July 23 11:41 AM

2007 Firearm deer forecast

DNR Wildlife Supervisors answer our questions

U.P. hunters should see more deer afield this year.
November 01, 2007
2007 represents the 12th year that I have been putting together archery and firearm deer season forecasts. This year I went right to the source...the folks who manage the Michigan deer herd...the wildlife supervisors representing each of the eight districts. I wanted to know what sets their unit apart from others across the state. I also desired to know how district deer herds were doing including special problems their units have had to deal with.

All in all, this report should afford the hunter a clearer picture of what to expect in a given area.

I have listed the eight wildlife management units; counties contained; management supervisor; address and phone number of each district office. In this manner, should a hunter have questions, he or she can stop at the MDNR Service Center or give them a call.

Bob Doepker, Western Upper Peninsula Wildlife Unit Supervisor, 1990 US-41, Marquette (906-228-6561). Counties: Keweenaw, Houghton, Ontonagon, Gogebic, Iron, Baraga, Marquette, Dickinson, Menominee, Alger (West), Delta.

Q) Has the herd increased, decreased or stayed constant?

A) Across the board, WUP deer have definitely increased. Hunters will see more deer afield. A relatively easy winter, affording little or no stress, is directly responsible for this increase in deer numbers. Little lake effect snow was apparent throughout the winter and spring greenup occurred early. As a direct result, we show an excellent fawn crop coupled with a low winter mortality rate.

Q) What does the WUP offer that is not available in other areas of the state?

A) We provide a hunter with choices! The WUP offers a greater potential for experiencing back country, wilderness hunting. It is interesting to note that three-quarters of the annual UP deer harvest, is taken from the western end of the Peninsula. And, two-thirds of the annual bear harvest for the entire state results from western UP bears taken during season.

Q) Do you have any hints for hunter success in your District?

A) A hunter new to any area should spend as much time afield before season as possible. Advance scouting for deer sign, locating acorns (western UP usually has good stands for hard mast), checking other available food sources for resident deer, etc.

Q) Anything else you would care to add to this discussion?

A) Hunters should carry a GPS, compass, and sport good area maps. Much of WUP public land is wild land, so come prepared. We do not like to see hunters get lost in the woods. Again, do your homework prior to the hunt and it should pay off well.

Rex Ainsley, Eastern Upper Peninsula Wildlife Unit Supervisor, 5100 Hwy. M-123, Newberry (906-293-5131). Counties: Schoolcraft, Alger (East), Luce, Mackinac, Chippewa.

Q) In your estimation has the local herd increased, decreased, stayed the same?

A) Overall, it has increased and hunters can expect to see more deer this fall. But these increases have a lot to do with past milder winters that have been experienced across the entire eastern Upper Peninsula. However, I must remind hunters, that all may not note this population increase, for some specific areas have shown additional deer afield, others have not. A hunter may find more or less deer than usual, depending solely on where he hunts.

Q) What advice can you afford a hunter new to the area?

A) Now, during this interview, we are experiencing a severe drought with little rain and a huge (19,000 acre) wildfire is burning north of Newberry. Most of our EUP forested lands are tinder dry. The Sleeper Lake Fire, once extinguished, will have had an effect on those hunters seeking deer within the Tahquamenon River watershed. Those deer will have fled to new areas in search of food and shelter. Just like with humans...when one grocery store closes, another must be located.

Q) What has the EUP to offer

that sets it apart from the rest of the state?

A) Two main features. First, a great deal of public fact, far more percentage-wise than any other MDNR District. Second, the EUP is bordered by three of the Great Lakes (Michigan, Huron and Superior), which brings about unique weather situations, from milder temps to the south to severe winters to the north. Early snowfalls may send Lake Superior Watershed deer into deeryard motivation.

Q) What about EUP natural deer browse?

A) Area deer tend to browse on agricultural products plus natural woody shrubs, aspen regeneration plots and, soft mast as we have few oaks or beechnut trees offering hard mast. The EUP holds a great deal of low ground and hunters can make use of small swales and swamps found on public acreage.

Q) Do you have any advice for hunters not familiar with the area?

A) If possible, travel up north a good two to three weeks prior to season. Bring along a good Plat Book which denotes private/public property. Plat Books can be purchased from the County Clerk's office in the Chippewa County Courthouse; Mackinac County Courthouse, Luce County Courthouse, Alger County Courthouse...Sault Ste. Marie, St. Ignace, Newberry and Munising respectively.

Stop into local sporting goods stores...ask questions.

Glen Matthews, Northeastern Lower Peninsula (LP) Wildlife Unit Supervisor, 1732 W. M-32 Hwy., Gaylord (989-732-3541). Counties: Emmet, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, Alpena, Montmorency, Otsego, Antrim, Crawford, Oscoda, Alcona, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco.

Q) How does your Unit differ from the Upper Peninsula or Southern Michigan?

A) Basically, being intermediate sets us apart. From Tawas to West Branch to the Big Mac Bridge at the Straits, we afford hunters a superb mix of hunting opportunities. We range from high plains to low productive soil areas to sand country to heavily forested sections. Hunters will see more deer in the Tawas area than to the far northern counties. We certainly provide hunters choices with a great mix of habitat for deer hunting. Lowest deer densities will be found in Antrim and Cheyboygan Counties, but nice trophy racks have been harvested from areas such as these. One has to hunt hard where deer numbers remain less than more productive lands.

Q) What advice would you offer a hunter not familiar with your District?

A) One thing is that we have a great resource here, as the Northeastern Unit holds a lot of public hunting land. For example, you have the Federal Huron/Manistee Forest which provides over two-million acres for public use. State lands are hunter friendly in both Roscommon and Ogemaw Counties. Many public land areas show light hunter pressure, which hunters tend to appreciate.

If you like to "walk" when deer hunting; well, the space is out there!

Q) Do you regularly check local deer camps?

A) Some, but not like we were formerly used to. Actually, we are extremely busy collecting deer heads at MDNR checkpoints for transportation to the DNR Lab at Lansing to be examined for signs of bovine TB. And since the rate of the disease has shown a slight increase during the past year, we will be even more vigilant.

But we talk to a lot of hunters during this process. In 2005, we listened to constant grumbling. However, during 2006, the harvest exceeded expectations and hunters changed their stories, reporting buck poles holding deer and seeing more whitetails afield. By far, hunters were pleased with the 2006 hunt. In accordance, the Department somewhat reduced antlerless quotas for 2007, but actually modestly.

Q) Do you have any personal input?

A) I enjoy scouting for deer during small game hunting. A squirrel hunt might reveal buck rubs or scrapes or other deer sign. Checking out normal deer behavior during an early small game hunt often leads to tips as where to deer hunt during season.

Larry Smith (Acting) Northwestern LP Wildlife Unit Supervisor, 8015 Mackinaw Trail, Cadillac, MI 49601 (231-775-9727). Counties: Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Mason, Lake, Osceola, Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta.

Q) How does your Unit differ from the UP or Southern Michigan?

A) Basically, we are close to several metro areas; specifically, Grand Rapids, Flint and Kalamazoo, drawing scored of hunters wishing to experience the "Up North" deer hunt, yet may not have the time to travel further on to the Upper Peninsula. Furthermore, many of these hunters own deer camps or cottages in the region.

Our deer population numbers are not as high as in southern Michigan, but we have good deer populations coupled with far more public hunting land than a hunter can find to the south.

Area farmers not only tolerate deer but enjoy seeing and hunting them as well, which differs from the southern scenerio where hunting is basically kept private for friends and family.

Q) What advice would you offer to a hunter new to your District?

A) He or she will find habitat variations. Contact one of our wildlife biologists and ask questions: Cole (Cadillac), Smith (Baldwin), Green (Paris) or Earle (Traverse City).

Hunters like to hunt different types of terrain. One might prefer acorn crops; another might look for small swales to hunt. Good all-around bet...check out roads least traveled well before opening day of season to watch for whitetail movement.

Q) Do you check local deer camps?

A) Not in an organized fashion, but we like to be on patrol rather than servicing deer check stations. We choose to seek out hunt camps where we can talk with hunters relating their success or failure.

Q) Is the deer herd up or down in your District this year?

A) Slightly up; however, the herd right now is still at the low end of our management goal. Hunters will find more deer to the south than to counties to the north. For example; counties south of M-55 experience milder winters plus sport better deer habitat, therefore, they can support larger numbers of deer.

Q) How about available public lands?

A) Best bet; Pere Marquette State Forest.

Q) Any personal input?

A) I would advise hunters to talk to area wildlife biologists, ask directions as where to scout, get afield well ahead of season and come prepared with county maps so you can show a biologist exactly where you might like to hunt.

MUCC puts out an excellent county map book as does DeLorme Publishing with their Michigan Atlas.

Tim Reis, Saginaw Bay LP Wildlife Management Supervisor, (989-684-9141). Counties: Clare, Gladwin, Arenac, Huron, Isabella, Midland, Bay, Tuscola, Sanilac, Saginaw.

Q) Has the Saginaw/Thumb area deer herd increased as much as other southern units?

A) Indeed. Our District holds 10 counties including the Thumb. The varied habitats including croplands, forested areas, wetlands, etc. has really produced some nice deer. And we have a lot of deer.

Q) Are vehicle/deer accidents on the rise? Usually such accidents indicate deer numbers are also on the rise:

A) The short answer would be, yes. The longer version would take into effect the fact that today we have far more vehicles on the roads, more deer than ever before, and obviously more vehicle/deer accidents.

Such accidents are used as an indicator of a rise or decline in deer numbers. Adam Bump, wildlife Biologist (Caseville) commented that over the past four or five years, vehicle/deer accidents have been fairly consistent throughout the entire Saginaw Bay/Thumb District.

Q) What, if any, public land is available to hunters?

A) Most lands remain agricultural showing crops of beans, sugar beets and corn...all crops readily available to deer.

Farmers have been in the Ag Business for generations and hunters have little chance of hunting farm acreage. Local farmers like to keep deer hunting as a family affair. Herd management is difficult. Actually, it almost appears as though farm managers wish to have their cake and eat it too. Why, you ask? Well, they annually apply for crop damage permits, yet stubbornly refuse hunter access to their property which in essence certainly would help thin the herd and cut down crop damage. We realize that farmers worry about liabilities when allowing hunters access to hunt. This is a situation that must be addressed.

Q) Can the Southern Michigan herd actually be satisfactorily reduced with so much land in private ownership?

A) Gosh, I really doubt it!

Q) Do you have any personal advice to add to this discussion?

A) It should prove to be an interesting season if hunters can find the proper habitat for success. And it appears as though we will experience a poor acorn crop this year, but soft mast should remain plentiful. Good luck!

David Dominic, South Central LP, Wildlife Management Supervisor, Rose Lake (517-641-4903). Counties: Montcalm, Gratiot, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee.

Q) Your deer management unit is huge, stretching as far south as the Ohio border, which counties' deer herd needs the most thinning?

A) We have way too many deer across the entire District!

Q) What role does the farmer and homeowner play in keeping the herd in check?

A) Farmers need to open additional lands to hunters besides friends and family. Homeowners may enjoy seeing the deer, but tend to complain when whitetails browse on their shrubs and flowers. Here again, they cannot have it both ways.

Q) Is there any natural deer food available other than agricultural crops?

A) Area deer have adapted to eating anything that is available. Ag products are high on their grocery list and they take advantage of it.

Q) Does your District experience any special problems not seen to the North?

A) Yes, We have a huge herd to manage. Fifty percent of all deer harvested across the entire state, come from Southern Michigan. Deer numbers drastically need to come down...We have way too many deer! I cannot stress that fact often enough!

Land fragmentation is a related problem. Large acreage parcels have been broken up into five and 10 acre plots. More and more development is creeping into these fractional margins.

Q) Where could a hunter locate public hunting land?

A) Actually, we have more open hunting land than one might expect. We show 34 State Forest Recreational Areas and State Game Areas that allow hunting. Check out Gratiot/Saginaw, Maple River, Flat River, Waterloo, Ortonville or others.

Q) Anything personal you wish to tell hunters about the upcoming hunting seasons?

A) All 12 counties in this Deer Management Unit are included in the special Late Antlerless Firearm Deer Season that beings Dec. 17, 2007 and runs through Jan. l, 2008. Only antlerless deer on private property may be harvested.

Steve Chadwick, Southwestern LP Wildlife Biologist, 621 North 10th Street, Plainwell (269-685-6851). Counties: Muskegon, Ottawa, Kent, Allegan, Barry, VanBuren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph, Branch.

Q) How does your management unit differ from others?

A) We represent more of an agricultural center holding scattered woodlots along with wetlands and swamps. Five counties are situated along the shores of Lake Michigan's sand dune country. Habitat variety affords hunters a choice.

Q) Has the deer herd increased, decreased or stayed the same?

A) We have a fairly large deer herd with numbers somewhat skewered towards big bucks! Every season, large-bodied, heavily-antlered bucks are harvested from VanBuren, Calhoun and Branch Counties.

Q) What public lands are available to hunters?

A) Our largest State Game Areas include Allegan with 50,000 acres and Barry with 20,000 acres. Our southern two tiers of counties hold scattered State Game Areas numbering 11 or 12 and ranging is size from 100 to 4,000 acres.

Q) Can the Southern Michigan deer herd be reduced? Some say it cannot.

A) I would say that throughout our agricultural areas, farmers appear to be far more motivated in keeping the deer population down than in other regions across southern Michigan. When said farmer sees over 70 deer feeding in his bean field, it is apparent that something must be done. Is such extreme cases, farmers may decide to open acreage to hunters over and above the traditional friends and family groups.

Q) Anything personal you would care to add to this discussion?

A) My wife and I are fortunate as we hunt private acreage. I pride myself in knowing that on average, I devote approximately 45 days per season to deer hunting.

Timothy Payne, Southeastern LP Wildlife Management Unit supervisor, 2600 W. 8 Mile Road, Southfield (248-359-9040). Counties: Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, Monroe.

Q) How did safety issues measure up during the 2006 deer hunting seasons?

A) In 2005 we had 3 hunting related deaths and 11 injuries; in 2006 there were again 3 deaths but injuries went up slightly to 15. Keeping in mind that some 2,200,000 licenses are annually sold during deer season, these figures indicate hunting to be a relatively safe sport.

If hunters remember the basics of safety afield, he or she should experience a safe hunt. Always employ caution. Use common sense. Careful gun handling. Know where your partner is. Be sure of your target. Always point your gun in a safe direction.

Q) Are vehicle/deer accidents on the rise which often times prove to be an indicator of an increase in deer populations?

A) During the year we have numbered 6,572 vehicle/deer accidents across our District, indicating that our deer herd is up slightly; actually, 9 percent over last year. This number represents our third highest accident figure, which was surprising to myself and my staff as we did not expect those figures to be at the high end.

Deer populations are up in Oakland, Genesee and Lapeer. While increases have occurred in others, that increase is not as evident. One county shows a decrease. The bulk of the District's herd remains in Genesee, Lapeer and Oakland Counties.

Q) Can the southern Michigan herd ever be brought under control?

A) I called a staff meeting when you asked me this question. I had a gut feeling that we would come up with a host of ideas...and that we did! First and foremost we manage a District with an urban twist; unhuntable lands in the form of parks and recreation areas where deer thrive. And in a sense we are in what I term as being a transition zone where farms mix with urban development. More and more subdivisions are eating up chunks of former vacant land parcels so that hunting opportunities are drastically reduced.

If hunters can gain access, they can experience some of the best hunting in the state of Michigan. But that "if" represents a very big word at times.

So what can be done about this overpopulation of whitetails? Answers from my staff showed:

Encourage farmers to take far more antlerless deer.

Keep crop damage and antlerless permits liberal.

Several years ago deer had to be harvested from Huron/Clinton Metro Park due to the fact they had nearly destroyed their habitat and protected plants were facing extinction.

Too many hunters are hunting "bucks only." In fact the District's buck harvest was really up last season.

Spot areas where populations have greatly risen and target them with additional crop damage and antlerless deer permits.

Southern Lapeer County holds a great deal of large land parcels where the owners, more or less, control hunting. Again the aim is for heavy-bodied, large-antlered bucks.

Q) Anything else you would care to add to this discussion?

A) Yes. Throughout the summer we have experienced a drought. Recently we had heavy rains; however, should the rains have come too late to save crops, our deer may be in trouble with the coming of winter. Southern herds rarely suffer adverse winter effects. We are in a wait and see mode at the present time.

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