DUNDEE — Joe Ross didn’t need to look at the calendar to know the opening date of the Michigan firearm season for white-tailed deer was very close. The crush of shoppers streaming into Cabela’s on an unreasonably wet and raw mid-November day made that abundantly clear.
Come Thursday morning, thousands of hunters are expected to fan out across the forests, wood lots, meadows, and swamps of the Wolverine State, and yesterday afternoon it appeared that a fair number of them were racing to pick up last minute supplies for deer camp, or get that rifle sighted in as precisely as possible.
“As always, there has been a lot of excitement and activity, and a big buildup as the firearms season approaches,” the Cabela’s store manager said. “It has been very busy, especially with the traffic in the hunting department and around the firearms counter.”
The crowds and clamor at Cabela’s reflected a microcosm of what takes place across the state. Michigan is third in the nation in the number of licensed hunters, averaging about 750,000 a year. Nine out of 10 Michigan hunters pursue deer, with a portion of those hunters securing multiple permits each season.
The direct economic impact of deer hunting in Michigan is estimated at around $500 million annually, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources, with the sport directly supporting more than 5,300 jobs. When ancillary expenditures, such as for gas, food, and motel rooms are factored in, deer hunters put an estimated $1 billion into the state’s economy each season.
“They seem to be buying a little bit of everything,” Ross said about the last-minute deer hunters crowding into the store on Monday. “Most of the folks are ready for the season to open, but some are picking up the final things they need for their camp, or getting an issue with a scope straightened out. There’s been a flurry of activity, and almost all of it seems connected with the approach of opening day.”
Michigan wildlife research specialist Brent Rudolph is responsible for monitoring the state’s deer and elk herds from the Rose Lake Wildlife Research Center. He expects the deer most hunters in Michigan will encounter during the firearm season will show the benefits of a series of relatively mild winters.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of healthy deer in good condition,” Rudolph said. “I expect a pretty good season for everyone.”
The wild card in the picture this deer season is EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease), which has claimed about 13,000 Michigan whitetails this year, but its influence is not widespread.
“Hunters will see fewer deer in certain pockets due to EHD, but it is very localized in terms of where it will have an impact,” Rudolph said. “Overall, I think the outlook for the 2012 season is positive.”
Although many Michigan deer hunters have long subscribed to the notion that the further north you venture, the better the deer hunting will be, Rudolph said that is not necessarily the case.
“There’s more public land to hunt in northern Michigan, but since the mid-1980s the place where we’ve really seen an explosion of deer is in the southern region of the state,” he said. “There’s a lot more agriculture in that area, so there’s more nutrition for the deer, and there is plenty of productive habitat. And deer in the southern half of the state are not weather-limited, so they are not impacted as much by the winters.”
Rudolph encouraged Michigan deer hunters to continue to support the state’s voluntary check system and bring harvested whitetails to the check stations where MDNR personnel can collect biological and physical data. This information is used to monitor the size, makeup, and overall health of the deer herd.
DEER SEASON REMINDERS: The Michigan regular firearms season for deer runs from Thursday through Nov. 30. Hunters are required to wear hunter orange during this season. Hunters must have permission before hunting on private land.
ASK THE DNR: From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Michigan DNR wildlife veterinarian Steve Schmitt will be at Cabela’s in Dundee to answer hunters’ questions and provide information on the many programs operated by the department.
DEER BEEFS: The Michigan DNR will give deer hunters and other outdoors-minded folks the opportunity to ask questions or sound off in a one-hour online forum that starts today at 7 p.m. The public is invited to pose questions about the state's deer population, and Michigan’s hunting seasons and regulations. DNR Live: Deer will stream live on the DNR’s Facebook page. Scheduled to be on hand for the event are the Wildlife Division's deer and elk program leader Brent Rudolph, wildlife veterinarian Steve Schmitt, and Law Enforcement Division Assistant Chief Dean Molnar.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.