Deer hunters should see similar if not higher harvest numbers during the 2017-2018 season, according to Barb Keller, cervid program supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The modern firearms portion of deer season begins Saturday and runs through Nov. 21.

The statewide harvest in 2016-2017 — all portions combined — was 266,144, down 3 percent from the previous season. However, Missouri is still among the highest deer harvest states in the Midwest.

Missouri has a population of 1.2 million deer, a decrease of 300,000 from a few years ago.

In Southern Missouri, the deer population has been slowly rising over the past 10 years.

“In many cases, your chance of harvest success is better in some Southern Missouri counties than in Northern Missouri,” Keller said.

For 30 years, I hunted the rolling terrain, brushy ditches and crop fields of Northern Missouri. When Brett, my hunting partner, and I lost our 330-acre lease in Nodaway County two years ago, we found ourselves in a pickle. We could’ve hunted whitetails on my place, but what we really wanted to find was another private farm in Nodaway County to hunt. Our efforts were futile.

With much deliberation, we decided to take advantage of a new program MDC implemented to increase public access to private lands for hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing. The Missouri Outdoor Recreational Access Program (MRAP) provides incentive payments to private land owners who volunteer to open their properties to the public for these types of outdoor activities.

During the opening weekend of the November firearms season last year, we hunted three MRAP properties. The first was in DeKalb County.

“Since the program is new, wouldn’t it be great if you and I are the only people hunting the property today?” I told him.

“You’re dreaming!” Brett replied.

Unfortunately, he was right, as we counted 19 vehicles on the parking lot and county roads bordering the property.

To add insult to injury, three vehicles were parked at dawn in the vicinity where I was going to hunt, so Brett dropped me off at a different location.

After making my way 300 yards down the edge of a cut soybean field, I walked in the timber and sat at the end of an elevated point where two draws converged.

At 6:40 a.m., I heard two shots at a comfortable distance.

Five minutes later, another shot was considerably closer, enough to make me a little nervous.

At 6:45 a.m., I heard a shot 30 yards to the west. I just about fell out of my chair.

My heart started to pound out of my chest, and I labored to breathe. At that very moment, I prayed that God would protect me from being shot by any number of hunters on the property.

Two minutes after nearly keeling over with a fatal heart attack, the crunching and shuffling of leaves captured my attention. It didn’t sound like an approaching deer. Using my binoculars, I scanned a brushy area and spotted a hunter pitching a camo blind. His commotion spooked every deer within earshot. Fifteen minutes later, the impatient hunter unzipped the door, got out, took the blind down and left. All his racket didn’t do my deer hunting any good. I shook my head from side to side, gritted my teeth and growled quietly. Still, I elected to stay put, hoping other hunters would run a deer to me.

At 8:10 a.m., a doe and her fawn stood broadside in a soybean field at about 100 yards. I could’ve weaved a shot through the timber and harvested either deer but decided not to because I didn’t know what was beyond the target.

Brett said he saw two lovesick bucks with their heads down chasing an adult doe for exclusive breeding rights. She apparently wasn’t interested in being courted. After running several hundred yards in every direction, the sweaty doe stopped briefly behind a clump of brush to rest. Brett could’ve easily dropped the deer at 20 yards. However, he declined the shot because the meat would’ve been too tough to eat. I would’ve harvested the deer and had it made into burgers. Problem solved.

At lunch in nearby Albany, we talked to a hunter who passed on killing a nice 8-point buck.

“I decided to not shoot because I have six more days to hunt,” the hunter said.

“I hope your decision doesn’t come back to haunt you!” I replied.

“It may,” the hunter said. “I violated my rule of letting a buck walk on Opening Day that I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot on the last day of the season.”

After lunch, Brett and I hunted the second MRAP property in Worth County. Upon arrival, we decided to take a short snooze in the truck. We had no more than closed our eyes when a hunter tapped the window.

“Have you guys had any luck today?” the hunter asked.

Brett rolled down the window.

“No, we haven’t,” I replied.

The hunter said he could’ve taken two does, but he was holding out for a monster buck.

The following day, we hunted the third MRAP property in Ray County.

We talked to a South Carolinian who claimed to have harvested a massive 12-point buck the day before. He said the trophy had an inside-spread of 24 inches and the longest antler tine was 16 1/2 inches. The hunter said he shot the bruiser three times with a .350 Magnum. Holy cow! He might just as well have used a bazooka! The caliber is more suited for a bull moose or grizzly bear.

During the second week of the season, we hunted familiar territory: my 20 acres in northwest Joplin. Brett harvested a doe, and I killed two deer, one of which was a 6-point buck.

My grandson, Braden, hunting nearby property with his father, texted on a Sunday morning when we were hunting a permanent elevated tower stand overlooking my pasture. He needed a lesson on how to field dress a young buck that he harvested shortly after dawn.

My stand is fully enclosed. The window sills are 13 feet from the ground.

Before leaving “the deer house” — that’s what I’ve always called it — I inadvertently locked the door from the outside before negotiating my way down the rings of the ladder.

Some two hours later, I returned to the wrath of my hunting partner. To his chagrin, Mother Nature called. In order to take care of business, Brett climbed out of the structure, hung with arms extended from the window sill, let go and plunged several feet to the ground. Luckily, he didn’t get hurt.

It’s highly doubtful that I’ll lock Brett in the deer house again. He’ll make darn sure of that!

Keith Costley is an avid hunter and fisherman from Joplin.

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