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“Folks can expect to see lots of deer this fall,” said Missouri Department of Conservation Deer Biologist Jason Sumners.
He said a 52-year record low of acorns, on which deer feed, will put deer in the open on the hunt for food. The lack of acorns is one aspect of this year’s dreary drought for deer. Another aspect that may lead to fewer deer — large deer kills from Hemorrhagic Disease.
“A lack of acorns makes deer more visible, especially in the southern part of the state,” Sumners said.
However, hunters gathering in the Ozarks may have been given an advantage.
“Forest covers a much larger percentage of the landscape in southern Missouri,” Sumners said in the department’s recent deer harvest forecast. “As a result, the availability of acorns plays a much larger role in determining whitetails’ feeding behavior in the Ozarks than it does in the rest of the state. When acorns are scarce, deer are much more concentrated around a few productive trees and around food plots and the agricultural crops. This makes it much easier for hunters to find them.”
According to the department, conservation officials conduct an annual acorn survey, which supplies separate data for both white- and red-oaks.
The Missouri Department of Conservation reported that red-oaks, as opposed to white oaks, mature their nuts one year after fruiting, so this year’s drought didn’t have the effect that it had on white-oaks — which nut and fruit in the same year.
As a result of belated nutting, there will be more red-oak acorns, which took advantage of 2011’s more ideal growing conditions, than white-oak acorns.
This means hunters should find red oaks and other sources of food such as row-crop fields because deer will be doing the same.
White-oaks have rounded leaves, so look for the red-oak varieties, which have pointed leaves.
Another term of the drought is limited water, which leads to an increased prevalence of Hemorrhagic Disease in some areas.
According the Missouri Department of Conservation, limited precipitation forces deer to come into closer contact for water resources, which “creates perfect conditions for the spread of hemorrhagic diseases.”
The department reported that drought years are especially bad for the spread of the disease, yet this year’s deer season shouldn’t be as affected as later years. Reduced numbers this year will have a greater effect of the state’s deer population in two or three years.
“Some deer die from hemorrhagic disease every year, but this year’s outbreak was worse than most,” Sumners said.
The Conservation Department maps reported cases of the disease, which can be found at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/16479.
Although Sumners said the map doesn’t give a complete picture of the total dead deer — some cases of the disease go unreported. Though, the map provides a general idea of the worse counties.
Sumners cautions hunters who have witnessed a large amount of deer deaths. He said hunters in areas experiencing a significant amount of deaths due to the disease should limit the amount of deer taken in the area so reduce the chance of even lower deer densities in the future.