2017 deer hunt shows improvement

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Assistant Sarah Zibrowski examines a deer head that will be tested for chronic wasting disease Thursday.

ESCANABA — Thursday marked the last day of the state’s 2017 firearm deer season, which started on Nov. 15. Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Biologist Karen Sexton said the season has proven to be a successful one for many Upper Peninsula-based hunters.

In 2016, 415 deer were checked at the DNR’s Escanaba office. Sexton said the office will not have finalized deer check numbers for 2017 until they close this evening.

“We still check deer through (today),” she said.

However, numbers for 2017 are already above 2016’s tally.

“We can certainly say that we are ahead of last year’s deer check numbers,” Sexton said. She noted deer check numbers have increased significantly this year both locally and across the U.P.

One major factor behind this increase in deer check numbers — and deer population numbers in some (but not all) parts of the U.P. — has been the relatively mild winters of 2015-16 and 2016-17 in the area.

“(That) allowed fawns to recruit to the older age class as well as … better over-winter survival rates,” Sexton said. She noted hunters have reportedly seen many young deer this November.

Deer checks got off to a relatively slow start in Escanaba this year. A few days into 2017’s firearm deer season, the DNR’s Escanaba office had checked fewer deer than they had checked at the same point in 2016.

The office’s deer check numbers began to pick up on Saturday, Nov. 18.

“We checked 99 deer on that day,” Sexton said. According to Sexton, this year’s slow start may have been the result of both colder weather allowing hunters to let their deer hang for a day or two and hunters waiting until the weekend to come into town.

The DNR’s Escanaba office has also received more than 30 deer heads from hunters interested in having their deer tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD).

“They can volunteer and have that tested,” Sexton said. Currently, CWD has not been detected in deer from the U.P.

Sexton said if the winter of 2017-18 ends up being average or mild in the area, the DNR believes the U.P.’s 2018 firearm deer season could be a strong one.

“Prospects look good for next season,” she said.