Missouri estimates its deer herd at 1.4 million animals, a number that’s been relatively stable over the last several years. While the overall number has remained about the same, various deer populations within the state have certainly shifted.

See the forecast for your state’s 2012 deer season.

“Deer numbers in many parts of rural Missouri have decreased over the last decade particularly parts of North, Central, and Western Missouri,” said Jason A. Sumners, a deer biologist with the

Missouri Department of Conservation (DOC). “Meanwhile deer numbers continue to slowly increase in southern Missouri.”

Credit those population decreases to more antlerless permits and additional hunting, as well as antler restrictions (see below) that shifted more attention to antlerless deer. The increases in southern Missouri? Credit fewer antlerless permits that have, over time, edged up overall deer numbers.

This summer’s drought put some stress on deer, mostly due to natural forage dropping in quality as the summer–and the heat and lack of moisture–continued. Also, there were many reports, especially from southern Missouri, of deer covered in ticks.

Missouri first took the plunge into antler point restrictions in 2004, when DOC required 4-points on at least one side to take a buck in counties in north and central Missouri. In 2008, the 4-point mandate was expanded to all or part of 66 counties across north and west central Missouri.

The upshot: Fewer yearlings being killed, and increasing numbers of mature bucks being harvested. In antler point counties in 2010, 1.5-year-old bucks were just 17% of the antlered harvest. Meanwhile, 2.5-year-old, 3.5-year-old, and 4.5-year-old or better bucks represented 50 percent, 25 percent, and 8 percent of the antlered buck harvest, respectively.

For hunters focused on a trophy buck, “North Missouri has consistently be the best area for production quality bucks,” Summers said. “However, with the implementation of the antler-point restriction several year ago, greater numbers of good quality bucks are being produced in central and western Missouri.”

Best times to score one of these bucks, says Sumners, are, “The first two weeks of November are the peak for rutting activity, with peak breeding occurring right around November 15.”

The Southern Regional Report
It looks like this will be another strong season for southeastern deer hunters, with deer herds in good to very good condition. Deer populations are stable to slightly growing, and all states expected a strong fawn crop this year. The central south (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) saw drought expand over the region as summer went forward. However, this part of the country did receive substantial spring and early-summer rains, which generated a good deal of forage, so deer went into the summer in pretty good condition.

Top Trophy Zones
AR: Arkansas and Chicot counties.
FL: Alachua, Gadsden, and Jefferson counties.
LA: Avoyelles, Concordia, and East Feliciana parishes.
MS: Delta counties like Bolivar, Tallahatchie, and Yazoo are well represented in the record books. Outside of the Delta, Adams County has produced trophy bucks for the past 50 years, including the current state typical record, a 10-pointer killed in 2010 that netted an amazing 184 6⁄8.
OK: Osage and Coal counties. The latter is developing a reputation as a big-buck county, and that was only enhanced last year when 13-year-old Kelsey McKay shot a 200 7⁄8-inch monster non-typical. It is the largest buck ever taken in Coal, a county well represented in the state record books for both typical and non-typical whitetails.
SC: Orangeburg, Aiken, Fairfield, and Colleton counties.
TN: Cumberland and Van Buren counties, and the Tennessee sections of the U.S. Army’s Fort Campbell Military Installation.
TX: Irion, Kennedy, Maverick, Tom Green, and Webb counties.