Deer hunters set to open Michigan firearm season

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    Matt Markey.

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  • Matt Markey.
    Matt Markey.

    The busiest hunting period in the state of Michigan will begin on Nov. 15 — next Friday — the opening day of the statewide firearm season.

    Archery hunters have been in the woods, the creek bottoms, and the brushy belts that wrap around agricultural ground since the beginning of October and will take a break as the firearm season brings out the hunters in significant numbers. Beginning with opening day and extending over the course of the two-week firearm season, more than half a million hunters are expected to take part.

    The folks at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources expect the 2013 deer season to be a successful one for many hunters, with those that are prepared, patient and persistent being the most likely to bring venison home this fall.

    The 2013 “Michigan Deer Hunting Prospects” summary — which is essentially the scouting report on the season — was prepared by Brent Rudolph, the deer and elk expert from the Rose Lake Wildlife Research Center in East Lansing, and Ashley Autenrieth, deer biologist for the northern part of the state, working out of the Gaylord Operations Service Center.

    The report states that deer hunter success in Michigan is sometimes tied to just “being in the right place at the right time,” and that is often the result of being in the field at the peak of whitetail breeding activity. During that fall period, normally ultra cautious bucks will drop their defenses and be on the move much more often.

    The state experts say that the 2012 deer season in Michigan was better than the previous year, with hunter success rates showing increases in the Upper Peninsula (UP) and Northern Lower Peninsula (NLP). “Slowly but steadily growing deer populations” in those areas in recent years are credited with improving the harvest.

    More than 700,000 deer hunting licenses were purchased in Michigan in 2012, and close to 600,000 hunters took part in the regular firearm season. Overall, deer hunters spent 9.4 million days in the field in Michigan last year, and harvested 418,000 whitetails.

    Deer hunters in the Southern Lower Peninsula (SLP) took fewer deer overall last year due to the outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, which was confirmed in 30 counties in 2012, with most of those being in the SLP.

    There were few instances of EHD reported this summer, and historically the areas where the disease has emerged have not experienced significant long-term effects. According to the report, deer hunters in the southern portion of Michigan will benefit from the highest deer densities in the state. This region has abundant food, and adequate cover provided by cropland, swamps and woodlots. This combination of premium habitat, along with relatively milder winters, allows the herd to flourish.

    In the northern portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the biologists contend that the whitetail population should be higher than it was in 2012, due to the fact that last winter started later than usual, allowing more deer to emerge from the season in good condition.

    The number of deer sightings in the region has also increased, and trail cameras have provided images that support the contention that there are more larger bucks around in 2013. The report states that mast production has been strong in the region, and whitetails should be frequenting areas where acorns, apple,s and beechnuts are found.

    A special regulation is in effect for a dozen counties in the NLP, limiting the harvest of bucks to only those with at least three or more points. A list of the counties impacted, and a detailed explanation of the rules can be found at michigan.gov/​deer.

    In the UP, the winter of 2012-2013 dragged on into late April and this negatively impacted the deer population. Hunters will likely see fewer younger deer in this region, but a sound population of 2½ to 3½-year old bucks is reportedly present. The UP whitetail herd benefited from a plentiful production of mast throughout most of the region. The largest bucks will come from agricultural areas, but the less accessible forested tracts are also holding older bucks, the report said.

    Hunters are reminded that for the deer firearm season, Michigan is divided into a northern zone where rifles are permitted to be used, and a southern zone where only shotguns, muzzleloading firearms and certain handguns are permitted for deer hunting.

    The line separating the two firearm zones runs roughly from the Lake Michigan shoreline in Muskegon County east to Saginaw Bay in Bay County. Hunters should consult the 2013 Hunting and Trapping Digest for the exact outline of the boundary, which takes numerous bends and jogs on its way across the state.

    Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.