ESCANABA - Hunters who are out to bag the big buck this hunting season may find the hunt more challenging than last year due in part to the length of last winter.
"In terms of what we're anticipating, it's probably going to be a little bit tougher firearm season this year," said David Jentoft, DNR wildlife biologist at the Sault Ste. Marie Field Office and point person for deer information in the U.P.
According to Jentoft, last winter was particularly hard on the deer population. With snows reaching into April, many deer simply did not survive and the number of fawns produced was lower than average.
Delta County hunters and others who hunt in the south central region of the Upper Peninsula may be more successful than hunters in other U.P. regions where snowfall was more plentiful.
"The (effects of the winter) still apply, just maybe not quite as much as in some of those northern, higher snow areas," said Jentoft.
Deer throughout the U.P. had the benefit of a good growing season for area crops this summer, which, to the chagrin of farmers, provided the deer with food to recover from the winter months.
However, in the south central region, where there are more farms for deer to feed on, the combination of milder winters and more agricultural land is expected to lead to deer being better prepared for the coming winter and a higher population density overall.
There may be more deer in the south central U.P. for hunters to draw from, but because the DNR is predicting a lower than average deer population this season, U.P. Deer Management Units scaled back the number of antlerless deer permits available to hunters. This year, only six DMUs provided the licenses in the U.P., down from 11 in 2012. All six units are located in the south central U.P.
"I don't know that we're going to see quite as good antler development as we did last year, but it's probably better than it could have been," said Jentoft, noting that increase in available food over the summer caused by a productive farming season could offset the effects of the winter on antler growth for bucks.
While the DNR believes the population has been affected by the winter, currently there is no deer population information available. Population numbers maintained by the DNR are based off of hunter surveys distributed after the season has finished and deer brought to DNR check stations throughout the state.
"Hunters are welcome to bring their deer into check stations to have the deer aged, and when they go, they get a cooperation patch as an incentive," said Jentoft, referencing the patches that have been distributed to successful hunters since the 1972.
Around 3,000 to 4,000 deer live in the U.P. in any given year. Since 2009, and a series of mild winters, the deer population has been on the rise, and Jentoft expects that trend will resume once the population has recovered from last winter.
The DNR predicts bucks brought to check stations this year will on average be older bucks between two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half years old.
"We'll have to wait and see what the outcome is, but we're not expecting as many of those year and a half old deer out on the landscape," said Jentoft.