- Associated Press - Friday, September 26, 2014

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Deer populations in Missouri declined dramatically in the past decade, a combination of more liberal hunting rules for does and young bucks and the onset of a severe disease during the 2012 drought.

That might make a fall hunting trip more difficult - the 251,924 deer killed last fall and winter was down 19 percent from the year before - but the highways are safer, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/1qUkQR6 ). Deer-vehicle collisions declined by more than 50 percent in Boone County between 2002 to 2011, according to figures from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Collisions within Columbia decreased even more dramatically, with only 10 in 2011 compared to 34 in 2002.

Columbia allows bow hunting for deer within city limits. That has helped cut deer numbers in town and the designation of an urban zone for Columbia and Jefferson City has helped cut the numbers elsewhere, said Department of Conservation deer biologist Jason Sumners.

“We use Columbia as a model,” Sumners said. “There is no question there are fewer deer here than there were in 2000.”

The decrease in collisions is visible in statewide numbers as well, although it is not as dramatic. State Farm Insurance Cos. releases an annual report on deer-vehicle collisions each year as the breeding season - and hunting season - approaches, said Holly Anderson, a spokeswoman for the insurance company.



The figures show Missourians were 8 percent less likely to hit a deer in 2013 than in 2012. One in 124 Missouri drivers hit a deer in 2013, the report states, above the national average and 18th highest in the nation.

“We just decided we have this data and it is a good opportunity to raise awareness,” Anderson said.

Statewide figures for 2013 show 3,498 deer-vehicle collisions were reported to law enforcement, said Capt. Tim Hull of the patrol. That is down from 4,200 collisions in 2002, the earliest data available on the patrol’s website.

Annual reports show motorists are most likely to hit a deer in October, November or December. The number of collisions averages one every 2.5 hours, but deer are most active at dusk and at dawn. Half of collisions occur between 5 p.m. and midnight . One in six occurs between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Highways are quieter in the evening and at dawn, Hull said.

“The deer will go ahead and walk on the highway, then all of a sudden a car comes over the hill and there is a deer standing there,” Hull said.

Deer-vehicle collisions caused five fatalities in 2011 and five in 2012, while none were reported in 2013, Hull said.

Repairs after deer collisions averaged $3,888 last year, Anderson said. Because most collisions occur on rural roads, State Farm advises using high-beam headlights when there is no oncoming traffic. Avoid swerving when a deer is in the road and don’t rely on devices such as deer whistles to scare the animals.

“We just haven’t found them to necessarily be super effective,” Anderson said.

Missouri deer populations peaked about 2000 at nearly 1.6 million. Liberalized rules stabilized populations until the outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease killed large numbers. By this year, Missouri had approximately 1.3 million deer.

In this year’s deer season - archery season opened this month and hunting in some form will continue through Jan. 4 - the Conservation Commission cut back on the number of antlerless deer permits in most areas of the state, Sumner said.

Surveys of hunters and residents show a significant change in attitude about deer populations. Many in northern Missouri believe numbers are now too few or about right, Sumner said.

“We accomplished the management goal,” he said.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, https://www.columbiatribune.com

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