By Jim Low – Abundant acorns made hunting tougher for deer and turkey hunters.

Jefferson City, MO – infoZine – Missouri’s 2010-2011 archery deer harvest dipped by 17 percent, following a trend seen during the various portions of firearms deer season. The fall turkey harvest also declined.

Bowhunters checked 43,281 deer during the archery deer and turkey season Sept. 15 through Nov. 12 and Nov. 24 through Jan. 15. That is 8,691 fewer than during the 2009-10 archery season, which set a record high.

Top archery deer harvest counties were Jackson with 980, St. Louis with 898 and Jefferson with 876. The combined 2010-11 firearms and archery deer harvests total 274,794, a decrease of 8 percent.

Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) deer expert, attributed the decrease in archery deer harvest to the same factors that held down the 2010-2011 firearms deer harvest.

The Ozarks

Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation photo

Hansen said archers shot 25 percent fewer deer in the Ozark Region during the 2010-11 season than the previous season. The Ozark Region firearms deer harvest was down 21 percent from the previous season. Overall, the Ozarks’ 2010-11 deer harvest was down 22 percent. The reason, according to Hansen, was a good acorn crop.

“We knew going into the season that hunters would have a tough time,” said Hansen. “Acorns were abundant in southern Missouri this year, and that meant deer didn’t have to move around much to find their preferred food. That makes deer harder for hunters to find.

“I have heard some people say we use acorns as an excuse when the harvest is down. But if you look at data from the past 20 years, the correlation between big acorn crops and reduced deer harvests is unmistakable.”

The reduced deer harvest in the Ozarks has a silver lining, according to Hansen.

“What happened in the Ozarks was exactly what we expected,” he said. “We shot the deer hard down there in 2009-10, so we had fewer deer to start with. Then we got an abundant acorn crop, so naturally there was a reduced harvest. Next year, if we have a moderate acorn crop, you can expect to see the Ozarks’ deer harvest jump back up as the region’s deer herd continues its slow, long-term growth.”

Northern Missouri

Hansen said offsetting factors kept the deer harvest in northern Missouri very close to last year’s figure. Deer numbers in many parts of northern Missouri have declined in recent years, but a delayed effect of weather in 2009 propped up the 2010-2011 harvest.

Bowhunters checked 13 percent fewer deer in northeastern Missouri during the 2010-11 season. However, the firearms deer harvest was up 3 percent in the region. The combined archery and firearms harvest in the northeast region topped the 2009-10 figure by a narrow margin, just 235 deer.

The situation was much the same in northwestern Missouri. The archery deer harvest there was down 12 percent from 2009-10, but firearms deer hunters shot 2 percent more deer. Northeast Missouri’s combined archery and firearms deer harvests beat the 2009-10 deer figure by a nose, just 32 deer.

Hansen said northern Missouri’s deer harvest might have been smaller if hunters had enjoyed better conditions in 2009.

“We had a very wet fall in 2009, and farmers had a dickens of a time getting crops out of the field. There was still a huge amount of standing corn during the November portion of firearms deer season, and that gave deer lots of places to hide. The November hunt normally produces well over 80 percent of the firearms deer harvest. In 2009, it fell to 78 percent. That meant we went into 2010 with more deer than we would have if the weather had been more normal.”

Future Deer Management

Hansen said the decrease in northern Missouri’s deer harvest over the past few years is clear evidence that MDC’s efforts to get a handle on deer populations are working. Reaching that tipping point ushers in a new era in deer management in the Show-Me State, which Hansen said he finds exciting.

“The downturn is something we have been expecting and watching for,” he said. “As we develop recommendations for future deer seasons, we will re-examine things like the availability of antlerless permits. We also are going to look for innovative ways to help deer hunters and landowners manage local deer herds. They have direct experience with deer in their areas, and ultimately control the number and kind of deer harvested in their areas. Deer management is going to become much more collaborative, and local than in the past.”

Archery Turkey Harvest

The 2010-2011 archery turkey harvest was 2,184, down from 3,298 the previous season. Top harvest counties during the archery season were Greene with 66, Texas with 46 and Franklin with 43. The total harvest from the 2010 youth and regular spring hunts, the fall firearms season and archery season was 54,311, down 3.7 percent from 2009-10.

Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle is the Conservation Department’s wild-turkey expert. He said the Ozarks’ abundant acorn crop probably also made turkeys harder to hunt. Another significant factor was poor turkey reproduction for the past few years.

“Wild turkey productivity has been extremely low in recent years,” said Isabelle. “When you couple below-average poult production with an abundant acorn resource, you have some difficult conditions for harvesting wild turkeys with archery gear.”

In addition, Isabelle said some hunters probably recognized that turkey numbers are down and chose not to take part in the fall hunt, preferring to wait until spring. He said this seems especially likely in northwestern Missouri, where production was up 34 percent in 2010, but the archery turkey harvest was substantially lower than last year.

Although turkey numbers are down in some parts of the state, Isabelle said hunters still can expect some outstanding hunting opportunities during the 2011 spring season.

“Despite some challenging hunting conditions in recent years, turkey harvest in Missouri is still among the highest of any state in the country,” said Isabelle. “Even when conditions are tough, Missouri still offers some of the best turkey hunting that can be found anywhere.”