SIKESTON -- The state Department of Conservation wants to ensure hunters know the most recent changes in deer hunting regulations -- so much so it's devoting an entire weekend to answering questions about the changes in deer hunting regulations.
"Anytime you have change, it takes a little getting familiar and used to," said Leother Branch, Scott County conservation agent. "And there's going to be some confusion, but I think we're going to get through it."
So from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 30-31, hunters can access the toll-free hotline (1-866-403-3899) and clear up any confusion they may have about hunting regulations.
"We're taking a whole new approach in our deer management strategy this year," said Branch.
For example, the old deer management zones throughout the state were eliminated, and now the department manages the deer county by county, Branch noted. Special regulations were set in specific counties rather than overlapping in two or three counties, he explained.
Landowners will have the availability to check in deer by telephone or online instead of in person.
"A lot of the hunters have access to Internet and instead of finding a check station, landowners, especially those who harvest deer on their own land, will have the option to call or go via the Internet," Branch said.
In addition rather than checking in their deer the day it is harvested, hunters now have the option of a 24-hour check, Branch noted.
Other changes in this year's deer hunting regulations include: increased availability of antlerless deer permits; easier availability of landowner permits; and the elimination of farm tagging -- something landowners should be aware of, Branch said.
"Landowners can obtain a no-cost permit from any permit vendor, and they have to have it this year to tag their deer like all other hunters," Branch explained.
And the conservation department is providing incentives for hunters to get permits early. For those who buy deer permits by Nov. 5, they earn a chance to win a lifetime hunting and fishing permit. Plus, getting permits early does alleviate a lot of problems such as helping avoid long lines, Branch said.
There are also new restrictions on the harvest of antlered deer in 29 northern and western counties.
In those counties, only bucks that have at least four antler points on one side of their rack may be taken. This restriction applies to all persons hunting in the designated counties, except for youths hunting during the two-day youth portion of the firearms season Nov. 6-7.
"For example, in Scott County, it's an any deer county, which means hunters must have a permit to harvest any deer -- buck or doe," Branch said. "In years past, only bucks in the southern part of county could be harvested."
However, there are exceptions such as the General Watkins area in Scott County and Donaldson Point in New Madrid County, where they remain antlered deer only areas managed by the conservation department.
Branch explained the reasoning behind Southeast Missouri not having antlered deer restrictions: "We've got a really good, healthy deer population in Southeast Missouri. We don't have the abundant need as they do in the north."
In order to be a little consistent with the conservation department's management efforts, the changes allow hunters to harvest specific deer by giving them harvest options, Branch said.
Branch pointed out all of the changes are a means of simplifying deer management, which isn't an easy task.
"Deer hunting in Missouri is a valuable resource," Branch said. "To successfully manage deer, some of these steps have to be taken to improve the overall deer population."
And with firearms deer hunting season weeks away -- it's Nov. 13-23-- Southern Rod and Gun in Sikeston owner Joe Gooch said the hunters are out in full force, getting their equipment ready for the upcoming hunting season.
"It has been extremely busy. People are buying ammunition, clothes, grunt calls for deer, scopes, cleaning equipment and lots more," said Gooch.
Jim Gooch, owner of Feeder's Supply in Sikeston, said business usually starts in August for the hunting seasons, and it gradually picks up steam in September; October is very busy, and November is crazy.
He said: "We've seen a big increase in business over the past few weeks. Guns, bows, food plot mixes, clothing and boots -- just about everything you could imagine for hunting, we're selling." 2