By PAUL DAVIS
SEMO News Service
In Stoddard County, hunters took home 165 deer, a jump of 26 from a year ago, while Dunklin County hunters bagged 45, a small increase of five from last year.
With the first half of Missouri's youth deer season under their belts, the state's youngest hunters already have shattered their special season's harvest record.
Hunters aged 15 and younger killed 19,277 deer during the Saturday and Sunday youth-only season. The harvest reflects a 17.6-percent increase from a year ago.
The previous harvest record was set last year, when hunters killed 16,392 deer during the first portion of the youth season and added 2,178 in the later portion, for a total of 18,570.
The harvest increase was somewhat expected, according to Resource Scientist Jason Sumners, who oversees the Missouri Department of Conservation's deer management program.
"I fully expected to shoot as many or more deer than last year," Sumners said, "especially in the Ozarks."
Several factors played a role in the harvest increase, Sumners noted.
Conditions, he said, were ideal.
"Deer were moving and were vulnerable, and the weather was just about perfect," Sumners said. "The stars aligned this season."
Good weather conditions, he noted, tend to keep hunters in the woods longer, and with the rut ratcheting up, "it was a great time to be in the woods."
Sumners also attributes the high harvest to an increase in hunting participation.
"There's no question a big part of it was an increase in participation," he said. "We're steadily increasing our participation, and have increased the number of hunters under age 16 by 30,000 over the last 10 years."
A lack of acorns across most of the state also was a contributing factor to the large harvest, Sumners said.
"When there aren't many acorns, the deer hit open areas or travel long distances in the woods looking for food," he said.
Every county in the local area saw a harvest increase this year.
Butler County hunters killed 172 deer, up from 136 a year ago.
Young hunters in Ripley County shot 278 deer, an increase of 93 from 2011, while those in Carter County tagged 166 deer. Their harvest increased by 56.
Continuing the trend of leading the region, Wayne County hunters killed 295 deer over the weekend, a jump of 56 from 2011's early youth season.
The strong early youth deer harvest, Sumners said, is expected to carry over to the regular, statewide firearms deer season, which opens Saturday. With so many deer using open areas, Sumners is expecting a large harvest.
"The archery harvest is looking really strong, too," he said.
The second portion of Missouri's youth deer season will be Dec. 29-30. Participation generally is much lower during the second portion because of cold weather, but any deer taken then will contribute to this year's youth harvest record.