Upper Peninsula Deer Hunting Historic Fact

R.G. Crawford of Stalwart made hunting history in 1944, when he shot both a buck and a bear within an hour of each other on a hunting trip to the Sand Ridge area of the Gogomain Swamp in Chippewa County. He shot and killed a 13-point, 200 pound buck, tagged it then set off to find another wounded deer. When he found the dead whitetail, a black bear was feeding on it. The bear gave warning then turned on Crawford. He shot the bear in its neck with just one bullet left to spare. Saving his last bullet in case of an emergency, the bear was later located and was found dead.

There have been some changes in Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division. No longer do we have Zones One, Two and Three; instead, Michigan is now consolidated into four regions. Terry Minzey is the Upper Peninsula Regional Manager as is Rex Ainslie in the Northern Lower Peninsula. Gaylord and Cadillac no longer maintain wildlife supervisors. Southwestern Lower Peninsula is headed up by Sara Schaefer and the Southeastern Region of the Lower Peninsula finds Timothy Payne at the helm.

Statewide nearly 418,000 deer were harvested in 2010, a decrease of 6%. Hunters numbered 656,500; success rate: 44%.

Reports have been filtering in from across the entire Upper Peninsula and wildlife biologists have filled us in on the upcoming 2011 archery and firearms deer hunting forecast. Next month we will investigate hunting possibilities across the entire lower peninsula.

Kevin C. Swanson, DNR Wildlife Habitat Biologist, Shingleton

Fortunately, the deer in DMUs 048, 021 and 121 fared very well once again during the winter of 2010-2011. This was the second consecutive winter of below average accumulated snow depths, which should continue a hopeful incline in deer numbers. The herd in the Petrel Wintering Complex was monitored closely and health of the local herd has improved over the last two years.

Because of the two preceding mild winters hunters should notice more deer again this year. Fawn recruitment improved last year and will likely improve again this year which leads us to believe that deer numbers are on the rise. There should be a higher proportion of l.5 year old bucks in the herd this year. It is important to note that we have not yet recovered from the severe winters of 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 which resulted in extreme over-winter losses and reduced fawn production.

The continual management of state forest lands for timber production and associated wildlife species is by far the most important method to provide the superior habitat for deer. However, we are also involved in many intensive, small scale projects to benefit deer within their summer and winter range in the Shingleton Forest Management Unit of DMUs 048, 021, and 121. During 2011 we have carried out the following projects:

•Maintained and/or planted legumes in 170 acres of grasslands typically used by deer for break out forage areas during spring dispersal.

• Planted 50,000 red oak and 50,000 hemlock seedlings for eventual hard mast production and escape cover.

• Planted 1,000 large red oak (8-12′ tall) in deer wintering complexes.

• Planted 26,000 red osier dogwood (a long lasting and preferred species) in the Sturgeon Hole and Petrel Deer Yards.

• Prescribed fire in the Thompson Plains and Sunken Lake area and broadcasted cedar seed after prescribed fire in the Petrel Deer Yard.

The Thompson Plains is a fine area for first time archers. Deer numbers remain good and there is a large contiguous block of state land available in that area with excellent access. A higher proportion of 1.5 year old animals in the herd this year should result in better success for young hunters. There is also opportunity for seasoned shooters to take older bucks throughout the units, especially in areas where access is difficult due to topography and lowlands.

Craig Albright, DNR Wildlife Biologist, Escanaba

The winter of 2010-11 was the second in a row that can be characterized as quite mild for deer. Weekly snow depth measurements never topped l foot at either Escanaba or Crystal Falls and were frequently less than 8 inches. Deer enjoyed good mobility in their search for food and did not have to contend with long stretches of sub-zero temperatures. As was the case in 2010, we believe over winter survival of deer was good and we expect high recruitment of new fawns into the population this fall.

The U.P. buck harvest increased 26% from 2009 to 2010 with most of that increase occurring in the west half. Considering the mild winter of 2010-11, the stage is set for another potential increase in harvest this year.

Antlerless deer licenses will be available in most of the south-central U.P. deer management units (055, 122, 155, 255). These licenses allow hunters to bypass young bucks and improve the buck-to-doe ratio while still procuring venison. Timber is managed intensively on large holdings of state forest land in this area. Timber harvesting helps create young forest with scattered openings which provide good food resources for deer. The Wildlife Division has partnered with the Delta County Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide landowners in this are with an assessment of their property to improve habitat for deer and other wildlife.

First time archers or firearm hunters who are mobile may want to look at state forest lands in southwestern Menominee County (west of Stephenson and near the Menominee River). Much of the forest in this area is upland, and oak trees are present providing a food source for deer in years when acorns are abundant. For seasoned hunters looking for a large-antlered buck, the mixed farm-forest land in central Menominee County is the best bet. However, this land is privately owned so permission from the landowner is required to gain access.

The Escanaba DNR Office will be checking deer and providing successful deer hunter patches during office hours in the firearm deer season (Nov. 15-23 and 28-30). The Rusty Rail in Cornell will also be checking deer Nov. 15-30 (11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the Island Resort and Casino in Harris on Nov. 17th from 6 to 9 p.m. EST.

Bill Scullon, DNR Wildlife Biologist Baraga

This last winter was the mildest we’ve had in nearly the past decade across much of the Baraga Unit (Gogebic, Ontonagon, Keweenaw, Houghton and Baraga Counties). Snow fall was relatively light and temperatures were relatively moderate, we avoided long stretches of severe cold. Over winter mortality was reported as minimal. I would anticipate this will result in greater numbers of yearling animals on the landscape this season. The fawning season was good, however, the cold and wet early spring will take its toll on fawn survival, but it still should be an above average fawn crop for the area, especially those with an agriculture influence. We’ve had several years of easier winters which have resulted in a slightly increasing herd numbers in some areas. We’ve also experienced several good growing seasons although this year is turning out to be prone to draught conditions, which will have impacts on fawn survival, antler development and general condition of deer going into winter. However, these are short term positive herd influences and we still have long term herd declines across much of the area to contend with. These are in part due to a variety of issues, probably the largest long term factor being the declining availability of good quality early succession habitat in the far west on primarily Federal ownership and private lands coupled with declining local timber markets, continued degradation of winter range across the range, impacts of predation, and of course weather.

This fall, hunters should expect to see a slight increase in deer numbers in many areas, primarily the increase will be fawns but there should be more 1.5 year animals as well.

The soft mast crop for apples appears to be good this year and will be an early source of activity for deer, the hard mast crop (acorns primarily) seems sporadic and may prove more difficult to predict. Hunters should start scouting habitat conditions as soon as possible.

It is important to remember that the Baraga unit has a relatively small state land foot print, so our landscape influence is smaller than areas with more state land. In response to that we’ve taken on partnerships with local clubs to do summer range habitat improvement projects. We’ve also been working with a major regional industrial landowner to work on sustainability of winter range conservation. While these efforts are important, the cumulative impact of individual private landowners doing habitat improvement projects from small food plots to timber management is highly beneficial to the sustainability of our deer herd.

While there are no antlerless permits available in the Baraga unit, archers who purchase a combo license have the flexibility to harvest an antlerless deer; areas near agriculture will have the highest deer numbers. These will also be places with typically the best antler development on younger bucks. Hunters seeking seclusion and the possibility of encounters with wily old bucks should look to areas with relatively light pressure and more wilderness characteristics. Deer may be fewer but the likely hood of encountering an older mature animal may be better.

Our primary check station will continue to be the Baraga Operations Service Center with posted hours similar to last year (see MDNR website). We have closed the private check station at the Root Cellar due to the small number of animals checked there. We anticipate having limited deer check capabilities at the Porcupine Wilderness State Park as well at Fort Wilkins State Park. It is always recommended to call ahead to ensure someone will be present to check your animal.

Kristie Sitar, DNR Wildlife Biologist Newberry

Last winter here was mild and deer should have survived relatively well. It was the second consecutive mild winter which is about as good as we could have hoped for coming off two consecutive hard winters previously.

People should be seeing more deer overall this year than last year but numbers will probably still be down. Buck numbers will probably still be lower than desired since the two hard winters largely removed age classes of deer in those years. Thus, hunters might see far less bucks in the middle age classes but they should also see some younger bucks.

Summer habitat isn’t lacking in the eastern Upper Peninsula. What limits deer numbers is winter weather here. However, we have been planting large oak plots in an attempt to replace beech mast that will soon be lost in the forests. It isn’t a large scale project and is happening in break out areas on a limited scale.

Lastly, first time hunters hunting on state land…I would encourage them to stay further south of M-28 as they will encounter more deer. Those hunters looking for bigger bucks, I would encourage to hunt those more remote areas with fewer hunters. Think vast swamps or road less traveled areas.

We will have one check station open in my area, the one at the Newberry Operations Service Center (OSC).

David Jentoft, DNR Wildlife Biologist, Sault Ste. Marie

Chippewa and eastern Mackinac counties experienced a relatively mild winter with below-average snow depths. Deer came out of the winter in good condition and fawn production this spring was good based on field observations and reports. This was the second winter of below-average snow fall where deer wintered well. As a result, hunters may see more deer, including young bucks, than during the past couple of seasons.

The DNR continues to run a deer camp survey in the EUP to assess deer observations and harvest by hunters as well as hunter attitudes and satisfaction. Data hunters provide, along with other indicators, is used for management. Hunters are encouraged to become involved in the survey; interested hunters can contact the DNR Sault Ste. Marie Field Office at 906-635-6161 ext. 56171.

Habitat for whitetail deer continues to be enhanced while conducting management on state forest land. For example, lowland conifer cover is maintained in deer yards to provide deer some relief from winter conditions. Aspen and other stands are typically managed to provide or maintain palatable browse.

Hunters are encouraged to spend some time scouting areas before season to have the best results. Look for areas with natural food sources near suitable cover. Young stands, aspen, near older cover, areas with some oak trees, and edges such as the forest along the edge of a swamp or opening can be good places to start.

Successful deer hunters can get their deer checked from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sault Ste. Marie Field Office Nov. 15-23 and Nov. 28-30. Hunters will also be able to check their deer in at the Mackinac Bridge check station on Nov. 18-19 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Other U.P. Voices

Richard P. Smith Veteran Outdoor Writer, Marquette

I expect another increase in deer numbers this year after a second mild winter in a row, especially across the entire southern half of the UP where snow depths were minimal last winter. I am getting good reports of fawn production this year, too, for the second year in a row. Another mild winter or two will really give UP deer numbers a boost.

I’m disappointed that the DNR did not even consider dropping the antler point restrictions this year that remain in effect on combination deer licenses UP-wide. This will be the fourth year during which both buck tags on combo deer licenses have been restricted. Hunters were told when the restrictions were started that they would be evaluated after three years. There has been no obvious improvement in the number of older age class bucks in the UP due to these restrictions.

Mild winters have been responsible for ay improvement in buck numbers, not antler restrictions. There are so many negatives associated with the antler restrictions, they should be scrapped. They reduce hunting success, reduce potential recreation opportunity for hunters, make deer hunting more complicated than it should be or has to be and reduces income for the DNR because in encourages more hunters to buy single deer licenses rather than combos.

UP deer hunters also continue to be shortchanged on antlerless deer hunting opportunity. I hunted public land in Delta County during 2010 where I saw more than 20 deer a day, most of which were does and no antlerless permits were available for that land, and there should have been. There are even more deer in that area, and others like it, this year and there are still no public land antlerless permits available for this fall.

UP hunters complain that wolves are taking many deer. It’s no wonder. At the present time, UP deer are being managed to make maximum numbers of whitetails available to predators and as few as possible to hunters. It just doesn’t make any sense from this longtime deer hunter’s perspective.

Hunters will see more deer this year, but many of them won’t be legal to shoot!

Bill Bjork, Tahquamenon River Area Landowner, Brimley

I am building a deer camp and I am on the acreage nearly daily. There are far more deer sightings in and around the Tahquamenon area than I’ve witnessed during the last several seasons. Also I’ve seen more deer sign than general. Only saw two bucks…both small. All the deer appeared to be very healthy. Some of the fawns have been relatively small in stature which would indicate they were bred late.

Rich Harmon, Deer Camp Owner Baraga County, Raber

Have made numerous trips to camp this spring, summer and early fall. Each trip, we seem to see more deer. Saw a stupendous buck last year, hope he’s still around. Land is less populated and wild country; chances are good he may be in my sights archery or gun season of 2011.

Chuck Kajawa, Deer Camp Member Chippewa County, Clio

So far trips to camp have resulted in seeing very few deer. In July, however, we witnessed some unusual activity. A doe was feeding in the backyard and was nervous, acting as though she did not want to leave the area. I went out of the cabin and not too far away sat a wolf. It left when it saw me. What got me was the fact it was just sitting there, and for how long? Are they losing their fear of man?