JEFFERSON CITY - With Missouri feeling like spring-time, the much-anticipated deer hunting season opening Saturday may be a big disappointment for some area hunters.
The recent unseasonably warm weather might deter deer from normal activity and deny hunters a plentiful bagging, according to Ollie Torgerson, wildlife division administrator for the state Conservation Department.
However, Torgerson still estimates Missouri will "harvest" approximately 200,000 deer during the 11-day hunting period, not far behind the 201,165 killed in the 2000 season.
"It will be very similar to last season, but so much depends on the weather," he said. "I'm afraid it's going to be too warm."
Warm weather slows deer down while cooler temperatures allow the animals to move better and into the shooting range of hunters.
Bill Heatherly, wildlife programming supervisor for the Conservation Department, said it is difficult to estimate the effect the weather will have on the season, but Missouri hunters are hoping for a cold front.
Because of the warm weather, hunters are being advised to take extra measures to preserve the deer they kill.
Bill Crane from Crane's Meat Processing in Ashland recommended that hunters take meat to processors or put them on ice as soon as possible after they are killed.
Although the cold weather that is usually typical of the deer hunting season contributes to its success, safety is also a major concern. Hunting-related accidents play a role in the declaration of a successful hunting period.
Last year, the Conservation Department reported four nonfatal hunting-related accidents and two deaths.
"Most [accidents] are gun-safety related or self-inflicted," Torgerson said.
In order to apply for a hunting license, applicants must be 16 years old and attend a hunters' safety education class, which is taught by volunteers, to learn hunting rules and regulations.
Both Torgerson and Heatherly said there have been few, if any, reported incidents of bystanders or non-hunters being injured during any hunting season.
"Generally, people just don't go out [where there is hunting] the first couple of days of the season," Heatherly said.
In addition, there is concern over the safety of children who are being introduced to the activity at seemingly younger ages.
For example, the Conservation Department sponsored its first annual youth deer hunt Oct. 27 and 28.
Hunters age 15 and younger were invited to participate in the program which resulted in 6,277 deer killed and was unblemished by hunting-related accidents.
The program was aimed at "introducing young people to the activity," Torgerson said. "It's a good family activity. It was very successful."
With more and more youths participating in the sport, the Conservation Department has recently introduced a youth deer hunting permit for children under age 12.
While hunting, the child must be in the presence of an adult with a hunter education certified card.
"We don't want any accidents," Torgerson said. "Zero would be a nice number."
In addition, Torgerson urged hunters to abide by all hunting rules, be aware of other hunters and take safety precautions when observing deer from tree stands. He said many people tend to become tired and fall from them.
Torgerson added, "Hopefully everyone will be safe, and we'll have a good season."