Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Firearms season gets mixed reviews

By Bill
Parker
Editor

Lansing — Preliminary reports from the DNR and hunters around
the state indicate that the 2006 firearms deer season was a pretty
good one, much better in many areas than the season of 2005.

The DNR reports that after the first week of the season there
had been a 20-percent increase in the number of deer killed
compared to 2005.

“At this time, it appears that the deer harvest is slightly
larger than the deer harvest of 2005,” Rodney Clute, the state’s
big game specialist, said in a news release. “Statewide (as of Nov.
21), 20 percent more deer have been brought into DNR deer check
stations than in 2005.”

A week later, Clute told Michigan Outdoor News that the
biggest complaints he’d heard so far were about the balmy weather
that had moved into the state.

“The only thing I’ve heard lately are comments about how warm
the weather has been,” Clute said. “Yesterday, a number of
locations across the state had record highs, and I don’t know if
that’s conducive to hunting deer.

“I’m sure the weather will have an impact on the harvest, but
the bulk of the deer are killed in the first week of the (firearms)
season, so it shouldn’t be too bad.”

Clute said the warm weather was good for hunters because,
they’re able to hunt all day. But deer already have their winter
coats and have packed on fat in preparation for the winter.
“They’re probably not moving around much,” he said.

The DNR’s preliminary assessment of the entire 16-day firearms
season won’t be available until later this month and will be
featured in the Dec. 22 edition of Michigan Outdoor
News.

Southern Lower
Peninsula

Clute said the DNR has been trying to decrease the deer
population in the southern third of the state. Deer number there,
he said, appear similar to last year. The number of deer checked by
the DNR after the first week of the season was about 5-percent
higher than last year.

Hunters in the southwest corner of the state enjoyed a good
season and killed several big bucks.

“The firearms season was very good around here. We saw some
bucks that hunters got that had some real nice antlers. The biggest
was an 18-point,” said Mike Covey, of D and R Sports in Kalamazoo.
“In VanBuren and Kalamazoo counties, hunters say they saw a lot of
deer this year. I’d say the season was better than either of the
last two years. We had a very light winter and a ton of acorns last
year and I think that helped.”

The season got off to a hot start in St. Joseph County, then it
fizzled out.

“It started very good, then went sour,“ said Robert Sutton,
owner of Bobber Stop Bait and Tackle in Three Rivers. “Overall, I
think deer numbers, especially bucks, are up from last year. A
friend of mine is a butcher and he said he has processed more bucks
than does this year.

“Hunters are seeing a lot of deer, but the DNR didn’t issue many
antlerless permits for state land, and hunters were complaining
because they couldn’t get a tag,” Sutton said.

Tom Knutson, owner of Knutson’s Sporting Goods in Brooklyn in
Jackson County, said deer numbers in his area are down this
year.

“We can’t complain; hunting has been good. But I think the
numbers are down a little this year,” Knutson told Michigan
Outdoor News. “But the sizes have been solid and the racks
have been good.”

Knutson said one thing he has noticed is a slight change in the
demographics of hunters this year.

“I saw a lot of young girls come out hunting this year,” Knutson
said. “I think that by reducing the age requirement, they’re
getting more kids out there and that’s neat.

Northern Lower
Peninsula

The DNR said that as of midseason the deer harvest in the
northern Lower Peninsula was up about 20 percent over 2005. A mild
winter, a reduction in the number of antlerless deer permits
issued, and good fawn production the last two years are being
credited with the increased harvest.

Hunters enjoyed an “excellent” season in Kalkaska County,
according to Mitch Pare, of Jack’s Sport Shop in Kalkaska.

“We checked in 74 deer this year, compared to just 18 last
year,” Pare said. “A lot of big bucks were shot this year, too. I
checked one that was a 16-point and it should have been a 21-point,
but it had a bunch of tines broken off.

“Personally, I saw more deer this year while I was hunting than
I have in the past six years combined. A lot of guys are passing on
the smaller bucks and button bucks, and they’re reporting seeing a
lot more bigger bucks.”

The deer herd is stable in Bay and Arenac counties, where
hunters report a “decent” season, according to Gary Webster, at
Franks Great Outdoors in Linwood.

“We had a pretty decent season around here,” Webster said. “Our
deer numbers are pretty solid and hunters reported seeing a lot
more bucks this year.”

In Lake County, Jori Dirkse, of Baldwin Bait and Tackle, reports
that a change in philosophy by many hunters seems to have improved
the quality of the harvest.

“It was a real good year around here,” Dirkse said. “Over the
last couple of years a lot of hunters have been taking management
into their own hands and have made a conscientious effort to pass
on small bucks and button bucks. Guys are taking a lot more big
bucks this year.

“It seems like the overall numbers are up, and the buck numbers
are definitely up.”

Upper Peninsula

In many areas of the Upper Peninsula, Mother Nature treated
hunters to light snow cover on opening day, which provided hunters
with excellent conditions for seeing and tracking deer. The snow
melted after a couple of days, but hunters still reported seeing
and killing more deer than in 2005.

According to the DNR, the number of deer checked in the U.P. as
of midseason was up 35 percent over 2005 and up 22 percent at the
Mackinac Bridge highway check station.

The DNR says the increase in deer numbers in the Upper is the
result of a large fawn crop in 2005, reductions in antlerless
license quotas, and high over-winter survival.

”Overall, it was a pretty good year, definitely better than last
year,” said Joe Ombrello, of Gander Mountain in Marquette. “The
weather up here was super mild, but we still saw a lot of deer
activity. A lot of guys are passing on the smaller bucks and it’s
making a difference. We’re seeing a lot more bigger, mature bucks
this year.”

Hunting was a little tougher on the western end of the U.P.,
where Gus Pietila said deer numbers remain low.

“A lot of guys said they saw more deer and fewer wolves than
last year, but the numbers are still nowhere near where they should
be,” said Pietila, owner of Maple Ridge Bait and Tackle in Bergland
in Ontonagon County.

Pietila, who also owns a motel in Bergland, said hunter pressure
in the western U.P. has been light.

Deer hunters still have plenty of opportunities to get back in
the field. Archery season runs through Jan. 1; muzzleloader season
runs through Dec. 10 in the Upper Peninsula and through Dec. 17 in
the Lower. There is also a late firearms season for antlerless deer
on private land-only in 24 DMUs in southern Michigan. Check the DNR
2006 Hunting and Trapping Guide for details.

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