Changes in deer-hunting regulations approved by the Missouri Conservation Commission at its April meeting include one that enjoys popular support from hunters and one that is likely to be a hit with hunters 15 and younger.
The Missouri Conservation Commission has more than doubled the number of counties included in the so-called "four-point rule." This regulation was tested in 29 counties from 2004 through 2007. This year, with strong support from hunters, it will apply in the same counties as before, plus 36 new counties.
The Conservation Commission also voted to add a second, late youth portion of firearms deer deason. Hunters under age 16 will have their own times to hunt Nov. 1 and 2, 2008, and Jan. 3 and 4, 2009.
Counties included under the four-point rule this year are Adair, Andrew, Atchison, Audrain, Barton, Bates, Benton, Boone, Buchanan, Caldwell, Callaway Camden, Carroll, Cedar, Chariton, Clark, Clinton, Cole, Cooper, Daviess, DeKalb, Franklin, Gasconade, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Henry, Hickory, Holt, Howard, Johnson, Knox, Lafayette, Lewis, Lincoln, Linn, Livingston, Macon, Maries, Marion, Mercer, Miller, Moniteau, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Nodaway Osage, Pettis, Phelps, Pike, Pulaski, Putnam, Ralls, Randolph, Ray, St. Clair, Saline, Schuyler, Scotland, Shelby, Sullivan, Vernon, Warren and Worth.
The four-point rule allows hunters to take a buck only if its antlers are less than 3 inches long or have at least four points 1 inch or longer on at least one side.
The Conservation Department decided to try antler restrictions for two reasons. One was to encourage hunters to shoot more does. This could help the agency control deer numbers in areas where they rise above target levels.
The four-point rule also was designed to allow more bucks to reach ages of 3 years or older. This would produce a deer population with a more normal age and sex distribution.
The traditional hunter bias toward shooting bucks, rather than does, creates a population with a disproportionate number of does and young bucks. Requiring hunters to pass up deer with no more than three points on a side allows more bucks to live to maturity. A population with more mature bucks has more large-antlered deer. For many hunters, the opportunity to take a buck with big antlers is an important part of a high-quality hunting experience.
Information gathered during the four-year test of the four-point rule showed it increased doe harvests in central Missouri counties, but not in pilot counties in northwestern Missouri. The four-point rule increased the number of mature, large-antlered deer in both central and northwestern counties.
A mail survey of firearms deer hunters statewide found a majority of hunters in 74 of Missouri's 114 counties favored the four-point rule. The 30 counties where half or more of hunters do not want the four-point rule are in southern Missouri, generally southeast of a line from St. Louis to the southwestern corner of the state. More than 70 percent of hunters expressed support for the four-point rule in 22 counties that lie mostly in northern Missouri.
Hunters and nonhunters who expressed opinions at public meetings and through written comments were even more strongly in favor of the four-point rule. Comments from 60 counties ran in favor of the four-point rule by 70 percent or more. Only fourteen counties had comments with less than a majority in favor of the four-point rule.