The opening weekend for deer season was “blown away,” says the Missouri Department of Conservation, but hunters have plenty of time to make up the difference.

Katie Richey brought home a doe during opening weekend, which she shot in Cole County.

Katie Richey brought home a doe during opening weekend, which she shot in Moniteau County.

Hunters checked 61,446 deer during the opening weekend of the November Portion of Firearms Deer Season, the smallest opening-weekend harvest in more than 20 years. But the Missouri Department of Conservation says the slow start doesn’t diminish prospects for a normal deer harvest.

The opening-weekend harvest was down 12 percent compared to 2012. Conservation Department biologists predicted that this year’s deer harvest would be smaller than last year’s, due to a smaller statewide deer population and acorn abundance. Last year’s opening-weekend harvest of 69,614. Resource scientists say the drought resulted in fewer acorns, meaning deer were on the move foraging for food.

Yet, in spite of that slow start, hunters shot enough deer during the remainder of the firearms deer season to post the third-largest total deer harvest in Missouri history.

“The distribution of our deer harvest over the course of the season has changed dramatically in the past 20 years,” says Conservation Department Resource Scientist Jason Sumners. “Back then, people only had nine days to hunt with modern firearms, so a significant reduction in the opening-weekend harvest was almost certain to result in a reduced deer harvest for the year. Today, firearms deer season spans 42 days, so there is no rush to shoot a deer the first two days of the November portion.”

That is not to say that hunters don’t want to shoot deer on opening weekend. But this year’s weather was challenging, even for highly motivated hunters, Sumners says, calling the weather conditions “awful” for hunting.

“I didn’t think it could get any worse than last year,” Sumners said, “but it did.”

“Worse” included temperatures in the 70s, rain on Saturday and winds so gusty that the eastern third of Missouri was under a tornado watch on Sunday morning.

Victoria Nivens, age 9, shot an eight point buck in Osage County during the annual Youth Hunt.

Victoria Nivens, age 9, shot an eight point buck in Osage County during the annual Youth Hunt.

“Those conditions are guaranteed to reduce deer harvest,” he said. “Deer are less active when the weather is warm or extremely windy, and rain keeps some hunters indoors. By noon on Sunday, I think a lot of hunters just gave up fighting the weather.”

He urges hunters to persevere throughout the remainder of the November, Alternative Methods, Antlerless, and Late Youth portions of firearms deer season, reminding them there are 36 more days of hunting before the season closes.

Howell County in South Central Missouri came out on top for the opening weekend harvest with 1,278 deer checked. Hunters in Texas County checked in 1,275, and Oregon County saw 1,109 deer harvested.

The fact that three adjoining counties in the heart of the Ozarks had the highest harvest totals probably is no coincidence, Conservation reports. The Ozarks’ rugged terrain creates sheltered refuges from wind, making deer easier for hunters to find. Also, the Ozarks had the lowest acorn production of any region in the state, further concentrating deer around available food.

The Conservation Department recorded two nonfatal, firearms-related hunting incidents during the opening weekend.

The weather was slightly better for the annual Youth Hunt two weeks ago, when numbers were consistent with recent years, and up over the ten-year average. Another youth hunt takes place in January.