ESCANABA - The firearm deer season came to a close Friday and it proved to be successful for many area hunters. Department of Natural Resources officials report significantly higher number of deer checked at DNR stations than average.
Around 875 deer were checked at the Escanaba deer check station during the firearm season. This is the highest number of deer recorded at the Escanaba station in a single season since 2000, when 1,100 deer were examined.
"We're well over our 10 year average," said Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician Vern Richardson. For the past 10 years around 715 deer have been checked annually in Escanaba.
Richardson believes the increase in checked deer is due to an increase in the whitetail population as a result of milder winters.
"We've had a number of light winters in a row so we haven't had as many deer die off due to winter related causes," said Richardson.
The last winters that the DNR considered harsh enough to cause damage to the deer population were in 2007 and 2008. Three mild winters have given the deer an opportunity to rebound from the winter related deer deaths sustained in those years.
Besides the lack of deaths caused by winter related starvation the past few winters, does that have access to more food during the winter are more likely to produce healthy fawns. These fawns have better survival rates than those born to does who have experienced a harsh winter.
Deer checked at the Escanaba station also had more fat deposits than in recent years. However, Richardson doesn't believe the fat deposits mean this winter will be particularly hard on the deer population.
"There are lots of myths out there that deer put on more fat before a hard winder, but they do that before a light winter, too," said Richardson.
"The fact that deer have more fat I don't believe means anything. It just means that the deer are healthy," he added.
Local hunters had a relatively warm hunting season which started out strong. By the third day of hunting this season, more deer were being checked at the Escanaba Field Office than in the first three days of any season since 2006.
Even near the end of firearm season, deer were still being brought to the field office. "I had a really nice 8 point (Wednesday, Nov. 28), so even this late in the season they're coming in," said Richardson.
If the winter stays mild it is possible that next year could also yield a high number of successful deer hunts. However, there are currently no projections available for next year's deer population.
While the firearm season may be over, there's still an opportunity for hunters who were unsuccessful to bag a deer during muzzleloading season. In the U.P. muzzleloading season begins on Dec. 7 and runs until Dec. 16.