Michigan's 86th modern firearms deer season opens Monday , and you can bet the farm that camps from Ironwood in the far western upper peninsula to Gaylord in the heart of the northern lower are abuzz with last-minute activity.
About 615,000 individuals are expected to participate in the season, which runs through Nov. 30 and which is book-ended by archery deer season.
Brent Rudolph, the state deer specialist, said the hunter estimate is down about 15,000 from a year ago, possibly in response to slight declines in deer numbers in traditional northern haunts. Still, the deer-hunting army is huge, and it spends tens of millions of dollars in a state where the economy can use all the help it can get.
The state deer herd this fall was estimated at about 1.7 million animals, down slightly from a year ago. Rudolph said populations in the upper peninsula remain below goals, this after severe winters in 2007 and 2008. The 2009 winter, however, was mild and that is contributing to a slow rebound.
Deer numbers in the northern lower peninsula are at or somewhat below goals in some management units, but all of the southern lower peninsula continues to hold more deer than ideal, according to the annual deer status report by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
The report notes that too many deer are concentrated on private lands, and public lands could support more deer. As in recent years, a ban on baiting deer remains in force in the lower peninsula as a protection against spread of chronic wasting disease, one case of which was confirmed on a commercial deer farm two years ago.
Despite the presence of bagged corn and carrots at many stores across the state, placing feed that is accessible to deer in the fields and forests of the lower peninsula is a misdemeanor violation, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 90 days in jail.
Bait or feed consists of any substance — grain, fruits, vegetables, hay, salt or minerals, whether natural or manufactured — that can be ingested by deer. The ban does not apply to scent products that use odor to attract deer.
Last year's all-seasons kill was nearly 445,000 deer, which was down 9 percent from the prior year. Slightly more than half that total, about 235,000, occurred during the firearms season.
So, given the overall picture, prospects are for similar if slightly lower bags to occur this time around.
If you want to scout out a new hunting spot or plan a hunting trip, check out Mi-HUNT, a cutting-edge, Web-based application where hunters can view and navigate through public hunting and trapping lands. Mi-HUNT displays multiple interactive layers of information, such as state game and wildlife areas, huntable lands by vegetation types; the topography and foliage cover of an area and recreational facilities such as campgrounds, trails, and boat launches. Visit michigan.gov/mihunt online for details.
The MDNRE also encourages the general public to join hunters in the effort to provide processed wild game meat to local families in need. Last year, more than 23,000 pounds of venison were donated to food programs throughout Michigan — enough to supply more than 100,000 meals.
Hunters can help in one of two simple ways. When purchasing a hunting license they can tell the agent of their interest to make a monetary donation to Michigan Sportsman Against Hunger (MSAH). The agent will add the donation to the overall cost.
Secondly, hunters can donate an extra deer through one of the licensed processors registered with MSAH. A list of processors can be found online at sportsmenagainsthunger.org.
Many of these processors also participate in the “Give a Pound” promotion, where hunters can donate some of the ground venison from their processed deer. Venison donations can only be accepted if the processing is done by one of the participating licensed processors.
Non-hunters can donate by going to the Michigan E-Store. Monetary donations are used to support the cost of processing the venison for distribution.
Donations to Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger can be used when itemizing income deductions on federal tax forms.
The MDNRE also reminds hunters using an off-road vehicle (ORV) to follow ORV land-use regulations.
“We're seeing a lot of people riding ORVs where it's illegal to operate them, particularly in the Lower Peninsula,” said Gary Hagler, MDNRE law enforcement chief. “ORV restrictions were put in place to help prevent damage to our natural resources and conflict with other outdoor recreationists. To ensure the future of legal ORV use in Michigan, we ask riders to know and closely follow the regulations and encourage others to do the same.”
For example, it is illegal to operate an ORV on public lands in the lower peninsula that are not posted open. ORVs are prohibited on state game areas or state parks and recreation areas unless posted open.
In all national forests, motor vehicles can be used only on roads, trails or areas that are designated as open on Motor Vehicle Use maps. For more information, contact the local national forest headquarters.
Details on ORV regulations, including rules for transporting weapons and hunting provisions for those with disabilities, can be found in the Handbook of Michigan Off-Road Vehicle Laws online at offroad-ed.com/mi/handbook.
Violations of these and other hunting rules should be reported by calling 1-800-292-7800. To find ORV trail maps for state-owned lands, visit online at michigan.gov/orvtrails.
Contact Steve Pollick at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.