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Deer harvest drops in 2009

Opinions vary on cause, from predation to climate

December 4, 2009
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - The muzzleloader hunting season opened earlier today and there will most likely be a lot of smoke poles utilized for the next nine days. Preliminary reports from the regular firearm deer hunting season shows an overall drop in deer harvest of 10 to 15 percent in the central UP.

Deer brought into the Escanaba DNR Field Office for registration were up to 709 compared to 696 in 2008. The Rusty Rail in Cornell was also up, seeing 282 against 263 in 2008.

Bill Rollo, biologist for the MDNR, believes these numbers don't reflect an increase as they were seeing some hunter travel from remote locations, like Stephenson, where deer check stations had been open in previous years.

The annual Deer Poll held each year at the Island resort & Casino in Harris saw a drop of 21 deer registered compared to 2008, however the quality of bucks seemed to green score a lot better this year according to Dave Wellman from Commemorative Bucks of Michigan.

The same goes for deer checked at the Rusty Rail. Rollo reports some nice two-and-a-half year old bucks, sporting nice antler racks, came through the Rail. Antlerless deer checked through was considerably down.

Jay Richer, who did the registration at the Cornell site, indicated while successful hunters brought in decent bucks, most of them indicated they were seeing less deer than in previous years.

The big question remaining is whether the overall deer herd is down or were conditions such that the herd shut down as far as movement?

My experience this year shows a lot of deer movement throughout October, especially on the days where temperatures hovered in the low 30's. Trail camera images in several locations had a mix of does and bucks, although segregated.

The bucks were not dispersed and there was little sign of rutting.

Just before the Nov. 15 opener, there was more sign of rutting but less overall activity of deer. By the fourth day of the firearm season, deer were not even hitting bait in some locations. Those that remained active had more night action than daytime.

My sons both hunt openings and/or fields. They regularly saw deer during the first part of bow season with as many as 50 deer in the fields by late afternoon. As was the case in the woodland areas, by the fourth day, numbers seen dropped significantly to almost none by the middle of the second week.

Having viewed at least six quality bucks in my hunting area prior to season, I passed on a decent younger 7 point buck opening day, hoping one of the others would show. They never did and the only other buck I saw throughout the 16 day hunt was a large bodied spike.

Although deer activity should increase this time of year, given the fact that does go through estrus cycles and bucks are historically in the rutting mode, it is possible warm conditions did play a role in reduced activity.

I referred to a study report No. 3209, written for the MDNR by John J. Ozoga, Robert V. Doepker and Mark S. Sargent. It was first made available for print under sponsorship by Safari Club International's Michigan Involvement Committee and later by UP Whitetails Association, Inc.

Under Winter Adaptations, the whitetail deer's dense insulating winter coat and ability to store fat in autumn are important adaptations that enhance their survival during the winter months.

Additionally, deer have evolved certain seasonal adjustments in physiology and behavior that allow them to conserve energy, evade predators, and survive against what sometimes seem to be overwhelming odds.

Whitetails respond to cold, windy weather and snow-cover in late fall by becoming more active, eating more, and seeking shelter.

It is fair to assume deer were conserving energy and fat stores given the warmer weather during hunting season, especially considering their slower metabolic rates.

The evident change in the rut has me puzzled as it is not relative to climate as much as the change in hours of daylight, intensifying with less exposure to sunlight and continuing until most does are bred.

There continues to be a growing concern about the role predators are playing in not just deer movement, but survival.

My son took a nice eight point buck the third day of season. By the time he found it, coyotes had already marauded the right shoulder and hind. This year I viewed a trail camera video of a 45-50 pound class bobcat that killed and cashed a 70 pound doe.

Wolves remain unchecked, thanks to litigation in the federal courts initiated by the Humane Society of the United States, a leading form of mis-information on appropriate conservation and wildlife management.

The black bear is also growing in suspect on a decline in fawn recruitment, especially in those areas that have historically had excellent habitat.

The past two consecutive harsh winters certainly played a role on deer mortality. So far the preliminary numbers out parallel predictions from MDNR biologists due to winter weather.

The final results will be made available in 2010 after the mail survey results are completed. The Deer Camp Survey results will be published in late January and will provide some direct experience testimony.


Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.



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