Landowners and hunters can work together during this year's deer season to improve the quality of the herd in their area by collecting important information once deer are harvested.
Gathering data about the herd is the crucial first step in the practice of Quality Deer Management, or QDM.
"QDM is a strategy and philosophy that involves managing deer herds in a biologically sound manner within existing habitat conditions," said Bob Pierce, University of Missouri Extension wildlife specialist.
The white-tailed deer is one of Missouri's most valuable natural resources, contributing more than $1 billion annually to the state economy and supporting thousands of jobs, according to Emily Flinn, private lands deer biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Many people think QDM is mainly about shooting lots of does to produce a bigger population of bucks with big antlers, Pierce said, but that's not the case.
"The underlying goal of QDM is to promote a more balanced sex ratio and age structure within a particular deer herd, and to keep the herd's population from exceeding the biological carrying capacity of the habitat, as well as the cultural carrying capacity, or the numbers of deer that people are willing to tolerate," he said.
To do that, you need some information about the population density, sex ratio and age structure of the deer herd. Landowners and hunters should agree to collect basic information about each deer harvested, Flinn said, including sex, dressed weight and age (fawn, yearling or adult).
"Having this type of information over several years can help landowners and hunting clubs make more informed decisions about harvesting deer in future seasons and implementing habitat management techniques," Pierce said.
To help landowners and hunters implement QDM programs on their property, MU Extension and the department have developed a series of deer management guides that are available for free download at extension.missouri.edu/deer.
Chronic wasting disease, a fatal degenerative brain disease of deer, moose and elk, has been found in a small number of deer in north central Missouri.
CWD has been diagnosed in 11 captive white-tailed deer at two private hunting preserves in Macon and Linn counties since 2010. Another five cases have been detected in free-ranging deer in the same area.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, statewide testing of more than 35,000 free-ranging deer since 2002 has not turned up any other cases of CWD.
Chronic wasting disease belongs to a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Other TSEs include bovine spongiform encephalopathy, popularly known as "mad cow disease." A brain-wasting disease in humans has been linked to eating BSE-infected beef, but researchers have found no evidence that CWD in deer poses a similar threat to people or livestock.
But veterinarians and wildlife biologists caution against consuming meat from animals that have or are suspected of having CWD. To be on the safe side, avoid eating and minimize handling of the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph notes of any harvested deer.
-- Compiled by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar