted in only 26 counties! In 1959, Missouri's first statewide firearms deer season was opened, and deer numbers seemed to skyrocket from that point on.
In years past, deer biologists focused on how to make Missouri's deer herd grow; today, wildlife managers are more worried about how to keep the deer population from increasing.
In 2006, nearly a half-million hunters took to the woods in Missouri during the 11-day firearms deer season. They bagged over 235,054 deer last year during the 11-day season! Contrast that with the fact that in 1958, just shy of a half-century ago, only 60,000 hunters participated in the six-day season in 50 "any-deer" counties and 13 "antlered-only" counties. Hunters bagged just 13,600 deer that year.
Yes, it's a great time to be a Missouri deer hunter -- but unless you experienced those lean deer hunting years not long ago, you probably don't appreciate what you have now.
Missourians are blessed with an estimated white-tailed deer population of just over 1 million animals. That number is probably equal that of what American settlers first found here.
"We have a pretty stable deer herd," Lonnie Hansen said. "By stable, I mean that our deer population is growing in some places, declining in others, and remaining the same in others."
Hansen -- who, as the resource scientist/wildlife biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, is pretty much in charge of our herd -- is the Show-Me State's white-tailed deer guru, well respected throughout the country as tops in his field. "In southeastern Missouri, we'd like to see some increase in the deer numbers, but on the same hand, we'd like to see some deer reduction in parts of north Missouri," he said. "Our urban areas are our biggest problem areas, because we want numbers reduced there, but have difficulty achieving our goal because of a lack of access to hunting there."
THE HERD Missouri deer hunts
Bucks vs. Does
We've already established that Missouri's deer population is estimated at a little over 1 million whitetails. About 40 percent are male deer. This figure includes button bucks. Although Show-Me State hunters bagged 41,178 button bucks during the 2006 firearms deer seasons, most of these buttonheads will live to 1 1/2 years old.
The male deer population total of 400,000 breaks down about evenly between button bucks and antlered bucks. We have approximately 600,000 does in the population. The statewide antlered-to-antlerless ratio is about one antlered deer to every five antlerless deer (1:5). The ratio is slightly better in counties in the pilot antler-point restriction zones, with a 1:4 rate.
The body size of deer in the Show-Me State varies from region to region. MDC studies have shown that the average field-dressed weight of a 1 1/2-year-old buck from the southeast Ozarks is only 75.6 pounds. The same age class buck taken from northwest Missouri dresses out at 132.5 pounds! Most of the difference in body size comes from nutrition in way of what the deer have available to eat. The northwestern buck has the luxury of eating corn, soybeans and more along with his acorns, while the southeastern buck is limited to browsing and acorns for the most part.
In Missouri, a 1 1/2-year old buck may be just a spike or it could be an 8-pointer or better. According to MDC studies, about 30 percent of 1 1/2-year-old bucks in north Missouri will have at least 4 points or better on one side.
Unfortunately, between 50 to 60 percent of these immature bucks are shot annually. This is one reason that the MDC first implemented the antler restriction counties.
ANTLER RESTRICTION PILOT COUNTIES
In 2004, the MDC first began a 29-county antler-point restriction area. Hunters in these pilot test counties are limited to harvest bucks with at least 4 points or better on one side. Hunters in those counties can shoot does too, and are in fact encouraged to do so as part of the reason for implementing the program to begin with.
The 29 counties are referred to as the northern pilot counties and the central pilot counties. There are 22 counties north of the Missouri River-Atchison, Holt, Nodaway, Andrew, Worth, Gentry, DeKalb, Harrison, Daviess, Mercer, Grundy, Livingston, Putnam, Sullivan, Linn, Chariton, Howard, Boone, Schuyler, Adair, Macon, and Randolph. The seven counties south of the Missouri River in central Missouri are Cole, Miller, Pulaski, Osage, Maries, Gasconade, and Franklin.
We've seen a 46 percent increase in the harvest of 2 1/2-year-old and older antlered bucks in the pilot counties from 2003 through 2006," Hansen said. "In control counties, we still saw an increase of 29 percent."
Control counties are those adjacent to counties in the antler-point restriction program. Control counties do not have the restriction requiring 4 points or better on one side of the rack.
"What we are seeing is that more people in non-pilot counties are beginning to implement more selective buck harvesting practices," Hansen said. "We are really satisfied at the significant increase in the numbers of older age-class bucks in these pilot counties."
However, growing older age-class bucks wasn't the only reason for beginning the 4-points-or-better restriction in those 29 counties. The goal was to shift the focus of harvest from 1 1/2-year-old bucks to antlerless deer, thus allowing the young bucks to grow to 2 1/2 years old and older, while increasing the numbers of does harvested in these counties.
"In terms of adult buck harvest," Hansen said, "we are seeing the results we wanted. However, we have not seen an increase in doe harvest in the northern pilot counties."
The central pilot counties have seen an 11 percent increase in doe harvest from 2003 through 2006. Doe harvest remains high in those northern pilot counties, but is hasn't increased as well as the MDC had wanted.
Although the program wasn't implemented until 2004, the MDC looks at harvest records from 2003 also while measuring the success of the pilot program. The 2003 year is known as a "pre-treatment" year.
"After 2007, we will look at the overall results of the Pilot Antler Restriction program and decide whether or not we want to continue with it," Hansen said. "We will probably have more public meetings on the subject and share with the public what we have learned -- then, with their help, decide whether or not we want to expand or contract the pilot program."
CONSERVATIVE HARVEST REGS ON PUBLIC LANDS
Two years ago, the MDC began a program to restore the numbers of deer on public lands to a higher level. The pressure that these areas receive, especially during the firearms season, really took a toll on the deer population on them.
"We had a lot of our public use areas under statewide regs," Hansen said. "We've become more restrictive on many of these areas so that the deer numbers will get back to where they belong."
At first, hunters were reluctant to accept the changes, but after careful consideration many are glad that the MDC has taken steps to micro-manage these public lands for the better.
"Our public lands are so much different than our private lands in terms of the heavy hunting pressure they receive," Hansen said. "Our restrictions were put in place to bring deer numbers up on these public use areas, while still providing a lot of deer hunting opportunities."
The MDC will continue to monitor the situation at these public-use areas carefully over about seven more years. This long-term study will census hunters and landowners on how they feel about deer numbers in those areas.
DEER POPULATION FACTS on missouri deer hunts
With 324,380 deer taken in 2006, is there room for any more records to be broken? The answer seems to be a resounding, yes! Missouri's deer herd is very resilient despite high harvest numbers year upon year.
As stated earlier, the MDC's computer population models estimate the state's deer herd to be slightly over 1 million animals -- 1.3 million to be exact. Each autumn, before the deer seasons begin, about 40 percent of that population is male, including button bucks. In all, about 40 percent of our deer are fawns, deer that are six-months old, each fall hunting season.
The MDC has a computer population model built for every county that gives the agency its best guesstimate on how many deer there are in that county, given the number of deer taken in a season, reproductive rates, and how many deer died.
"In our population models, in order to have a stabilized deer population (one that isn't increasing or decreasing), we need to have about 23 percent of our does die each year, and 15 to 20 percent of that must come from hunting," Hansen said. "From a buck standpoint, it doesn't matter. We could kill a high number of bucks because all of the bucks left would breed does."
The key to maintaining our deer population doesn't really relate to how many bucks versus does we kill, but rather how many deer we have to begin with. There's no reason to believe that we couldn't have another record-breaking deer season sometime soon.
"The 2007 deer seasons ought to be good," Hansen predicted. "We had a great harvest in 2006, and I doubt that we will beat that this year. But I really do expect it to be a great year."
Conclusion on Missouri Deer Hunts: Since 2007 and even before the antler restriction laws have catapulted Missouri into the best “sleeper” state in the Midwest. But let’s try and keep it a secret between you and I or I’ll see an influx of whitetail outfitters surrounding me.