EAST LANSING — Michigan’s firearms hunting season for deer ended a week ago, and the preliminary reports from the forests and fields of the Wolverine State show hunters experienced decent weather and good numbers of whitetails during the two-week period.
Michigan wildlife biologists estimate the 2012 firearms season harvest increased by as much as 10 percent in the Upper Peninsula, compared to 2011, while the numbers in the northern Lower Peninsula were very close to those from last year. There was more variation in the harvest numbers in the southern portion of the state, with some areas reporting an increase and others experiencing a decrease.
Close to 650,000 hunters had purchased licenses to hunt deer by the time the firearms season opened, which was a slight increase from the previous year. Although the specific harvest numbers are not yet available, Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials indicate the feedback from around the state has been mostly positive. Michigan’s full report on the deer harvest and hunter participation will be released once the annual hunter mail survey is completed.
“I think the firearm season met our expectations, and that’s good to hear since you never really know if the weather will cooperate and how the conditions will play out,” said Brent Rudolph, wildlife research specialist and the Deer and Elk Program leader at MDNR’s Rose Lake Wildlife Research Center here.
“I would say the first few days were good, but not great. The weather was comfortable, but maybe a little warmer than what you would want to see in order to keep the deer moving.”
In the Upper Peninsula, the deer hunt was reported as “excellent” in the Escanaba area, with harvest numbers from the first three days of the firearms season as strong as the 2006 year, and pushing toward the banner 2004 totals. Wildlife technician Vernon Richardson reported more than half of the bucks that had been checked in were two-and-a-half years old, or older.
“Overall, we’ve been seeing more bucks checked in by hunters, and the bucks we’ve seen appear to be in nice, healthy condition,” Rudolph said.
Wildlife biologist Kevin Swanson reported from the U.P. that “very healthy looking deer, with excellent body conditions and antler development” were being brought to the check station. Hunters indicated seeing more deer and nicer bucks.
In the northern Lower Peninsula, wildlife biologist Mark Monroe had a similar report from the Gaylord area. Hunters gave accounts of frequently witnessing rutting activity, and seeing more deer overall and more bucks. Biologist Erin Victory from Baldwin said hunters in her area harvested a good number of bucks that were two-and-a-half years old or older, with large diameter beams.
“We had a bump up in the antler index,” Rudolph said, referring to the measurement of antler development. “That supports a lot of the general impressions we had coming into the season about the size of the herd and the health of the herd. The deer look to be in good shape.”
In the southern half of the Lower Peninsula, much of the corn crop had been harvested prior to the opening of the deer firearm season, or was being harvested as the season got underway. Wildlife biologist Don Bonnette from Cass City reported the health of the deer being brought to check stations in the area was “excellent — some of the best conditions that have been seen in many years.” Strong antler development was credited for the number of year-and-a-half old bucks that displayed six and eight-point racks.
As biologists had expected, there were some reports of EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) cases in the southern portion of the state. Most of the EHD cases were localized along the lower Muskegon River and the east/central section of the Grand River.
“There were fewer people who said that EHD appeared to be a factor in their hunting areas,” Rudolph said.
The Hillsdale check station saw more than 800 deer brought in over the first three days of the firearms season, and biologist Kristin Bissel reported seeing whitetails with “excellent development.” She also relayed that hunters witnessed a significant amount of deer activity in the area with the rut “in full swing.”
Rudolph said there were numerous reports of trophy-sized bucks being harvested in the firearm season, with several that were at first considered to be potential record-class deer. “But at least at this point, it seems like they all will fall just short of the record,” he said.
MORE MICHIGAN DEER: The Michigan deer season for muzzleloaders opens today in Zones 1 and 3, and on Dec. 14 in Zone 2. Zone 1 includes all of the Upper Peninsula, while Zone 2 encompasses roughly the upper portion of the Lower Peninsula. Zone 3 includes the lower half of the state, plus the thumb. The Zone 1 muzzleloader season runs through Dec. 16, while in zones 2 & 3 the muzzleloader season closes on Dec. 23. The statewide archery season continues through Jan. 1. A map detailing the specific outlines of the Michigan hunting zones is available at www.michigan.gov/dnr.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.