ESCANABA - At the midway point of the 2008 firearm deer season, the hunting has proven to be unique for some and rather routine for others.
It was all of five years ago when we last saw an opener occur on a Saturday and that has a lot of appeal to many who hunt. It will provide three full weekends of hunting and saves some from having to commit precious vacation time. Those like me who pretty much live for this time of year, set aside vacation as not only a time to pursue whitetails, but to relax and reunite with friends.
Another variable that has cropped up this season compared to many in the past, is that winter has officially arrived, resulting in either a dusting of cover or a heavy landing in the northern snow belt area of the UP. It has caused a change in the pattern of deer movement.
The number of deer taken so far this year in south-central reaches has been down slightly from 2007, according to MDNR biologist Craig Albright from the Gladstone field office. As of Thursday, the total numbers were down about 15 to 20 percent from last year.
The bucks checked into the Island Resort and Casino Monday during the 11th annual Deer Poll totaled 67. Approximately 10 of those had already been registered with the MDNR. Aside from being colder and windier than past events, a huge crowd of spectators gathered to view some real fine bucks, the best of which was a typical 10-point taken by Bruce Weigal of Bark River that roughly scored 138-140 according to Dave Wellman from Commemorative Bucks of Michigan.
We did not see hunters from northern camps as in the past but there were some treacherous driving conditions in those areas due to lake-effect snows all day Monday. The crowd on hand to view deer was perhaps a new record, even with the cold temperatures.
While the Deer Poll is not set up as a "big buck" contest, the Island Resort and Casino does offer a $300 certificate toward the cost of having the largest entry mounted by a taxidermist of choice. They also offer a weekend stay for two at the Casino Hotel in a random drawing from all deer registered. The winner of that prize was Kathy Vandermissen of Wilson.
U.P. Whitetails Association of Delta County has also provided a special pair of prizes each year, giving away two Knight .50 caliber muzzleloader rifles, also drawn at random, one for an adult and the other for a youth hunter.
This year's winners were Bruce Kirschner (adult) and Tyler Winling (youth) with Tyler's mother Cathy accepting on her son's behalf.
The Rusty Rail in Cornell continues to provide assistance to the MDNR as a volunteer check station. It is the only check station that is not part of the MDNR and has been doing deer registration for six years.
"They have enhanced numbers for the MDNR, as we have not seen a proportionate drop in deer being brought into the Gladstone office," Albright said. "Plus they are open over the Thanksgiving weekend when the MDNR office is closed."
As of Wednesday afternoon, there had been 100 deer registered at the Rusty Rail. If these numbers continue, they should be close to the record 290 brought in last year. Some hunters bring their deer to the Rusty Rail to participate in their promotional program. Here, just like the casino, a lucky hunter will be drawn at random for either a .270 rifle (adult) or a .243 rifle (youth) as a prize for registering their deer. Both guns are bolt action and come equipped with scope, sling and hard case and are also donated by Derouin's Auto Body and Collision of Escanaba.
All three registration points are seeing similar numbers as far as age class improvement. Albright noted that the number of year-and-a-half old bucks being brought in for registration has dropped significantly from an average of 44 percent a few years ago, to only 22 percent so far this year. The Stephenson check station has not seen as much of a change, however, as the deer in that high agricultural environment have historically had better antler development at a younger age.
There are some numbers of antlerless deer (does) being registered earlier than expected.
All these combined model either the "Let-em-go and Let-em-grow" awareness campaign of U.P. Whitetails, or the former QDM program that ran in the central UP, to the current antler restrictions in place under the changes adopted this year for the combination licenses.
The firearm deer hunting season closes Dec. 30. The final harvest results will be made available after December, upon completion of the mail survey and deer camp surveys when all information will be compared to the projected numbers.