Preliminary reports: a good gun deer season
Lansing — Preseason indications pointed to a potentially good firearms deer season, and early reports from hunters seem to back up those predictions.
Cool weather, relatively dry skies, and a little late-season snow provided optimum hunting conditions throughout much of the season. A rebounding deer herd in the northern two-thirds of the state – following three straight mild winters – and stable deer numbers in the south resulted in good hunting and success for many of the state’s 670,000 deer hunters.
“For the most part, the things I’ve heard from hunters and field staff sound pretty good,” Brent Rudolph, the DNR’s deer and elk program leader, told Michigan Outdoor News. “The deer we’ve seen appear to be in good condition.
General conversations from hunters at check stations have been that the deer are in good shape.
“The first few days of the season actually looked pretty good,” Rudolph said. “It was a little warm, but not enough to keep the deer from moving, and we didn’t have a lot of high wind. Our field staff said they saw a lot of people out hunting the first week.”
Historically, a majority of the total firearms kill takes place during the first three days of the season. After that, deer activity usually slows and hunter numbers wane. With the season opening on a Thursday this year, a lot of hunters went to deer camp for a four-day weekend.
Steve Koski, owner of Indian Country Sports in L’Anse, said hunters enjoyed a good season in his neck of the woods.
“The season went real good up here. We saw a lot of nice horns,” Koski said. “In some areas where wolves are, they didn’t see so many deer, but overall I’d say it was a pretty darn good season.”
Koski said the U.P. weather fluctuated from spring-like conditions one week to winter the next.
“The first week it was warm, but I don’t think it affected (the hunt) much,” he said. “People spent a lot of time in the woods. The second week it cooled right down. It went from 62 degrees to 17 with snow on the ground, in some places as much as two feet on the ground.”
Koski said hunters killed a lot of 6-points and 8-points this year, as opposed to smaller bucks in the past.
At the Big Mac Bridge, the Mackinac Bridge Authority counts the deer that hunters take south across the bridge during the 16-day firearms season, which ended Nov. 30. As of Nov. 27, 6,005 deer had been counted, up 9 percent from last year’s total of 5,526.
“In the U.P. and in the northern Lower, it seems like it was a pretty good season,” Rudolph said. “In the western and central U.P., hunter numbers seemed to be up. In the eastern U.P., hunting activity was a little light.”
Zack Sheldon, of Skip’s Sport Shop in Grayling in the northern Lower, said he saw lots of deer and that, generally, hunters seemed pleased with the season.
“It was a pretty good season,” Sheldon said. “The number of deer on our buck pole was up.
“Some guys were seeing a lot of deer, others not as many, but I think deer numbers are up this year around here.”
Sheldon said deer that were registered for the buck pole at Skip’s Sport Shop looked healthy.
“The size of the bucks was up,” he said. “We had some really nice racks this year.”
Despite an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease – which killed a minimum of 13,000 deer and likely many more than that across much of southern Michigan – deer hunters appear to have had a good season in Zone 3.
If there was an exception to the good hunting, it might be in southern Michigan in areas that experienced outbreaks of EHD.
“We talked to a lot of folks that said they were seeing fewer deer, but that it (EHD impact) wasn’t as bad as expected,” Rudolph said.
In Kalamazoo County, one of the areas where the DNR reduced the number of antlerless deer permits hunters could purchase due to outbreaks of EHD, hunters seemed to have a pretty good season.
“Overall, it was probably an average year for us,” said Mike Covey, of D&R Sports in Kalamazoo. “Opening day started kind of slow, but the next four days it really picked up. We had some really nice bucks come in for our buck pole.
“Most guys said they weren’t seeing as many deer, but the bucks they were seeing were very healthy. I think, for the most part, hunters were happy with the hunt and most reported taking a deer.”
Several big bucks have been killed in Michigan this year. According to Commemorative Bucks of Michigan’s ninth annual Big Game Records book, over the years, five bucks killed in Michigan and scored by CBM had typical antlers that scored 185 inches or more under the Boone and Crockett scoring system. This year, two typical bucks that green-scored 190 or more were killed in southern Michigan (see related stories on pages 1 and 4 of this edition of MON).
Rudolph said hunter numbers have been running slightly above last year.
“Sales have been consistently running up about 2 percent from the same dates last year,” he said. As of Nov. 27, the DNR had sold about 671,000 deer-hunting licenses.
The DNR is expected to have a preliminary report on the firearms season available in mid-December, according to Rudolph.