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Friday, November 21, 2008

Missouri's 'Antler Point' Restriction

Beginning in 2004, the Missouri Department of Conservation began testing Antler Point Restrictions on hunters, as a deer management tool. In 2008 it was extended to 65 counties, comprising the upper 2/3 of the state. From MDC Online:

The APR requires a buck to have at least 4 points on one side to be legal. The restriction applied to the archery season and all portions of the firearms season except the youth portion. The expectation was that restricting the bucks that could be taken would promote a larger doe harvest. An additional benefit of this restriction would be that more bucks survive longer and grow antlers large enough to be considered trophies by hunters.”

MDC's “Hunting tips for counties with antler-point restrictions”offers this sage advice- “Bring binoculars and give yourself plenty of time to count antler points before you take a shot. Wait for a buck that has at least four points on one side. Successful hunters wait for the best shot – when the deer turns broadside. Learn to recognize antlers from this view to minimize errors in the field.”


Now I am generally not a vocal critic of MDC and many of its recent changes have been good ones. The 'Telecheck' system eliminated the need to haul your deer across the county to a check station. Missouri deer hunters also enjoy one of the simplest 'legal firearms' descriptions on record.

Still- this Antler Point Restriction nonsense is for the birds.

First, APR stacks the odds against novice hunters- and as a father and husband who's been in on a number of 'first deer' I can tell you that these hunters need all the help they can get. Many of these are kids, out with Dad or Uncle Fred for their first deer hunt. Under the 'old rules' they'd see maybe 1-5 shootable deer per season; and they might get a safe, sure shot at only one of those. They are thrilled to get any deer at all and even a forkhorn buck is a big deal to them. APR deprives this vitally-important group of opportunities. New hunters are quite literally the future of hunting and the last thing we need is to discourage them.

Second, APR is a slap in the face to 'traditional hunters' who use iron-sighted .30-30's, military rifles and period firearms from 1830 forward. Folks, this is deer hunting at its finest and it is the essence of hunting in general. APR essentially requires that the traditional hunter adds a substantial set of binoculars to his kit; and spend more time 'glassing' than enjoying the nostalgia of the traditional hunt.

Third, APR turns a uniquely American test of hunting & shooting skills into an equipment race. We have done just fine with a 10 year old set of budget binoculars here and most of our 'deer guns' wear carefully-zeroed iron sights. The only 'scoped rifle in the outfit has a 4X on it, which has facilitated precise shots and instant kills at well over 200 yards. Now, by edict of the crowned heads at MDC, all of our optics are obsolete. I suppose we could run down to China-Mart and drop a grand on some new glass; but I am disinclined to have the state dictate how I spend my recreational dollar.

Fourth, APR does nothing to alleviate the hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage and personal injury caused by deer each year, in Missouri. MDC obviously knows this because the Kansas City and St. Louis areas got a 'hall pass' on APR. Now, this would probably never occur to the Commission- but us 'dayum hillbillys' don't liked to wreck our pickups anymore than them high-falutin' city slickers do! Someone in my neck of the woods learned this first hand. By the third day of the season, there was a spike buck lying dead along 135 Highway, just south of US-50. He was doubtless passed over by hunters but he died just the same and somebody got a repair bill- thanks to APR.

My final complaint with APR is that it promotes the notion that deer hunting is all about 'points and trophies' rather than harvesting the winter meat. Every young deer hunter I've mentored, has been taught exactly the opposite. We've killed a few decent bucks over the years, but shooting a big rack was never the driving force behind the hunt. And frankly- 'an obsession with racks' has never been a character trait of the better hunters I've ever known. I hate to see MDC foster this kind of thinking.

I have a grandson and two granddaughters; I looked forward to having the honor of taking them on their first deer hunt. I sincerely hope that the Missouri Department of Conservation mothballs this stupid 'antler point restriction' before that day comes.