Winds of change for Missouri conservation regulations

By Bill Cooper
    Amidst tornado warnings and torrential rains, Missouri deer hunters bagged 80,550 deer on the opening weekend of Missouri’s firearms deer season. Of the 80,525 deer harvested, 48,695 were antlered bucks, 6,867 were button bucks, and 24,963 were does.


    Top harvest counties included Howell with 1,499 deer taken, Bollinger with 1,453, and Franklin with 1,446. The harvest dropped a bit from last year’s deer opener of 88,760.
    High winds wasn’t the only thing blowing during Missouri’s most coveted outdoor event of the year, however. The winds of change in how deer hunting functions in the Show-Me State ruffled some feathers in some arenas, while most hunters were oblivious to rule changes.
    They were not announced by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Although MDC rules are state law, the agency has constitutional powers and can change regulations at a moment’s notice. Seldom is this done, however.
    I had caught wind of rumblings about MDC officials issuing orders to conservation agents prior to the 2020 Missouri deer season to avoid issuing tickets to individuals who hunted deer over corn piles this year. Baiting has been illegal in Missouri for decades.
    According to my source, MDC personnel made aerial flights over areas that are known heavy baiting areas. Where baiting sites were found, agents responded by contacting landowners and requested that the bait be removed 10 days prior to the start of the season.
    Little did the people with bait sites know that if they did not clean up the bait as requested, they would not be issued tickets for baiting deer.
    Is it all hearsay? No. I verified the information about the relaxation of deer baiting regulations from a conservation agent in a county far wary from where I first caught wind of the developing situation.
    I asked my original informant why MDC would relax baiting regulations. He responded by asking me if I couldn’t figure it out? He nodded his head when I suggested the source of the changes lay at the feet of our two newest conservation commissioners, Barry Orscheln and Dr. Steve Harrison. I personally opposed both of them gaining seats on our Missouri Conservation Commission.
    Barry Orscheln owns the popular chain of retail stores, Orscheln Farm and Home. MDC regulations, until now, have made it illegal to bait deer in Missouri. I find it highly irregular, and a gross case of conflict of interest, that Barry Orscheln sits on the Conservation Commission while selling deer corn in his stores. Deer corn is used for one thing, to feed, or bait, deer. Are we to believe that all deer corn sold at Orschelns is used solely for feeding deer in the off season? The bags of corn remain on store floors during Missouri’s combined deer seasons.
    I also opposed the appointment of Dr. Steve Harrison to the Conservation Commission. Harrison maintained a high fence hunting enclosure on his farm for many years, where deer and elk were held and hunted. Baiting is also allowed in high fence operations.
     MDC and Missouri’s hundreds of thousands of deer hunters have fought adamantly against high fence operations for decades. The fight escalated when a deer farm in north Missouri became the state’s first CWD site.
    The Missouri Conservation Commission consists of four members appointed by the governor, with the advice of the senate, not more than two of whom shall be of the same political party. By order of the Missouri Constitution, members are to have a knowledge of and interest in wildlife conservation. One of their duties is to approve wildlife code regulations. Most regulations and suggested changes come from MDC’s corps of professional biologists.
    How is it that two commissioners can, on a whim, change conservation regulations that have been in place for decades.? It is, unfortunately, rather simple. MDC has constitutional authority over their own regulations. They can change them as the commission sees fit. The power to do so is a great tool, when changes are made according to advice given by MDC professional biologists. However, when made by two commissioners to suit their own agendas, it is not only dangerous, but a slap in the face for those biologists and Missouri citizens who have supported regulations in which they believe and know to be sound.
    A couple of regulation changes about deer season slipped under the rug, may only be the tip of the of the iceberg about the future, however. Earlier this year we witnessed a change in trout fishing regulations, when it was suddenly announced that Maramec Spring Park, once of four trout parks in the state, would operate under an experimental five fish for five dollars rule. The other three trout parks retained the established four for fish rule for a three dollar fee. This change, too, came about because of political pressure. Missouri’s outdoorsmen lost again.
    Too, recently friends of mine were out during the Missouri Youth Duck season, which lasts two days. My friend had his young son on his very first waterfowl hunt.
    The are they hunted held a lot of ducks that day. Late in the afternoon ducks began to work their decoys. Prospects of the youngster harvesting his first ducks looked good, until two people with drones began flying them over my friends decoys set. The drones scared all of the ducks away. The young hunted cried because his firs duck hunt of his life had been ruined.
    Such actions from drone operators is a federal offense. My friend called the local conservation agent and was abhorred to learn that MDC agents had received instructions from Jefferson City not to issue citations to drone operators.
    There seems to be a wind of change blowing at the Missouri Department of Conservation, and it is not in the best interest of Missouri sportsmen. We the citizens of Missouri voted n 1936 to keep politicians hands out of conservation efforts in the Show-me State. However, when you have two of four Conservation Commissioners on the board who do not belong there, politics creep in, just as we have witnessed in 2020.We can’t blame these unacceptable regulation changes on COVID. I’ve forever been a staunch support of our Missouri department of Conservation, but on these newest regulation changes, I call BS!
     EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.