ST. CHARLES, MO (KPLR) – It's been a big start to the firearms season for antlered deer for hunters in Missouri.
But it's been deadly for more than just the deer.
Hunters have harvested 30,000 more deer during the first weekend this year than last.
“Hunting is our primary management tool for managing the deer herd, because we don’t have the big predators anymore that we used to have like timber wolves, mountain lions and things like that,” said Dan Zarlenga of the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The weather was perfect for the chief predator now: hunters, he said.
The combination of cold, snow, and mostly bare tree tops turned it into one of Missouri’s most successful November firearms deer hunting weekends in years: 91,460 harvested compared to 61,446 when it was unseasonably warm last year.
“Colder weather, the deer are a little more active, so they’re on the move more. You’ve got snow on the ground which affords the hunter the possibility of advantage of being able to track a deer. Of course, the leaves being down improves visibility,” Zarlenga said.
Josephville Meat Processing near Wentzville has had to turn 50-60 hunters away and hire extra staff with freezers already full of meat and workers still trying to get through close to 300 orders; more than 40 going to a food pantry through the Share the Harvest program.
“[Hunting] does put a lot of people to work. It helps the economy and feeds a lot of people.
But the human tragedies had authorities reiterating safe hunting practices.
They urged hunters to use safety harnesses when perched in tree stands after a hunter in Crawford County died in a fall from a tree stand, when he fell from his tree-stand.
Another hunter in Ste. Genevieve County died in a mishap with a portable heater; a third in Phelps County shot himself in the leg while loading his rifle, Zarlenga said.
“Safety is always number 1 during deer hunting season. Even getting a deer is second to being safe… tree stands are especially tricky because they actually are the biggest source of accidents even more so than firearms. So observing proper tree stand safety is really, really, important,” he said.
Firearms season for antlered deer runs through November 25th in Missouri and through December 7th for non-antlered deer.