MARQUETTE - With the effects of severe late winter weather impacting this year's deer harvest, state wildlife biologists said if current wintry conditions persist next year's deer hunting seasons may continue to see declines.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists said preliminary deer harvest numbers for the firearm deer season suggest a drop across the Upper Peninsula of about 25 percent over last year and about 15 percent below a three-year average.
The Mackinac Bridge Authority said its firearm deer season count was down 34 percent from last year.
Brian Roell, a DNR wildlife biologist in Marquette, said part of the lower harvest figures were related to varying poor weather conditions at the start of the firearm deer season, which later improved to help deer harvest pick up.
But more so, Roell said the lower harvest "really is a direct effect of last year's winter and how long it lasted into the spring."
"So it really affected those year-and-a-half-old deer that typically would be there for us to harvest, your spikes (and) fork-horn antlered deer, those make up around 40 percent of our harvest and across the U.P. we're seeing a reduction in those numbers," Roell said. "They didn't make that winter."
Roell made the comments on a recent broadcast of "Ask the DNR" on Public Television WNMU-TV13.
DNR officials will continue to register deer at check stations until Jan. 10.
While the firearm deer hunting season ended Nov. 30, muzzleloading is under way through Dec. 15 and archery season through Jan. 1.
"The deer that we are seeing generally are very healthy looking. They look like they have good fat reserves going into the winter," Roell said. "Antler growth was ... down a little bit this year, we noticed."
Roell said hunters have been harvesting a lot of 2 1/2-year-old deer.
"Things really aren't all doom and gloom," Roell said. "However, if we do end up with another hard winter this year, particularly how the winter affected the fawns, we could be setting the stage for even a further downturn in our deer herd in the Upper Peninsula."
So far, the winter weather has begun to affect deer populations.
"It is a little early," Roell said, referring to the pronounced wintry conditions. "I've already heard deer are migrating."
Since July 1, the National Weather Service Office in Negaunee Township has logged 28.4 inches of snow so far, down 11.3 inches below the normal average of 39.7 inches. Last year, 22.4 inches of snow had fallen by this time.
The NWS's Climate Prediction Center is forecasting below normal temperatures from January through March for the northern Great Plains into western Minnesota, but an equal chance of above or below normal temperatures and precipitation predicted for the U.P.
However, the Farmers Almanac, which claims an 80 percent accuracy rate, has predicted "biting cold and snowy" conditions for the Great Lakes region this winter. The almanac predicts the coldest temperatures in the continental U.S. will be in the Great Lakes and northern Great Plains states.
"With a combination of below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation the stage will be set for the Midwest, Great Lakes and Central and Northern New England to receive lots of snow," the almanac forecast read.
The DNR will release a more comprehensive assessment of the deer harvest after all of the seasons are completed, check stations figures are compiled and hunter survey results are tallied.