ESCANABA - The clock keeps ticking and folks like me are chomping at the bit to head out to camp or our favorite woodland haunt as the opener of the 2009 firearm deer hunting season approaches.
Trying to forecast the success potential for hunters in pursuit of the wily whitetail is an ongoing process that begins shortly after the close of each season and continues through summer until quotas and regulatory changes go into effect Aug. 1. That is when the new Michigan Hunting and Trapping Guidebook is published, by statutory requirement.
Michigan continues to sit high in the list of states with good numbers of deer taken. In 2007, Michigan was second only to Wisconsin in total harvest and still has nine seasons that rank in the highest 32 nationally.
2008 saw a change in the UP statistics not only in deer harvested but in hunting pressure, both down for the season. The shift from 2007 showed an aggregate change of only 1,000 deer statewide for firearm, however the success for UP hunters was down 22 percent from the previous season, approximately 9,000 less deer taken.
The northern Lower Peninsula increased almost 6,000 deer taken, recovering from some dismal years after the issue of bovine tuberculosis, and the southern LP continued its reign as the dominant area for deer harvest numbers.
Here the UP is divided into eastern and western halves, with highway US 41 as the approximate median. Biologist Terry Minzey covers the eastern side and Bob Doepker is responsible for the west.
The eastern UP had another bad winter with early snows that stayed around to an extended period. Minzey estimated a loss in deer population from the winter of 2007-8 to be 10 to 15 percent. He indicates the same for last winter.
"Hunters will have to spend more time in the bush in order to get their money's worth from their license. We are also going to see an absence of two and a half year old buck, yearling bucks and fawns again this year," Minzey said.
Most of the deer management units in the eastern are closed to antlerless deer hunting with the exception of DMU 121 and 017 (private land only) and Drummond Island which is 50 percent publicly owned. There are some public land permits available on Drummond.
The good news from Minzey in the eastern UP is that ruffed grouse hunting has been good and snowshoe hare are doing well, which should afford upland game hunters more recreational opportunities, especially those who have beagles for rabbit hunting.
It does appear however that woodcock continues a downward trend, primarily due to a rough spring.
In the western UP, Doepker indicates the rapid transition from winter to spring mitigated similar impacts from a harsh winter for deer in southern Dickinson County, all of Menominee County and parts of Delta County.
According to Doepker, "It was kind of an unusual winter in that snow came early and it continued every day through mid January, then it didn't seem to snow any more. Unfortunately we didn't have a lot of warm weather in that period to reduce the snow pack. There were also a good number of days that saw temperatures 10 to 20 (degrees) below zero.
"We no longer use 'chill pots' to measure the significance of wind chill (part of the old Winter Severity Indexing system). It is possible that we under repr," he said.
Doepker indicated that given the similar overlaps of winter to the previous season, we may very well experience another drop in deer, like those indicated by Minzey in the eastern half of the UP. Last year showed a 13 percent decline in buck harvest in the west and the same may be expected this year.
What remains good for western UP deer hunters is the variety of hunting conditions. You can move from relatively high deer densities along agricultural sites in the south to remote locations in the highlands of the Porcupine Mountains.
Those deer management units available to antlerless hunting will see some reductions, and as of Wednesday there were still about 6,400 private land permits and only about 550 public land permits for antlerless hunters in DMU 055 (Menominee County).
There are just over 2,200 private land permits for antlerless deer hunters in DMU 155 (Delta County) where all the public land permits are sold out.
Another dilemma for deer hunters this year will be that 51 percent of the Deer Check Stations throughout the state will be closed. Those remaining open will have limited hours of operation as wildlife technicians and biologists are in short supply for time due to departmental cut backs.
Hunters should check the MDNR web-site for times and dates area stations will be available.
In the southern UP, the Rusty Rail in Cornell will be open for deer registration throughout the firearm hunting season. Any deer brought in for registration will be eligible for a random drawing for both a youth and adult rifle that includes a scope and case. The prizes are offered again by Derouin's Auto Body and Collision of Escanaba.
The 12th Annual Deer Poll will again take place Nov. 17 from 6 - 9 p.m., (EST) at Island Resort and Casino in Harris. There will also be a random drawing for prizes on all deer registered that evening that includes muzzleloaders from UP Whitetails Association, and a weekend stay at the casino.
Top buck of the evening will receive a certificate worth $300 towards a mount at a taxidermist of choice.
Both locations are sanctioned as official deer registration points for the MDNR.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.