Opening Weekend Offers Good News: More Deer, Fewer Accidents

Article excerpt

News from the opening weekend of Missouri's firearms deer season is all good: hunters checked more deer and had fewer accidents than ever before.

Check stations around the state recorded 110,191 deer killed in the first two days of the 11-day season. That is 19,176 more than last year's opening-weekend harvest and 13,538 more than were checked in it the 1992, when the previous record of 96,653 deer was set.

By the end of the 1995 opening weekend, only one firearms-related hunting accident had been reported. No one died in opening-weekend accidents. Compare that to seven non-fatal deer-hunting mishaps and one fatal accident last year. In the past seven years, opening day of firearms deer season has seen as many as 11 reported firearms hunting accidents (1989) and two fatal ones (1990).

"I couldn't believe the accident numbers," said Wildlife Research Biologist Lonnie Hansen. "Actually, I couldn't believe the harvest numbers, either. I wondered what effect the weather on opening day would have on the harvest. If anything, it seemed to be positive."

Much of the state experienced steep temperature drops followed by freezing rain, sleet and snow on the eve of the firearms deer season. Hansen, who is in charge of the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) deer management program, says cold, wet weather usually discourages deer hunters. But snow on the ground - a novelty for firearms deer hunters in Missouri - makes tracking and spotting deer easier. That, says Hansen, may have offset the effects of cold weather and encouraged more hunting.

In recent years, about half the deer taken during firearms deer season were killed on opening day. If that turned out to be true this year, the total season harvest would top 200,000.

"I suspect this year's opening weekend bag will be a higher percentage of the season total," says Hansen, "but even if it turns out to be 60 percent, that will make the total harvest more than 180,000. Gosh, that's a lot of deer!"

Hansen says he doubts the 1995 firearms deer kill will reach 200,000, but can't rule it out. With the weather forecast calling for good hunting conditions over the next week, heavy hunting activity is likely throughout much of the firearms deer hunting season.

MDC Protection Programs Supervisor Bob Staton says he is delighted with the drop in reported accidents. "I hope it's not just a fluke," says Staton. "As far as I know, this is the lowest number of opening- weekend accidents we have ever had. The least we have had for a whole season is seven non-fatal ones in 1963 and 1993. This year's opening weekend gives us a good shot at setting a record for deer- hunting safety."

Staton says factors that contributed to the decline in deer hunting accidents include mandatory use of hunter-orange clothing, which went into effect in 1980. Also, mandatory hunter education training became a requirement in 1988, giving MDC an opportunity to teach young hunters about safety.

Staton said keeping careful records of past hunting accidents also helps MDC teach hunters to be safer. "By looking at the causes of accidents over a period of years, we can identify problems and risk factors," says Staton. …