Saturday is the opening day in one of the country's biggest and most important hunting seasons, the firearms-deer season in Michigan.
Some 700,000 hunters or more are expected to participate in the season, which by state law runs Nov. 15 through 30 and is book-ended by bowhunting season before and after. The spending by deer hunters, moreover, will generate an estimated $500 million for Michigan's hard-pressed economy.
So the numbers alone are big, like the state's deer herd, which prior to the fall seasons was estimated at some 1.8 million animals.
By the end of all seasons upwards of 475,000 animals will be processed and packed in freezers, ready for the kitchen, if the strained economy does not damper hunter effort. About half the annual deer bag occurs in the firearms season.
A cloud hanging over Michigan deer hunting this year is the discovery in late August of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a captive deer, a doe, at a Kent County game farm. A general quarantine on movement of captive deer is in effect, though wildlife and agricultural authorities are evaluating each facility, with the quarantine being lifted only on a case-by-case basis.
The deadly disease has not been found to date in the state's wild deer or in any other captive deer that have been culled and tested.
But among other measures, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is encouraging hunters throughout the state to submit their kills to voluntary checking by state deer biologists. A ban on baiting deer to discourage the concentration of animals around feed and other overall disease-transmission potential also remains in effect in the Lower Peninsula at least through 2008.
"I encourage successful hunters to bring their deer to a check station this hunting season so we can gather important biological information and collect enough specimens for adequate disease testing," said Russ Mason, chief of the MDNR's wildlife division. Among other things, Mason noted, "we will be greatly expanding our testing for this disease, not only in the surveillance zone in northern Kent County but statewide as well. Cooperation from hunters is essential as we continue to determine if the disease is present in wild, free-ranging deer."
The MDNR wants to collect and test at least 50 heads from every county in the state, plus at least 300 heads from Kent County and each adjoining county. Checking of all deer taken in nine townships in Kent County is mandatory.
The state already has tested
"a couple thousand deer," said Rod Clute, MDNR big game specialist. But he said to be certain, surveillance for CWD in the wild herd will require testing of "tens of thousands of deer for a number of years." Thus hunter cooperation in checking is very important.
On the other hand, Clute noted, hunters need not be discouraged from going afield or harbor undue concerns about deer killed in the rest of the state. "You should be in good shape," he said.
In addition to the CWD considerations, hunters also are advised to carefully consider license type before purchase if they intend to hunt in the Upper Peninsula.
Those who opt to buy a two-tag combination license will be subject to antler restrictions on both tags this year. One buck must have a minimum of three points on at least one antler-side, and the other buck must have at least four points on one antler-side to be legal on a combination license.
Visit the state Web site, michigan.gov/dnrhunting, for other details on buck and antler restrictions, or obtain a copy of the state deer hunting digest of rules from a license agent.
In making his annual deer forecast, Clute noted the southern Lower Peninsula holds more deer nowadays than the northern lower and Upper Peninsulas combined. The Upper Peninsula sustained some winter losses, so fewer deer overall are present this fall, with more concentrated in the southerly counties than in those along Lake Superior.
Deer numbers in the northern lower, however, are higher than in the last several years, with more antlerless licenses available there as a result.
Several deer-check stations will be open in southeast Michigan, according to Joe Robison, biologist at Pointe Mouilee State Game Area. These include:
Pointe Mouillee, at 37207 Mouilleee Rd., Rockwood, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 734-379-9692.
Cabela's, M-50, Dundee, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, and Nov. 22 and 23, 734-529-4700.
Kim's Kountry Smokehouse, 14197 South Telegraph Rd., LaSalle, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 734-240-5041.
In addition, Knutson's in Brooklyn, Mich., is conducting its 21st annual, free, opening-day buck-pole contest, an event that draws 5,000 visitors. "We have the usual winners for heaviest buck, largest rack, but also everyone who brings their deer to be weighed and displayed on the pole will be entered for random prizes," said Tom Knutson.
Lastly, the MDNR encourages hunters to donate all or part of their venison to the needy through the Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger campaign.
In 2007 more than 23,000 pounds of venison was provided to local charities by hunters participating in the program through licensed processors.
Hunters may drop off an entire deer, with SAH paying for the processing, or they may donate a portion of their processed venison. Details are available at sportsmenagainsthunger.org.