Flurry of activity takes place as Michigan deer opener nears


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: mmar­key@the­blade.com or 419-724-6068.