Southwest Missouri hunters have the opportunity to voice their opinions on proposed changes to the state deer hunting regulations during meetings held in Springfield and Joplin this week.
The meetings were scheduled to allow the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to gather public input about changes to annual white-tailed deer hunting seasons that take place in September, October, November and December of each year.
"Missouri citizens enjoy excellent deer hunting opportunities; however, MDC continues to explore better ways to manage Missouri's deer herd in the best interest of Missourians," said Travis McLain, Barry County conservation agent.
"The proposed changes are based upon biological data and public surveys; however, new management plans will not work if they do not have the support of hunters and landowners," said McLain. "The goal of these meetings is to gather public input on the proposed regulation changes and on any other deer management issues."
Meetings scheduled in January and February will be the first public opinion sessions on deer management hosted by MDC since 2003.
"At this point, MDC is seeking input on two main topics," said McLain. "The first of these issues is in reference to the four-point regulation. MDC is seeking public input as to whether the public would like to see the four-point regulation expanded to other parts of the state or if they would like to see the four-point regulation abandoned."
The four-point regulation is a pilot antler-point restriction management strategy that MDC implemented in 29 counties in Missouri in 2004. The regulation, which was not implemented in Barry County, requires that each harvested buck has at least four points on one side of its antlers.
"The intent was to shift harvest pressure from bucks to does, thus producing a more balanced ratio of males to females and more bucks in older age classes," said McLain. "Balancing the ratio of bucks to does makes it easier to manage deer because fewer does need to be taken by hunters to affect deer population size. More bucks in older age classes also appeals to more hunters."
If the four-point antler regulation were expanded to Barry County, local hunters would be forced to comply with the restriction.
"(Local) hunters would have to be more selective in the deer they harvest, because they would have to ensure that the deer is a legal buck," said McLain. "Hunters may have to pass up shots if they cannot verify the legality of the deer.
"Hunter success may decline slightly during the first couple of years of the regulation; however, it is likely that the quality of deer that are seen and harvested would improve after the regulation is in place for a few years," said McLain.
This year, MDC is also reviewing proposed changes related to the timing of Missouri's archery and firearms deer hunting seasons.
Currently, archery hunting is held from mid-September through mid-January, urban firearms hunting is held in early October, youth hunting is held in late October, regular firearms season is scheduled in mid-November, muzzleloader firearms hunting is held from late November to early December and antlerless firearms hunting is held in mid-December.
"Proposed changes to deer season timing include: moving the antlerless portion of the firearms deer season into October so antlerless deer can be taken before the November portion; setting the opening of the November portion on the weekend before Thanksgiving; and moving the muzzleloader portion to late December," said McLain.
Barry County does not host an antlerless firearms season so local hunters would not be affected by changes to that portion of the deer hunting season, but other changes would directly affect local hunters.
"Firearms hunters would still get to hunt the rut and would have more time to hunt over the Thanksgiving holiday," said McLain. "(They) would continue to have separate deer hunting opportunities and archers would get an additional week of mid-November hunting.
"Muzzleloader hunters would have a better hunting opportunity, because deer would have time to settle down after the November portion," said McLain.
After all of the public meetings have been held, the Missouri Conservation Commission will review all of the scientific data and comments gathered from the public meetings to make changes to the deer hunting regulations, said McLain.
"Changes in regards to the four-point regulation could be made for the 2008 deer hunting season," said McLain. "If any changes are made to season timing, they will not be implemented until the 2009 deer hunting season. This will give hunters adequate time to become informed of any changes and to plan work schedules and vacations."
Although MDC is scheduling the deer hunting meetings to discuss two primary issues, southwest Missouri residents are encouraged to voice opinions on any issues that relate to deer management in the state, said McLain.
Individuals who were not able to attend one of the meetings in person can voice opinions through the MDC website, which is mdc.mo.gov or by calling MDC's Southwest Regional office in Springfield at 417-895-6880 or MDC's Joplin office at 417-629-3423.
Interested individuals can also visit the MDC website to view a brochure on proposed deer hunting regulation changes or on-line versions of the MDC presentations.
Missouri's white-tailed deer population is estimated to be between 1 and 1.5 million. The estimate is based on data collected through periodic surveys, harvest information and other sources.