2016 Deer harvest number being compiled

ESCANABA — Representatives from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and various outdoors organizations as well as individual sportspersons were present the southern Upper Peninsula Conservation Coalition met in quarterly session last week.

This is the time of year when data collected from the previous firearm deer hunt are tabulated and correlated to lay down a pattern or trend analysis. It is a process that has been in place for decades, however this year saw some variables that leave the ability to draw a strong conclusion up in the air.

The Deer Camp Survey is a voluntary solicitation of fixed deer camps throughout de UP. It was an idea started by MDNR biologist Craig Albright over two decades ago. It started out in the core area of central UP and has grown to all counties and is now an accepted report that provides first hand coverage of hunting season from those who participate.

Another strong influence of harvest numbers is derived by a mail survey, issued statewide to hunters that held a deer license in Michigan. It is a random sample and a common source of data used in many states for the same purpose.

Other information is provided to enable factual discussion by participants from the coalition and provide feedback to the local biologists. That feedback will be put to use as the deadline in projecting recommended changes has to be submitted to the region for consideration sometime in March. After that, the information from all the regions in the State will go to the Wildlife Division for presentation to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC). The NRC must then hold public hearings and then adopt the final numbers by July for print in the regulations publications for Aug. 1, as required by law.

While the harvest numbers from the 2016 hunt are up on an average of 20 percent, they are still down significantly from the ten year average. Another skew to the numbers tabulated was a change in age class of deer taken. For the first time in years, 1.5 year old bucks outnumbered older aged deer killed. Even with a strong campaign maintained by U.P. Whitetails Association that has promoted a “let-em-go and let-em-grow” philosophy to allow advanced age class of deer, hunters seeing deer with good racks of six, eight and even some with 10, a good many of those were young 1.5 age class. The good news is that better antler development at this age is a clear sign deer are finding good nutrition in their habitat. It should also serve as a significant factor in herd recovery after the loses experienced from the severe winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Reports from some of the deer check stations, places where hunters can voluntarily bring deer for registration with the MDNR, indicates less hunters were present. That position was supported by representatives of the MDNR Law Enforcement Division (LED) as conservation officers present at the meeting indicated the number of transient (non-resident) hunters appeared to be way down. Abismal numbers seen the previous two seasons was based as a reason many would not commit their recreation time for hunting up in the UP given the odds of actually taking a deer home.

Another point that indicates the deer herd may be recovering is that the Deer Camp Survey respondents indicated that in the western UP, fawns seen per hunter has risen significantly. In fact, the numbers reported were the highest since 1996 with only one year higher since the survey started. It should be noted that the numbers seen vary between individual Deer Management Units (DMUs), but the average find is up.

A major concern often noted on the Deer Camp Survey is the number of predators spotted during season. The majority of the time the primary species are coyote and wolf. There are also some bobcats that are reported but are the least highest of those spotted. The overall sightings reported in the 2016 report are at a seven year low.

One of the reasons coyotes may be down is that a significant wave of distemper has hit the population which may also be infesting the wolves. Distemper is a viral disease of some animals, especially dogs, causing fever, coughing, and catarrh. Some mange is also being reported. Hunters agree this is a sign of over population in certain segments and an indicator that if managed properly, which includes annual harvest, they would be less susceptible to infestation.

The last category of relative information regarding deer harvested in 2016 was related to the use of crop damage permits and Deer Management Assistance Permits (DMAPS).

There are only three DMUs remaining open for antlerless (doe) harvest. Some male deer without legal antlers (button bucks / fawns) are also taken on antlerless permits. Any farm experiencing damage and crop losses are eligible for crop damage permits after the MDNR inspects the land for validation. The number of DMAPS issued has raised some concern by those attending the coalition meeting. All deer taken on crop damage are reported back to the MDNR and harvest numbers understood.

All the information presented and responses from this and the seven other coalition meetings that take place in the UP, will be compiled and weighed with the other data in setting projections for the region. This year’s report will be significant as it is the start of a three year cycle of set regulations for Michigan. Given the multitude of changes seen in the last several years, all of which are factors in what we retain as a prime game species, deer management and harvest policy (regulations) remain a tough juggling act for the MDNR to do.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.