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Deer survey has interesting results

March 18, 2011
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - In just about three weeks, you'll hear about them as being presented for information only. A month later they'll be on the table before the Natural Resources Commission for action so they can be sent for the statutory requirement of publication by Aug. 1.

They are the fall hunting regulations, and in particular the deer hunting regulations.

Part of the package will be seasonal quotas offered by each Deer Management Unit across the state. In the Upper Peninsula, it may mean some changes in an already dismal group of seasons, where antlerless deer hunting was shut down because the herd remains below preferred quotas.

We've been facing this shift since the winters of 1995-96, where severe conditions killed off a significant segment of the deer population. Numbers plummeted and then rebounded by 1999, creating the biggest harvest year on record, over 548,000 deer taken statewide.

Unfortunately the numbers of surviving deer in the U.P. dropped off again after another severe winter in 2000, and remained on the decline, with some rise and fall in between.

Why didn't we see the big increase or rebound as they did before.

In fact, deer seen per hunter day in 2009 dropped to the second lowest in the last 15-year average at 1.9, compared to 1.6 in 1997. In 2010, numbers climbed back to 2.6, almost reaching the 15-year average.

For the last 17 years, Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologist Craig Albright has spearheaded a program directly involving the hunters from the firearm deer hunting season. Called the "Deer Camp Survey," Albright and his colleagues set up a basic reporting form that was shared with any and all camps in the western U.P. that wanted to participate.

From the question content of the report, they would help ascertain what hunters saw, shot and observed through the season. Participating camps were also provided a venue to express personal feelings on issues related to the season.

As a bonus incentive, U.P. Whitetails Association contributed two jackets and 10 sweatshirts for random drawing to participants as prizes.

Some of the good news to come out of the annual report was the rating of the system.

While we saw improved winter conditions in 2008 and 2009, deer numbers remained low and with the closures of antlerless deer hunting in many of the DMU's, the hunters' rating of season as being poor, climbed to an all time high of 66 percent. Two thirds of all hunters in the western UP thought the season of 2009 stunk!

While still a negative, and given the evidence now being seen regarding carryover of 1.5 to 2.5 year old deer, hunter "dis-satisfaction" improved with a total of 45 percent camps rating it poor. While still a significant number, it is a 21 percent improvement.

These numbers paralleled the opinion of hunters regarding the deer herd trend comparing last year to 2009, with again a sizeable portion of hunters, 43 percent, saying there were less deer. The previous survey in 2009 showed a whopping 87 percent of camps reporting the deer herd was down.

I look at these categories as most significant because the best part of hunting deer is seeing deer.

By all indications, and in understanding the winter of 2011 was even more mild than the last two, and given that mast was bountiful throughout the year, we may just see a heck of a rebound in 2011.

There are a ton of other reports and graph dynamics within the Deer Camp Survey.

Many of those are numbers put against other indicator reports used by MDNR biologists to create a constant and thus project harvest quotas for the upcoming season.

A big part of the picture is what was found to have been reported in the December mail survey, which gives the MDNR a sampling of kills by hunters, which is then run through a model to give an overall view.

All items will come together when the NRC convenes later this spring to set quotas recommended per DMU for the fall of 2011.

The Deer Camp Survey, like all other estimation formulas used by the MDNR to figure final numbers is not exact. It is a true sampling that covers every DMU in the western U.P., and now reaching on into the eastern segment that includes eastern Delta, most of Alger and all of Schoolcraft counties.

There are even places within the study that address other forms of wildlife, including predators.

In the 2010 firearm season, deer hunters were permitted to shoot coyotes on a small game license whereas they were not in prior seasons. Based on summaries presented in the Deer Camp Survey, hunters may have taken as many as 300 coyotes.

Those added to the numbers taken in special predator hunts and we may be seeing fawns gaining an edge on survival better than previous years as well.

If you'd like a copy of the 2010 Western UP Deer Camp Survey, call Albright at the MDNR Gladstone Field Office (906-786-2351, extension 117). He can mail one out to you or better, stop by to pick one up and save the state a stamp.

Upon reading one, I think you'll not only appreciate the detail these folks look at in formulating projections, you'll further appreciate they want to know how we feel and take the information we provide to heart.

Tim Kobasic is 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 Saturday mornings.



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