Deer hunting better this year thanks to weather, wildlife biologists say

So how could the Missouri deer season be so bad last year and so good this November?

It must have been a dramatic jump in the deer population, right? Not so, said wildlife biologists.

More likely, they say, it’s the weather.

“It’s hard to compare the last two deer openers because of the big difference in weather,” said Emily Flinn of the Department of Conservation. “Last year, we had strong winds and hot temperatures, and that’s not conducive to good deer hunting.

“This year (the season opened Saturday), the deer were moving because of the cold weather. And they were easier to spot with the snow cover.”

The result?

“We’ve had a lot of happy deer hunters,” Flinn said.

As of midday Thursday, hunters had taken 121,909 deer during the firearms season, which will run through Nov. 25. That’s far above the pace of the 2013 November firearms season. Howell was the leading county, with 2,467 deer checked in. Franklin was second with 2,411 and Texas third with 2,358.

Deer management

Flinn advises deer hunters not to let the good hunting lull them into a state of false security.

“In areas where hunters still aren’t seeing as many deer as they would like to, they should think about reducing harvest of does,” she said. “That could help in rebuilding deer numbers for the future.”

Deer hunting leaders

So where are the best places in Missouri to hunt deer?

If you go by the Department of Conservation’s harvest map, a few traditional spots stick out.

Franklin County in east-central Missouri, long a power in deer hunting, leads the state with 3,735 deer taken so far in all seasons combined (firearms, archery, youth season, etc.)

Howell County in the deep Ozarks, ranks second with 3,503; Callaway County in the central part of the state is third with 3,265; Texas County in the Ozarks is fourth with 3,209; and Macon County in northeast Missouri is fifth with 2,964.

The cold bringeth… but will it also taketh away?

The cold wave that has dominated weather patterns for the last week has resulted in a major migration of ducks.

Check this out. Two weeks ago, when the Missouri Department of Conservation conducted a waterfowl count, biologists found 270,860 ducks using publicly managed wetlands. This week, surveyors counted 816,950.

“The bulk of improvement appears to have occurred last week, when a drastic cold front brought Arctic air and wintery precipitation to the heart of the nation,” said Frank Nelson of the Department of Conservation.

The composition of the species also took an abrupt turn. Two weeks ago, mallards made up only 20 percent of the ducks. This week, greenheads accounted for 76 percent of the count.

The big question now is how long those ducks will stay. Officials at most managed areas report that thick ice now covers the majority of wetlands. With warmer weather forecast, though, some of that ice should melt.

“Whether the cold-hardy mallards will stick around or keep moving south will depend upon how long conditions remain below freezing and if they can keep finding adequate food,” Nelson said in a report.

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