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Numbers look solid for deer hunting

DNR survey out for firearm season

November 9, 2008

TRAVERSE CITY -- Jim Gauthier gets reports from hundreds of deer hunters who pass through Gauthier's Archery Shop in the early archery season, and the common thread is that most were seeing fair to good numbers of deer until the weather warmed up 10 days ago.

"They're seeing them, but because of the baiting ban a lot of them aren't getting the shots they're used to," he said. "And from what I'm hearing and have seen myself, I think the rut is late this year. At least a lot of hunters aren't seeing bucks chasing does like they should be by now."

Despite the rocky economy, Gauthier said he has enjoyed a record sales year and that the interest in bow hunting is up.

"I'm seeing a lot of people pulling out their old bows and getting back into it," he said. "They're people who didn't bait, and now they figure they can go into the woods without running across a bunch of bait piles."

Scott Minnis of Traverse City and his son, Jake, 12, were browsing in Gauthier's shop, and Minnis said the Lower Peninsula baiting ban has helped hunters like him who don't use bait.

"Instead of going to bait, the deer are coming to the acorns, where I am," said Minnis, who hunts on 10 acres that he owns. "Next year I'm putting in a food plot. It's not just for hunting. It will bring deer in most of the year so we can watch them from the house."

The DNR has surveyed its deer management unit biologists for their take on what to expect when the Nov. 15-30 firearm season opens Saturday. Here's a synopsis of their reports:

Northwest Lower Peninsula: Hunters should see the same number or slightly more deer than last season. Fewer antlerless licenses increased the numbers in many DMUs.

Deer numbers in Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties are near the DNR goal. Leelanau County is a quality deer management area, resulting in a higher percentage of older bucks.

Deer numbers in Manistee, Osceola, Lake, Mason, Missaukee and Wexford counties are at or slightly above goal, with the majority on private land.

In Oceana and Newaygo counties, deer are near or slightly above goal, while Mecosta County is significantly above goal.

Northeast Lower Peninsula: Despite a harsh winter, deer numbers are up in much of the area thanks to good fawn production and a reduced antlerless kill. There are good numbers of 2-year-old and older bucks, and the DNR wants to increase the antlerless take in the bovine tuberculosis zone.

The best hunting will be on mixed agriculture and forest land in Ogemaw, Iosco, and western Antrim and Charlevoix counties. Private forest land in Alpena, Alcona, and Montmorency counties also should offer good opportunities.

Acorns and beechnuts are spotty, and deer will congregate where these mast crops are best. Recent rains revived ground vegetation and will cause deer to feed in fields, openings and low ground until snow.

Saginaw Bay area: Deer are at or above goal in Clare, Gladwin, Arenac, Isabella, Midland and Saginaw counties, and far above in Huron, Sanilac and Tuscola.

Fawn survival was high, and more late fawns may have been born thanks to an increased number of year-old does. Buck numbers may be up slightly.

The wet summer resulted in abundant soft mast but decreased acorn production. Much of the region is farmland, where the timing of the corn harvest plays a major role. The Thumb received above-normal rainfall and will have some standing corn during firearm season.

Southeast: High deer numbers should be similar to last year in most places and up a bit in St. Clair and northern Macomb counties. Crop damage complaints are up from 2007, due not so much to more deer as to increased monetary losses by farmers facing higher fuel and fertilizer costs.

Most deer are on private land, where demand for access will be higher because many hunters who usually go north will stay near home to save money.

Some of the best hunting will be in Lapeer and northern St. Clair counties, along with northeastern Oakland, western Monroe and southwestern Wayne counties. Deer numbers in Lapeer, Genesee and Oakland counties are still well above goal because so much private land is owned by people who don't allow antlerless hunting.

South Central: Deer are still well above desired levels. Crop-damage complaints and requests for out-of-season shooting permits are very high.

The highest deer numbers are in Montcalm, Ionia, Jackson, and Clinton counties, and the DNR has issued private land antlerless licenses in all South Central Michigan in an effort to lower deer numbers. The DNR encourages hunters to use antlerless licenses in all seasons, including the late-firearm antlerless season on private land Dec. 22 through Jan. 1. Archery hunting also is open during the late-firearm antlerless season.

Eaton, Ionia, and Montcalm counties are above population goals. In Clinton, Gratiot, Ingham, Livingston and Shiawassee Counties much of the corn should be harvested by Nov. 15, concentrating deer in forested and brushy habitat.

In Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, and Washtenaw Counties deer also are above goal, and crop damage complaints have increased, even though the deer population has not increased significantly.

Southwest: Numbers are very high in Barry, Calhoun, and Kent counties, especially on private land. Deer are increasingly numerous in suburban and residential areas.

Allegan, Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, Kent, Ottawa, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties are all open for the late firearm antlerless season.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was discovered in Kent County at a privately owned deer facility in August, and the Michigan CWD response plan mandates additional surveillance of wild deer in Kent and adjacent counties.

The disease surveillance zone in Kent County includes the townships of Tyrone, Solon, Nelson, Sparta, Algoma, Courtland, Alpine, Plainfield and Cannon. All deer taken in these areas must be tested for CWD.

Contact ERIC SHARP at 313-222-2511 or [email protected].
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