MISSOURI DEER HUNTING
By Darrin Bradley
As the owner of the largest whitetail specialty outfitting service in the nation I have viewed literally thousands of land tracts in many states over the course of my hunt career. Reknown locations exist for the pursuit of trophy whitetail. For example, Buffalo County, Wisconsin, Pike County, Illinois, Webb County, Texas, etc. While many of the more reknown locations draw the admiration of the modern day trophy whitetail deer hunter, the State of Missouri in its North Central Sector may be the most qualitative “sleeper” location in the United States. During the 2007 whitetail season I hunted a small 160 acre tract of ground that was one of the most remote “pieces” I have ever seen. This tract of ground possessed at least 500 rubs, with 100 of them being rubs on trees as big as the top of a big mans leg. Scrapes the size of the hood of a truck were also present. Deer runs 2 feet wide and sometimes up to 3 feet deep in the ground at tributary crossings over creeks and rivers. In 11 hunts I viewed 261 deer from my treestand location in North Central Missouri, and harvested a 160 inch deer, which was only one of 11 opportunities to shoot record book bucks I had from the farm in a mere 11 hunts. Statistically the farm presented me a shot opportunity at a trophy buck every time I hunted it. Missouri is “the sleeper” state of the Midwestern United States, with much to offer in regard to harvest opportunities of big record book whitetail bucks.
During the following narrative we will discuss issues which surround the “sleeper” State of Missouri and its trophy whitetail hunting as it relates to hunt pressure, season dates, peak hunt times, prime locations in the State, Department of Natural Resources, tag obtainment, terrain descriptions, record book buck entries for the State of Missouri, and hunt outfitters.
I am born and bred a proud Missouri Resident. Having been afforded the opportunity to watch the Missouri Whitetail Deer Herd mature over the past 40 years, key evolutionary changes have become distinct which have turned a small whitetail herd into one of the most qualitative whitetail herds in the nation.
HISTORY OF WHITETAIL DEER IN MISSOURI
“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 in Missouri, especially in the more fertile and diverse habitats of northern Missouri. The influx of European settlers to Missouri during the last half of the nineteenth century coincided with a rapid decline in the deer 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. Between 1944 and 1951, hunting was restricted to bucks only to allow deer populations to grow. In 1951, limited doe harvests were initiated.
The story since then is clear: Early management promoted continued population growth which, in turn, was accompanied by people's growing interest in deer hunting. Recent management efforts have attempted to define optimal population levels and design hunting regulations to achieve them. The success of the deer program is a tribute to Missourians' support of their natural resources and to the adaptability of the white-tailed deer to human-altered habitats.” (Cite, Source 1)
RANKINGS IN RECORD BOOKS
According to the entries in the Boone & Crockett and Pope and Young Record Books of Trophy Whitetail Deer, the State of Missouri ranks #7 of all states in the nation for the most number of entries. Only the States of Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota, and Kansas are ranked higher. At last count Missouri sported over 719 entries in the Pope and Young and Boone & Crockett Record Books. Some whitetail biologists suggest the State of Missouri will be the 5th highest ranking state for trophy whitetail entries by 2010.
MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION
Many reasons for the States high quality whitetail production is due to the credit of the Missouri Department of Conservation, hereafter referred to as MDC. The MDC states on their website a brief description of the goals and current status of the whitetail herd in Missouri. “The white-tailed deer is one of Missouri's most valuable wildlife resources. Each year hunters spend around three million hunter-days in the field pursuing the whitetail, contributing millions of dollars to the economy in the process. Public viewing of deer attracts thousands of visitors to our state's public lands annually. A recent survey of urban and rural Missouri citizens revealed that of all animals outside a zoo, people most prefer to see the white-tailed deer. It also is a favorite with children. The whitetail was selected as our state mammal by vote of school-age children.
On the down side, deer cause thousands of vehicle accidents on our roadways annually and feed on agricultural and household plantings throughout the state. It is not surprising that the Missouri public has strong feelings toward whitetails, mostly positive, but some negative. As a steward of this important wildlife resource, the Missouri Department of Conservation is sensitive to these attitudes.
The Department's goal is to maintain deer numbers at levels that serve the best interest of the Missouri public. This requires knowledge of whitetail biology. Equally important, however, is commitment and cooperation from Missouri citizens who serve both as the advisory board that guides our management and the tool with which we regulate deer numbers. The landowner is the key to this process because most deer management in Missouri takes place on private properties.” (Source 2)
WHAT MAKES MISSOURI SUCH A GREAT PLACE TO HARVEST A TROPHY WHITETAIL
One might ask, “What makes Missouri such a “sleeper” state? One to be chosen over a more reknown location than Missouri for one’s next hunt outing?” More reknown counties for whiteails, for example the State of Illinois possess over 400 hunt outfitters. While these more reknown counties are initially more appealing for choice lets pause to review some facts. Any county that presents over 400 Hunt Outfitters places massive amounts of pressure on the herd and massive harvest quantities. I recall opening up a Division of my Whitetail Outfitting Service in Missouri 5 years ago. When I arrived I literally had not competition. When I approached landowners to lease their ground as an outfitter they literally didn’t know what an outfitter was, let alone believe I could earn them top dollar for hunt leases for my hunt whitetail clients. Meanwhile in other more reknown counties leases were much higher with massive amounts of hunt pressure from neighboring outfitters which resulted in less “really big” whitetail bucks.
I quickly noticed that when I obtained land in Missouri to outfit that usually the properties had never been bowhunted at all. Also I quickly noted that the ground I obtained in Missouri had never been hunted correctly. Meaning that nobody had hunted topographical advantages like funnels, spiderwebs, bottlenecks, lowspots, inside “L”s, etc. The Missouri ground still carried that “no boot tracks in the creek” type of environment that Boone and Crockett Deer demand. Remote, in a word. When I began hunting Missouri land tracts my clients harvested whitetail bucks that were usually 30 inches of average antler length more than my hunters who hunted in Pike County, Illinois. (A more commercialized hunt community with over 400 outfitters.) Don’t misunderstand, more reknown counties for outfitting like Webb County, Texas and Buffalo County, Wisconsin, and Pike County, Illinois do present wonderful opportunities to harvest big deer, however I found right off the bat that a more secretive “sleeper state” most generally presented bigger bucks for harvest due to no hunt pressure and no strategic planning. Normally when I obtain ground in Missouri for hunting the only history of deerhunting pressure its ever had has maybe been the landowners grandson for a day during deerseason a year, and the grandson killed the first doe that walked by and went to the house in time to catch the football game. The Missouri Deer Herd is an undisturbed herd that holds true dream bucks that have not been hunted correctly therefore creating a hunting paradise.
SEASON DATES AND TAGS
Archery Season in Missouri opens September 15 of each year and normally closes on January 15. Tags are obtained over the counter at Walmart and those hunters born after 1966 must present a hunter safety tag to purchase a permit. Archery season can be a wonderful experience any time of year. Early season hunting needs to take place over foodplots or in white oak groves bearing acorns. Peak of the rut archery can be second to none with good dates beginning around Halloween with pea of the rut being around November 15 or sometimes sooner. Late season archery hunting can be grim without a solid green food source. Late season hunting in Missouri is simply tough. Tags a lot for one buck and one doe. Only one buck can be harvested with a bow prior to the gun season.
Firearms Season normally opens on the 2nd weekend of each November and runs for 11 days straight. The State of Missouri allows hunters to use rifles for hunting with tag available for purchase over the counter. Hunters born after 1966 must present a hunter safety tag to purchase a permit. The rifle season falls during the peak of the rut. Also a late muzzleloader hunt occurs in late November early December but can often times be grim without a green food source of food plot. I find rifle states can be difficult to hunt with muzzleloader post firearms season. Only one buck can be harvested with a rifle but doe tags are unlimited for purchase.
The State allows hunters to take two bucks. One buck before rifle season with a bow. The other buck must be taken during rifle season with a gun or late muzzleloader or post firearms archery hunting.
KEY LOCATIONS IN THE STATE
I learned long ago that its not enough just to go hunt a great whitetail state like Missouri, or Illinois, or Iowa. One must locate county specific areas or zones wherein quality whitetail bucks are being harvested. One way to perform this function is to simply purchase a copy of the latest Pope and Young Record Book. In the book each state displays a color coordinated map with the darkest counties in the state being the ones that have “coughed up” the most number of entries in the record books. One must be careful when using these maps as counties which border major metropolitan areas are always dark colored or represented as high quality simply because they are receiving the most pressure due to higher populations of hunters.
In Missouri, the greatest counties are known as Macon, Shelby, Knox, Adair, and Scotland. Despite them not being near cities these counties have the highest number of entries in the record books. These counties are located in Northcentral and Northeastern Missouri bordering the Iowa State Line. It is these counties a hunter wants to focus their efforts towards. Southern parts of the State are not high quality areas and not worthy of your time nor efforts despite what you may have heard. Towns in these areas that hold hotels and housing accommodations include Kirksville, Macon, Edina, and Shelbina, Missouri.
MISSOURI WHITETAIL HUNT OUTFITTERS
Especially in the State of Missouri you will want to utilize a professional outfitting service. Public hunting grounds are overhunted to the point of dessilation. I remember 3 years ago during the gun season cruising by Atlanta Wildlife Area in Northern Missouri. Cars were literally parked bumper to bumper along miles of gravel roads. Public hunting in Missouri is not worth your time. Find an outfitter in Macon, Shelby, Knox, or Scotland County and do your homework. IMB Outfitters is a very respectable outfitting service having been in business for 12 years. IMB has won many outdoor awards and offers both fully and semi guided hunts for archery and gun season. IMB can be seen on the web at www.imbmonsterbucks.com or phone toll free 866-855-7063. Make a careful selection of outfitter as in the State of Missouri outfitting has not evolved. Some several smaller outfitting services exist that simply don’t know what they are doing. That is why I strongly recommend going with a credible outfitter like IMB Outfitters. The wrong choice of outfitter or location in this state will be a disappointing result.
BLUE TONGUE OUTBREAK
7 years ago portions of Missouri experienced and exposed the herd to a disease called “bluetongue.” Blue tongue is defined as follows:
Bluetongue is a non-contagious, athropod-borne viral disease of both domestic and wild ruminants. Bluetongue virus (BTV) is endemic in some areas with cattle and wild ruminants serving as reservoirs for the virus. Epizootics of Bluetongue virus killing approximately 179,000 sheep within 4 months have threatened the livestock industry in recent years. For this reason, regulatory veterinarians have heightened their interest in this devastating disease.
The threat of decreased trade associated with Bluetongue outbreaks has become an even bigger threat to the livestock industry than the actual disease itself. According to Kahrs, “bluetongue is a major obstacle to exportation of U.S. ruminants and ruminant products and probably affects the United States more than most countries.” This is because of the prevalence of BTV in conjunction with competent vectors within the U.S., vague surveillance and reporting policies, and extensive BTV research emanating from U.S. laboratories.
Bluetongue is an orbivirus which cross-reacts with many antigenically related viruses including Palyam virus and the viruses that cause epizootic hemorrhagic disease of deer and African Horse sickness. Bluetongue virus replicates in both arthropod and mammalian host cells. The virulence of BTV varies quite markedly; even strains with matching serotypes have variable virulence. A total of 25 serotypes have been identified worldwide with only 5 recognized within the United States.
Due to a bluetongue outbreak there are parts of Missouri that are still recovering from the mishap. Be sure and choose an outfitter that is North of Highway 36 near Macon, Missouri and East of Highway 63. This is the reason you need an outfitter to pursue trophy whitetails in Missouri. There are portions of the state that to the naked eye look to be a whitetail hunting paradise however they are poor.
Terrain description is typical Midwestern agricultural row crop ground with a mix of hard wood timber. The terrain of Northern Missouri relatively flat which sets forth a friendly invite to hunt even to physically challenged hunters. Normally 30% of all ground is wooded or timbered with the remaining 70% being row crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, etc. Hunting white oak groves during early October can often times be advantageous on years of great mast production.
Sure enough you can bet that if you hunt the trophy whitetails of Missouri you will be exposed to unpressured land tracts that have not been hunt correctly which will result in a bigger badder buck of a lifetime. Missouri is a “sleeper state” that can be the foundation upon which a whitetail hunters dream is built upon, with a friendly tagging obtainment program and a well managed herd in a friendly community. If you’re the hunter that is looking for bucks of maximum size then Missouri it is.
Source #1. Authors: Jeff Beringer & Lonnie P. Hansen, Missouri Department of Conservation.
Source #2. Missouri Department of Conservation