Hunting conditions vary by region

John Barnes
Special to The Detroit News

This is what deer hunters will see starting Sunday, the opening day of firearms season: warmer than normal temperatures and more older hunters than younger ones.

This is what they will not see: snow, which helps in spotting deer.

More than a half-million hunters are expected to hit the woods and fields for the 14-day season.

Jason Eurich, of Saginaw Township, has already seen his eight-point buck.

“I missed him (Nov. 6) with my bow, so hopefully he comes back,” said Eurich, who has been scouting 70 acres in Saginaw County.

It was a rare miss for arguably the state’s most successful hunter this year. Eurich has taken a 750-pound, 7x8-point bull elk near Wolverine, a 300-pound male brown bear north of Newberry, his limit of ducks and geese in Shiawassee County, and spring and fall turkeys.

The elk and bear were taken within five days of each other.

Eurich was a winner of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Pure Michigan Hunt.

Three winners are lavished with licenses and gear for various hunts.

He normally hunts in the Upper Peninsula. But fewer deer there have him hunting closer to home.

His wife, Sherri, said there is another reason: “With all the Pure Michigan stuff, I put my foot down and said, ‘You lease property here. Hunt that!’ ”

Last year’s deer harvest was down about 15 percent from the previous year, when 615,000 hunters harvested roughly 329,000 deer, the DNR said in its annual survey report, released in July.

It is expected to be about the same this year.

Back-to-back severe winters took a toll. This past winter, heavy snow in many places on opening day did not help.

Here’s what hunters can expect regionally, according to the DNR’s October forecast:

■Upper Peninsula: Declines were greatest in the state last year, with the overall harvest down nearly 36 percent. There are fewer deer in the 11/2- and 21/2- year-old age classes.

■Northern Michigan: The deer population is expected to be higher. The main impacts from last winter are smaller body and antler size.

■Southern Michigan: Cornfields are newly shorn, providing better views of deer and their hiding places. The heaviest bucks and largest antlers typically come from this area.

Derr hunting has long been a family tradition, but these days the number of younger family members hunting in deer season is on the decline, according to a November report by the DNR.

The single-largest age group of hunters is 45 to 54 years old, followed by ages 55 to 64.

Among the younger hunters is Jake Haley, 26, of Lansing, who killed two does during the archery season in October in a soybean field in Ingham County’s Meridian Township.

He operates No Pro Outdoors, which creates Michigan-based instructional videos, and hopes to get younger people interested.

Haley’s deer were killed in a small hunting zone being monitored for chronic wasting disease that consists of 228 square miles, spanning parts of Ingham, Eaton and Shiawassee counties.

“The guys that I talk to, they are not going to hunt this year. They only hunt there and don’t want to go out of their location,” Haley said.

On Friday, officials believe a possible fourth case of deadly chronic wasting disease in deer may have been found.

The 11/2-year-old buck was shot by an archer in the nine-township zone east of Lansing where three earlier diseased deer were confirmed, DNR veterinarian Steve Schmitt said.

The suspect deer was tested Sunday. Preliminary findings spurred the state to send a sample to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Final results could take several weeks.

Because the latest suspected case of CWD was found about eight miles from where earlier cases were found, the DNR is asking hunters in neighboring Eaton County to voluntarily submit deer for checking.

The case being investigated intensifies an unprecedented effort to contain Michigan’s first outbreak of the neurological disorder among free-roaming deer.

It is caused by the transmission of infectious, self-multiplying proteins in saliva and other body fluids.

Animals can acquire CWD by direct exposure to these fluids, or from contaminated environments or the carcass of a diseased animal.

The neurological disorder is contagious and always fatal to deer and a cause for caution for those who would eat them, though no harm to humans has been found.

Stakes are high. In 2002, fewer than 10 percent of Wisconsin’s deer killed where CWD was discovered tested positive.

Last year, testing showed nearly 40 percent of adult male deer had CWD.

John Barnes is a west Michigan-based freelance writer.