State advises drivers, hunters to be cautious
Breeding season, hunters drawing deer into roadways
With the firearms season for deer hunting kicking off Saturday, the Missouri Department of Conservation, along with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, is reminding both drivers and hunters to exercise caution to avoid injuries.
According to Dan VanDerhoef, Barry County conservation agent, deer are more active this time of year not just because of open hunting seasons, but because of their natural breeding season.
"The breeding season for deer is called the rut, and it's that time of year when a doe comes into heat and the bucks go out and search for does and that's what makes them move around a lot," he said.
Motor vehicle accidents involving deer are more likely to occur, usually from right before dark through the night, and until just after daylight, said VanDerhoef.
"So, the time when people are driving to and from work is also the highest activity time that deer are moving," he said.
When adding up those facts, and the fact that Barry County is mostly rural, woody terrain, drivers cannot exercise enough caution.
"In other parts of the state with open fields, there's going to be less chances of hitting deer, but you get down to a wood line where animals like to move, and there's an increased chance of hitting a deer," VanDerhoef said. "A lot of animals are edge species, meaning they're going to work that edge, like along creek bottoms where it's a little bit woody, and around here everything is pretty much wooded, so you really need to be paying attention [while driving]."
If drivers encounter a deer in the roadway, the worst thing to do is panic, jerk the wheel to avoid it, and slam on the brakes, VanDerhoef said, all of which can greatly increase the risk of serious injury and vehicle damage.
"If you jerk the wheel and run off the side of the road, things could get real bad," he said. "But most of the time, if you hit your horn and flash your lights [to get that deer out of the road], you can often avoid an accident. If you [do] hit the deer, you may mess up the front end some. That's fixable, but you're more likely to have more damage to you and your vehicle if you go off the road."
Concerning brakes, drivers should exercise good judgment, such as not braking too hard, which could result in skidding and going off the road, or causing an accident to a vehicle following behind.
"Every situation is different, but whatever you do, avoid going off the roadway," VanDerhoef said.
Hunting safety tips
"Two of our biggest incidents that happen [during deer season] is getting in and out of tree stands, and mistaken identify for game," VanDerhoef said. "Hunters need to wear their tree harnesses and other equipment to be safe in tree stands. They also need to wear a hunter orange hat and vest, at least, to make sure others can see them, especially during firearm season. Deer are color blind and can see some colors, but orange is not one of them."
Hunters should also guard against the possibility of accidental discharge of weapons, and take appropriate precautions, such as hunter education courses.
"Hunters are supposed to have hunter education," VanDerhoef said. "If they haven't, they should get into one before they go hunting."
Harvesting wild venison
Many people enjoy eating deer meat and use it as a healthy substitute in recipes for ground beef.
"Deer meat is healthier than regular meat because there's not as much fat," said VanDerhoef. "Deer are constantly on the move, so compared to beef or a pig that's farm-raised, they're a leaner meat. Wild venison can be substituted for regular meat you buy at the store for pretty much any recipe."
Diet and the area in which deer live may affect the taste of the meat.
"In northern Missouri, deer may be eating soybeans, corn and wheat, whereas in other areas, they may be eating acorn," said VanDerhoef. "So, the deer surviving on acorns will taste a little different than those eating soybeans and corn."
Wild venison can be processed independently, or by a processor.
Two local processors, 4As Meat Processing and Gone Processing, are available to help.
Another option is to donate deer meat to the Share the Harvest program, which is sponsored by the DOC.
"The hunter can take the deer to a participating process and say they want to donate their deer, or a portion of it, and they will get reimbursed for part of their processing fee," said VanDerhoef. "Then, as a department, we distribute that meat to families throughout the state."
In the past, the DOC has taken meat to the United Methodist Church of Cassville Food Bank for local families. After harvesting, the DOC reminds hunters to properly dispose of wild venison.
"It's illegal to dump deer on the side of the road," said VanDerhoef. "You also can't put it in creeks or rivers. If you have a trash service, bag up the parts you're not going to use and dispose of it with the normal trash."
For more information about all things deer, including hunter safety, permits, harvesting and more, visit www.mdc.mo.gov.