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Lower Peninsula deer hunting forecast



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November 01, 2011
Before we can begin the annual deer forecasts for the upcoming deer hunting seasons, we should present a report on how last year's hunt went. Forecasts aren't based on statistics from 'right now' but depend on factoring in whether the herd was up or down from the previous year; were license sales higher in 2010 than 2009; how weather affects the present day deer herd plus numerous other conditions and situations.

Every year Michigan's Department of Natural Resources contacts a sampling of hunters with a harvest survey as a tool to estimate hunter participation, harvest, and hunting effort. Printed below is a summary of the results of that survey. Their answers were important to the total outcome of just how last season went:

In 2010, an estimated 656,000 hunters spent 9.6 million days afield. Statewide, the number of people hunting deer decreased 4%, and their hunting effort decreased 6% between 2009 and 2010. Hunters harvested nearly 418,000 deer, a decrease of about 6% from the number taken in 2009. Statewide, 44% of hunters harvested a deer in 2010, while hunter success was 43% in 2009. About 23% of the hunters took an antlerless deer and 29% took an antlered buck in 2010. About l5% of deer hunters harvested two or more deer.

Statewide, less than 45% of hunters were satisfied with number of deer seen, bucks seen, deer taken, and their overall hunting experience in 2010. However, satisfaction levels increased statewide between 2009 and 2010. About 90,600 hunters used a crossbow during the 2010 archery season, and they harvested about 38,000 deer with the crossbow. About 50% of deer hunters statewide supported antler point restrictions on buck harvest in the Upper Peninsula and 59% of the hunters that preferred to hunt in the UP supported these restrictions in 2010. About 40% of deer hunters statewide supported antler point restrictions on buck harvest in Deer Management Unit 487 and 42% of the hunters that preferred to hunt in the northeast Lower Peninsula supported these restrictions in 2010.

Now that you've read what took place in 2010 compared to 2009, we can begin printing this year's reports as to how individual Michigan DNR wildlife unit supervisors and wildlife biologists are judging the upcoming 2011 firearms deer hunting season. And we must bear in mind that through revision, the state is now divided into four sections; Upper Peninsula (Terry Minzey - Unit Supervisor) Northern Lower Peninsula (Rex Ainslie - Unit Supervisor) Southeastern Lower Peninsula (Tim Payne - Unit Supervisor) Southwestern Lower Peninsula (Sara Schaefer - Unit Supervisor). Where formerly there were 8 distinct divisions, we now have four zones.

Once again, each unit of Michigan's Lower Peninsula was contacted for their input. If you do not see your specific deer hunting area listed, perhaps that particular office did not respond with a report.

Northern Lower Peninsula

Brian Mastenbrook,

Wildlife Habitat Biologist,

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Deer hunting in the Lower Peninsula will have its hotspots with southwest Michigan looking at another great year. David Kenyon MDNR photo

Gaylord Operations Service Center

Area deer came through the winter in very good shape. A really good acorn crop and low snow in the early winter months allowed deer to eat acorns until mid-January.

In most areas deer numbers will be relatively about the same or perhaps a little higher. We hope that deer numbers are coming down in the primarily agricultural area of western Antrim and Charlevoix counties.

We (DNR) are continuing to plant openings on state land and to manage timber to be beneficial to deer to improve the habitat for future generations of whitetails.

Where should a first time hunter concentrate his efforts? Deer will probably be concentrated around hard mast. This year we have good or very good beach nuts and only a few trees with acorns. Seek out these areas to find the most deer or even trophy deer.

Three check stations; Gaylord, Petoskey State Park and Cheboygan Field Office will remain open this season. All three have limited hours so you should call ahead to be sure they are open when you plan to stop by. Gaylord Operations Center phone is 989-732-3541.

Ashley Hippler, Wildlife Biologist,

Cadillac Operations Service Center

The deer in this area seem to have wintered well. We've seen a lot of fawns and healthy looking does giving a good indication that they wintered well and have adequate resources this year as well. This will always vary on a local level but looking at a regional view we believe our number to be good. I think our numbers will stay about the same as last year.

We had a lot of hunter feedback last year saying that they were seeing an increase compared to the previous year. This is what we were seeing as well and we believed it was mainly attributed to a mild winter and a good mast year. This winter was not a very severe winter aside from some heavy storms and we believe it will be another good year for mast production and other available resources.

The DNR works very hard to manage our deer herds. We help the public to understand deer regulations and the reasoning behind them. We try to talk with the public as much as we can to get feedback on what they are seeing and how they feel we can do better. We test suspected deer for disease in order to monitor the health of the herd. We educate hunters about QDM, the benefits of it and how it can make for a healthier herd. We work with local farmers to deal with crop damage by deer. We create and manage food plots for deer. We implement forest treatments to create better habitat for deer.

I would recommend that a novice hunter do a lot of scouting and pick an area rich with mast production such as a good oak stand. Also a young aspen stand would be a good choice if it has recently been cut since the deer will target the young aspen. For a trophy hunter I would recommend scouting some of our swamps. We have had some very nice bucks taken out of our larger cedar swamp areas but you have got to be able to get back in there. The big bucks will make you work for it!

As far as check stations go this year we will operate three in the Northwest portion of the Northern Lower Peninsula. These will include Baldwin, Traverse City and the Cadillac Operations Service Center. Operation hours can be obtained closer to season by calling the Cadillac Operations Center at 231-775-9727.

Jennifer Kleitch, Wildlife Biologist,

Atlanta Field Office

The winter of 2010/2011 was mild enough to allow deer to move and find food and cover much of the time and therefore the herd in this region wintered well. Reports of twin and even triplet fawns have been up this summer, lending to the notion that the deer herd had a relatively easy winter.

Hunters likely won't be able to detect an increase in deer numbers this year. Some areas of the region are seeing increases in deer numbers while others remain stable.

In this region bovine tuberculosis (TB) plays a major role in how we manage the herd. High deer densities and concentrations are known to increase disease transmission. Therefore, the herd is managed to keep densities and concentrations of deer at a lower level than in other areas of the state. This can result in abundant resources being distributed across fewer deer and increase the quality of the deer in the region.

Any hunter should put in time scouting areas and selecting areas with good acorn or beech nut production, good cover nearby, and a water source in the vicinity. Young aspen stands also provide a good food source and hunters can also find deer near agricultural fields such as soybeans or corn. Trophy hunters are likely to find their buck in swamp land or in areas managed for quality deer.

In Presque Isle County there will be two check stations during firearms deer season; one in Onaway, one in Posen. Montmorency and Alpena Counties will have one check station each; one in Atlanta and one in Alpena.

Southeastern L.P.

Tim Payne, Wildlife Unit Supervisor,

Southfield Operations Center

The SE Region includes (Bay, Saginaw, Tuscola, Huron, Sanilac, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, Wayne, Monroe, Lenawee, Jackson, and Hillsdale Counties.

Deer seemed to fare well during the winter of 2010-2011. Although there were some bouts of harsh weather, they were relatively short-lived and did not likely significantly affect whitetail mortalities.

We appear to have somewhat of a mixed bag over the region as far as hunters seeing an increase or decrease in the herd this season. In general reports are for similar to slightly lower deer numbers compared to last year. Due to the cold wet spring, fawn production is thought to be down. Even considering this, overall deer numbers are good and above goal in many of the counties. As always, hunting success will be dependent on the timing of the corn harvest in many areas. Corn planting was delayed in many areas this last spring, and that could have an effect on hunting if corn is still standing November l5th.

You asked what the DNR in this region is doing to better manage the herd. There are three main areas where staffs are involved with deer management:

1) Providing suitable habitat on public lands we manage both to provide better habitat, and provide better hunting opportunities; establishing food plots and meadows that benefit deer and other game such as wild turkey and pheasant; forest management like cutting aspen to diversity age classes of forested habitat and provide browse and cover; and considering the availability of a variety of vegetation types within the landscape when making management decisions on public land.

2) Work with farmers to assist them with deer management and crop damage issues on their farms as needed. We issue out-of-season kill permits and Deer Management Assistance Permits as warranted, to alleviate (not eliminate, by any means) damage caused by concentrated deer use. Focus is towards the Deer Management Assistance Permits as that is an 'in season' type control.

3) Work with interested landowners, hunters, and farmers through different means (whether it be via phone, at a QDMA meeting, on a farm, at someone's hunting property, etc.) to provide information and assistance on deer populations and habitat.

Hunting opportunities per county

Southeastern Michigan Unit

Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac counties: Deer hunters should not overlook the approximately 60,000 acres of public land in the Thumb counties. These State Game and Wildlife areas as well as certain State Park lands open to hunting offer excellent deer hunting opportunities with a variety of habitat types ranging from coastal marshes to farm country to isolated forested swamps…all with very good deer numbers. Because of the relatively dense, quality cover they provide, these state owned lands become particularly attractive to deer once the corn harvest is complete on surrounding private lands.

Bay and Saginaw counties: Bay and Saginaw offer primarily private land hunting because of the limited availability of publicly owned land. Private land hunting can usually produce very good success but hunters will have to spend a great deal of time making the proper contacts and checking local ordinances for permission to hunt these areas. Private properties and state game areas can produce trophy bucks. The Shiawassee River State Game Area, Crow Island State Game Area, and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge are areas that offer quality deer habitat and trophy bucks have been harvested on all these areas in the past. Please contact the offices of these areas prior to your hunt to find out about any hunting restrictions and application requirements.

Oakland, Lapeer, Genesee, Macomb, St. Clair, Livingston counties: First time hunters can have good hunting opportunity on public lands within the area. Some of the trophy deer are on private lands especially in Genesee, Livingston, Lapeer, and parts of Oakland counties.

Wayne, Monroe counties: There are limited state lands in Wayne County, so most deer hunting efforts will take place on private lands. The highest deer population exists in the southwestern portion of Wayne County. For Monroe County the expected buck harvest should be more than the 2010 seasons and antlerless harvest should be fewer than 2010 season; however local crop harvest, hunter pressure, and weather may influence hunting conditions and overall harvest rates.

Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, Washtenaw counties:; The public lands in this area get a lot of activity; it would be best to try to hunt public land on a weekday. Waterloo SRA and Sharonville SRA are large, have several food plots, agricultural fields, and trails that may be attractive to a new hunter. The biggest antlers in the 4-county area come from Hillsdale and Lenawee. Lost Nation SGA, Hillsdale County, would be a good place for a seasoned hunter willing to hunt woods, shrub and tamarack swamps, and hilly terrain. We are hopeful that more farms will be enrolled in the HAP program in the next couple years; Hillsdale and Lenawee might have great opportunities for that in the future. Washtenaw County farmers see a lot of crop damage; it might be a good place to knock on a couple doors and ask for permission to hunt.

Following is a list of check-in stations that will be open this firearms deer season:

• Bay City Operations Service Center, 3580 State Park Drive - Bay City

• Cass City Field Office, 4017 E. Caro Road - Cass City

• Holly Wildlife Area, 8100 Grange Hall Road - Holly

• Lapeer State Game Area, 3116 Vernor Road - Lapeer

• Mt. Clemens Fish Research Office, 33135 S. River Road - Harrison Township.

• Pt. Mouilee State Game Area, 37205 Mouillee Road - Rockwood.

• St. Charles Field Office, 225 E. Spruce Street - St. Charles.

• Southfield Operations Service Center, 26000 W. Eight Mile Road - Southfield.

• Waterloo Wildlife Office, 13578 Seymour Road - Grass Lake. Jerome Country Market.

• Clio Highway Station, Southbound I-75, Clio Rest Area - Clio.

Southwestern Lower Michigan

Sara M. Schaefer, Wildlife Unit Supervisor, Plainwell Operations

The deer herd in the SW Region came out of the winter still in excellent body condition. The winter was not severe and ample food resources were found in the region.

Hunters should expect a deer herd similar to the last few years. In most SW counties the deer numbers have leveled out or are only slightly increasing. Deer numbers remain at or above desired goals. In the far SW Region, local areas affected by EHD in 2010, may experience reduced deer numbers until populations rebound in that area.

Because populations are near or above goal in the SW Region, DNR staff encourage hunters to harvest antlerless deer. DNR staff continue providing food plots on public lands to disperse hunters and provide opportunities to see deer. Many private landowners in the Region have Deer Management Assistance Permits to improve their ability to harvest antlerless deer in areas where local herd numbers are causing conflict.

Hunters should assist private landowners when asked to harvest antlerless deer. Excess venison can be donated to the Sportsmen Against Hunger organization or other charity.

First time hunters can find deer almost anywhere to harvest their first animal. Seasoned hunters looking for trophy antlers can find opportunities at the Barry State Game Area or Managed Hunting Unit of the Allegan State Game Area. Trophy antlers can also be found on private lands where special management is conducted, but these areas are difficult to gain access to in most cases.

Deer check stations in Plainwell and Rose Lake will be open during the whole deer season from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. The deer check station at Barb's Processing (near Rockford) will also be open during the entire deer season from 10 am to 6 pm daily (closed Tuesdays and Thursdays outside of firearm season) in order to encourage hunters to submit deer heads for CWD testing. During the firearm season, deer check stations will also be open at the West Walker Sportsmen Club, Muskegon State Game Area, Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery, Crane Pond State Game Area, Flat River State Game Area and at Big Rapids Highway Check Station. Exact times for check station hours can be found on the DNR website. If hunters wish to have deer checked outside the posted times, then they may call for an appointment and staff may be able to accommodate them.

Perhaps all that is left to be said, is to make the 2010 Firearms Deer season a safe one. Enjoy camp life or if you prefer, savor that quiet time alone in the woods. Wherever your hunt takes you, make it a quality experience employing 'fair chase' practices and respect for the whitetail of your choice.

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