Column: Here at last, here at last

ESCANABA — It’s here! The 2017 Michigan firearm deer hunt is underway, a treasured and highly celebrated holiday in our state. It’s a time to say goodbye to the common day rat race to take time off from work, travel varying distances to rekindle friendships. Sometimes that aspect of the season has a higher priority than actual hunting, depending on age class of the camp residents.

I saw a posting on social media this week that stated, “Once again the general population of Cornell in Delta County has tripled.” There were actually a couple complaints of heavy traffic throughout the days leading up to Nov. 15. Trucks were highest in the mix, pulling campers for set-up on public land, beds full of gear including tree stands, ATVs and maybe even some groceries. One thing for sure is that everyone knows it’s a year to have a pair of high boots with your gear.

Rainfall across the Upper Peninsula has been heavy over the last four plus months with an average 148 day total of 28.6 inches. There was a break in October and a lot of moisture was absorbed, but it didn’t take long to return with the weather so far this month. Opening day came with a constant rain and little wind. It made the woods quiet and hard for listening for approaching deer. Those of us in a hunting blind had to deal with the tick, tick sounds from rain as well. On top of that, this year I’m in direct competition for my spot as a red squirrel had taken up residence.

I start scouting for deer sign in the area each year around Labor Day weekend. It’s usually starting to cool down and there’s a touch of color as the ground ferns die off and trees begin to ready for winter. I have several spots to hunt, but my favorite is a stilt blind back near the edge of a swamp. I walked past the blind several times during my strolls and only noticed the outside had new markings of a bear trying to enter. Prior visits had claw marks starting about seven feet up, which is sign that this one is a fairly big adult. This year, however, the side and top of the door were clawed up and that could be any age bear as it had to have stood on one of four steps up. By late October, I decided to look inside and see if I had forgot anything and that the ports for viewing opened and that my homemade swivel shooting chair was in good repair. I soon found that this squirrel has loaded the interior with spruce, balsam or pine cones as a winter stash of food, and had built a nest on and into my chair seat. What a mess!

It took me a good half hour to toss out the new residents possibles and secure the door from any bear that might yet be roaming nearby. When I showed up on opening day, it was obvious I had not intimidated the little furry creature as it had not only moved back in, but this time bored into the seat base and covered it with a mix of leaves, moss, a little fur and all the foam padding bitten out piece by piece. As I approached the blind, the red squirrel bolted up a tree and repeatedly chanted its alerting chirp. This time I tossed and scattered about everything it had collected. I must have been sitting quiet enough as the red-colored monster tried to get back inside three times in the afternoon.

As everyone reported in that evening, all except me, had seen deer and for the first time, more bucks than does. It was also a consensus that mating (the rut) season is in full swing, at least in our area.

At one spot Kevin MacBride, a regular at camp for two decades, had a young three-point buck come through. To his west, my brother Jeff had a nice four-point as the two “g” tines were upright and didn’t branch until well above the ears and off the long main beams. Southwest of me is where my son Tony is sitting and he saw more deer than anyone with three does that hung around a good part of the afternoon. They moved away when the four bucks that he saw come through, Each one was chasing does for breeding. At one point, a small three-pointer challenged the six-point, but quickly backed off once a reverse challenge presented.

I headed back to camp and readied to travel over to the Rusty Rail bar/restaurant and deer check-in station for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) in Cornell in time to host the annual five-day “Deer Hunter’s Report.” I found that they had already registered five deer that were all bucks and included a huge eight-pointer weighing in at 160 pounds. As an incentive to register your buck or doe, those brought into the Rusty Rail are eligible for a random drawing for a youth and adult rifle. The same goes for the annual Deer Pole that takes place tonight at Hilltop RV Super Store in Escanaba tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. that will have on air updates from radio station WYKX-FM 104.7.

All in all, it seems we are seeing recovery in some places. One more mild winter may certainly provide some well developed bucks, putting smiles onto the faces of hunters. The rain is an inconvenience but I’d rather see it wet than feet of snow that triggered a mass migration and resulted in huge losses since 2013.

Good luck to all and may you continue the traditions that deer camp provides.

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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.