If youíre a deer hunter, I hope youíre already aware that the Missouri Department of Conservation is proposing two changes that, if implemented, would have a significant impact on your deer hunting strategy, your deer hunting success and your enjoyment of your hunt.
Whether all, some or none of these impacts will be positive or negative is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.
To its credit, the MDC is working hard to solicit the opinions of as many people as possible before making a final decision.
Hunters can read the complete proposal, view a video and provide comments at www.mdc.mo.gov/16184.
A public meeting to discuss this issue will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 6 at State Fair Community College.
I urge every hunter to take advantage of both the Web site and the meeting to make his or her opinions heard.
Managing deer, deer hunters and the people who must interact with them is a complex task. There is no absolute right or wrong answer to either proposal.
Deer hunting is important to me both professionally and personally, and I intend to use this space to take full advantage of what Teddy Roosevelt called a ďbully pulpit.Ē
The first issue is whether to expand the 29-county antler restriction zone (bucks had to have at least four points on at least one side to be legal) or to abandon it.
The MDC brochure found on the Web site, which does not provide any negative information on either proposal, noted the unavoidable increase in the age structure of harvested bucks as a success and claimed partial success in increasing doe harvests.
Respondents are asked if they would like to see antler restrictions in the county they hunt most often.
I was opposed to this experiment when it began four years ago, and I havenít changed my mind. I believe that hunter recruitment and retention has to be a top priority for deer managers and restricting antlered deer harvest is a big step in the wrong direction.
Contrary to popular belief, the number of points on a buckís rack is not an indicator of the buckís age. Iíve killed 8- and 10-point bucks that were only 18 months-old and 6-point bucks that were 42 months-old.
This means that antler restrictions can lead to a situation in which bucks who produce substandard racks are protected at the expense of bucks who produce multi-point racks at an early age. This is called top-grading.
The second proposal would shift the firearms antlerless season into October, move the November portion back to the Saturday before Thanksgiving and move the muzzleloader season to late December. According to the brochure, these changes would be universally beneficial.
But wait! Quite a few of us enjoy bowhunting for both deer and turkeys during October.
Sharing the woods with shotgun-toting turkey hunters for the entire month is bad enough, but it pales in comparison to dealing with tens of thousands of firearms deer hunters.
I presume bowhunters will be required to wear blaze orange, which will move archery turkey hunting from the extremely difficult to the virtually impossible.
Nine days of firearms hunting pressure certainly wonít make getting within bow range of a deer any easier for the remainder of the first half of the season.
Some firearms deer hunters could be tempted by a season that includes the long Thanksgiving weekend. I donít think Iím going too far out on a limb when I say that a lot of non-hunting family members would be less than thrilled.
The only part of this proposal that I could endure without gritting my teeth is moving the muzzleloader season back to late December, assuming that late December doesnít mean Christmas.
As the MDC points out, the deer would have a longer time to settle down after the regular firearms season (now they have two days.)
As for the uncertainty of late December weather, I enjoy hunting when itís cold, but other hunters do not. If setting the season so late keeps hunters at home, how does the MDC expect to meet its harvest goals?
Whether you agree with me or not, make your feelings known. You can bet Iím going to.