A controversial regulation change that liberalized the use of crossbows during the Missouri archery deer season in Missouri has met its first test.

When the Department of Conservation opted to allow all licensed bow hunters – not just those with disabilities – to use crossbows starting in the 2016-17 season, critics worried that the harvest would soar.

Didn’t happen.

Hunters shot 47,550 deer during the Missouri bow hunting season that ended Jan. 15. Of that total, 14,336 were taken with crossbows.

Instead of going up, the archery harvest declined. Bow hunters shot 49,759 deer in the 2015-2016 season when crossbow use was limited. In fact, this year’s total was less than any of the last five seasons.

Of course, other factors likely came into play. Reduced limits, weather, and a decline in deer populations in some parts of the state probably played a part as well.

But at least in the first year of the regulation change, the liberalization of crossbow hunting didn’t have a dramatic impact on the number of deer taken by archers.

The Department of Conservation announced final deer harvest figures Wednesday. Preliminary reports indicated that hunters shot 263,832 deer in all seasons combined. Franklin was the leading county, with 5,272 deer checked in. Howell was second with 5,242 and Texas third with 4,608.

This season’s total was down slightly from the 2015-2016 season, when hunters took 273,249 whitetails.

There were four firearms-related accidents, all of them non-fatal. The Department of Conservation also was informed of one hunter falling from a treestand.