By Howard Meyerson
Everyone knows that Michigan’s firearm deer season was cold. Snow piled up all across the state, and temperatures were brutal.
That frigid arctic start, combined with a late corn harvest, kept many hunters at home. Those factors, combined with a smaller deer herd statewide, resulted in fewer deer being killed, according to state wildlife officials.
“Most of us concluded that the opener was a little slower than expected for a Saturday opener, “said Steve Chadwick, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife supervisor for Southwest Michigan. “The weather was a big factor. It was pretty rough.
“We had fewer people out both Saturday and Sunday.”
But that would hold for much of the two-week season that closed Nov. 30. Fewer hunters ventured out or bought hunting licenses and kill tags.
“The number of license buyers decreased by 6.6 percent compared to last year, and the number of kill tags sold decreased by 10.6 percent,” said Brent Rudolph, the DNR’s former deer program manager. “Our general observations are that the deer kill is down this year compared to last.”
Preliminary estimates indicate the U.P. firearm kill was down 30 to 40 percent from 2013. Some areas had bigger declines, Rudolph said. The southern Michigan deer harvest was down about 5 percent, and the northern Lower Peninsula harvest was down by as much as 10 percent, Rudolph said.
“The late corn harvest provided a lot of extra refuge for deer. … Statewide, only 43 percent had been picked by the week before opener, compared to an average of 63 percent. By the end of the season, it was only 77 percent (picked).”
Barry State Game Area manager Sara Schaefer called the 2014 firearm season “the worst in the 15 years.”
Schaefer said, “People weren’t used to hunting in that kind of weather. They spent fewer hours hunting, and some didn’t go out at all.”
How they figure it
State wildlife officials develop their preliminary assessments using a combination of factors: the number of vehicles parked at hunting areas, the number of deer brought to check stations and conversations with deer processors and conservation officers.
Those conclusions get refined, once hunter survey data is compiled.
The surveys are mailed to hunters after the season, or get completed by them online at bit.ly/surveymi
. The final results are reported after the first of the year.
“Our (preliminary) numbers were below normal, and it could be the cold and the corn,” said Katie Keen, a DNR wildlife technician in the DNR’s Cadillac office.
“If you needed two-wheel or four-wheel drive to get to a hunting area before, this year, you needed a snowmobile. We know some people couldn’t access their hunting spots, and the roads were so nasty that people didn’t get off the highway to go to check stations.”
Those who did stop brought in bucks that were bigger than usual. Antler point restrictions (APRs) were implemented in northwest Michigan counties two years ago.
They require hunters to shoot older deer and prohibit shooting younger ones.
APRs are controversial. Some hunters want to shoot any buck. Others believe restraint helps create an older, healthier deer herd.
“Last year, the harvest was on the low side because hunters couldn’t take 1.5-year-old bucks,” Keen said. “This year, we are seeing more 2.5-year and 3.5-year bucks and a few 4.5-year-old bucks due to that change. The deer were healthy. We aren’t seeing unusually small beam diameters (because of the effects of a cold winter last year). They are typical of deer that age.”
But that wasn’t the case in the Upper Peninsula. Terry Minzey, the DNR’s Upper Peninsula wildlife supervisor, said broad swaths of landscape were buried in deep snow, compounding the effects of last year’s very severe winter. The snow pack ran from 18 inches in the eastern U.P. to 40 inches west of Ishpeming, and as much as 100 inches on the far western end. Minzey estimated the U.P. buck harvest is down by 55 percent from 2013, and 70 percent below the 10-year average.
“The deer that came in (to check stations) were healthy and had high levels of fat, but their antler development was retarded from what we normally expect,” Minzey said. “The 3.5-year-old bucks have antlers typical of a 2.5-year-old deer due to the rough weather we have had.”
Far fewer yearling deer showed up in the U.P. harvest. They made up only 16 percent, where 40 percent is typical.
“That suggests that the 2013 fawns took a hit during the winter of 2013, and another hit in 2014,” Minzey said. “We believe that number of fawns that were born and survived this season were probably only 25 percent of what is normal.”
Minzey estimated before the season that the U.P. deer population was down by 35 percent going into the season, because of last winter.
He said he expects things will be worse in 2015.
Appears on MLive Outdoors.