ESCANABA - By this time tomorrow, everyone will have arrived at camp ready for the opener of the 2009 firearm deer hunting season. It's exciting as there seems to be a lot of different activities and the same number of conversations going on, all in preparation for the big day.
My job will be to announce that our copy of the 2009 Deer Camp Survey form had arrived and that everyone (who hunts) is expected to participate, regardless of how many days they go out.
The Deer Camp Survey was started 16 years ago by MDNR biologist Craig Albright. It began with just a handful of camps and has since expanded to the entire western UP, including the Keweenaw.
It has a registration blank, however all camps participating are kept anonymous from all other participants. There is also a place requesting logistical information which will enable those who will compile the data, a way to apply the information within specific deer management units.
It marks each participating hunter, and days of the season. Each hunter logs what they've seen that particular day, including bucks (B), does (D), fawns (F), or unidentified deer (U). The last column relates to kills for the season and whether the deer taken were antlered or antlerless.
There is also an area where comments can be entered and those reporting have historically said exactly what they felt about their respective season, good or bad.
Additional check-offs include requests such as whether or not you've seen more or less deer this year and if you've encountered or seen other wildlife including coyote, fox, bobcat, wolf, turkey, fisher, marten, cougar, bear, moose or feral pig.
Once completed and compiled, each participating camp will be mailed the results from across the region with a break down of totals for all DMU's. A self-addressed pre-stamped envelope comes with each survey so once completed, you simply have to seal it and drop it in the mail.
The survey is but one of several indicators that provide analysis of hunter success, days spent hunting and game observations that are overlaid to see if they parallel other data and provide a constant need to declare a trend.
You know, science.
Now the remaining details will have to be explained to the guys as I usually write in the daily data as it is received when everyone returns at dark.
Having taken on this esteemed responsibility also makes me the eligible party to receive the prize, if drawn, for participating, one of either two UP Whitetails Association (UPW) jackets or 1 of 10 UPW sweatshirts being offered by the club.
Pretty simple, right? Anyone can follow it, right?
Well, let me try to give you an example of how I expect my pep talk will go with my guys, given it is the day before the opener and we are destined to do the historical season opener celebration/card game. I'll use myself as a character, "Me", and anyone of the other hunters as one of the "Guys".
Me: Fellas, guys, hey you idiots, listen up I've got to go over this form with you so we can submit it after season and find out how our season placed against other camps in the area.
Me: Hey! I'm serious so pay attention.
Guys: Grab me a beer. Me too. Make it three. Four. Someone bring in the cola from outside. And some ice while your there. How long is this gonna take? Gimme an ash tray.
Me: Okay. Now that you've settled, let me explain the importance of our participation. The DNR has closed 51 percent of the deer check stations in the state and remaining sites have limited staffing so this information will play a bigger role than it has before. Are we clear on that?
Guys: What's that smell? Last night's dinner? From the fridge? No the garbage? No that's tonight's supper. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
Me: Knock it off you clowns. This is important. Even though we're going to register any deer we shoot, this report will give the DNR direct results from the field and will be compiled before the December mail survey comes in. They need the information, understand?
Guys: No, I know that smell, it's you. No, it's you. No, it's him. No, it's him. You're all wrong it's me. Ish! Good hang time though.
Me: Remember you guys, this data is from over 500 other camps and we can make a difference. It showed the hunter success percentages from a high of 44 percent killing a buck in 1995 to a low of 20 percent in 1997. Two years ago it bounced back to 33 percent and started back down again last year to 30 percent, just above the 16 year average.
Guys: Hey, are we gonna play cribbage later? You know I'll kick your butt like I did last year. Somebody grab some more beers. Whose boots are these under the table? Put 'em away cause I thinks that's where the smell is really coming from.
Me: What's really unique here is that hunters taking does also peaked out in 1995's season with 31 percent successful. That year you could buy two buck licenses and two doe licenses, remember? Anyway, it has dropped off to single digit numbers of with a low of 7 percent just two years ago. Last year totaled 8 percent.
If you haven't signed up for the survey, there is still time to enroll. Start by marking all the data down as I've explained. Then call Craig Albright (906-786-2351, ext. 117).
Tim Kobasic is outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.