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Michigan deer firearm season is nigh, interest high

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic — or perhaps because of it — Michigan is seeing booming interest in hunting.

As the state heads into deer firearm season beginning Sunday, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources says there are 474,066 deer hunters in Michigan, up 11% from 427,902 this time last year.

Michigan's firearm season for deer opens Sunday. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says 474,066 have purchased licenses, up 11% from this time last year.

The increase in numbers could be due to the pandemic, said Dustin Isenhoff, a marketing and outreach specialist with the DNR. And the growing number of hunters tracks rising interest this year in everything from kayaks and fishing gear to bicycles and just about anything else done outside, socially distanced.

"Probably some component ... with the ability for folks to either have more time or reprioritize that time ... is what a lot of folks point to as the issue why they get out of hunting or don't get into hunting," he said. "That's kind of been what we've been speculating."

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The increases include female hunting customers up 20%, from 46,555 to 55,860, and youth under nine up 18%, from 11,011 to 12,996, Isenhoff said. Overall new customers, meaning those who haven't had a hunting license in five years, are up 80.5%, from 46,787 to 84,449.

The license sales mean more funding for wildlife conservation, and it also controls the state's deer population, Isenhoff said.

Among the hunters heading out for opening day are folks like Paul Laurain of Sterling Heights. He said he plans to join numerous family members, including his dad and two uncles, at a deer camp between Oscoda and Tawas on Sunday.

“It’s like Christmas morning for deer hunters in Michigan,” he said.

Still, the pandemic and its rising cases loom. That means hunters may be more conscientious while sleeping in the camper, Laurain said, and more mindful of not sharing utensils: “When we go into town, wear a mask into town.”

As for hunting regulations, new this year is that Lower Peninsula hunters can hunt antlered or antlerless deer on a deer or deer combo license during firearm, archery and muzzleloader seasons.

“Now they can shoot a doe with their regular license, so that’s really exciting for a lot of people,” Laurain said.

Adam Garagiola, a salesman at Michi-Gun in St. Clair Shores, said sales have been up since March for personal protection firearms. Now they’re seeing sales increase for deer hunting season, an annual Michigan rite by families, on factory floors, even in the state Legislature.

“There seems to be a little more interest this year,” he said. “More people looking to go hunting. Looking to pick up scopes and ammunition. Some folks that want new firearms.”

At Guns Galore in Fenton, ammunition sales are about the same as last year, said Ralf Jones, a salesman. But hunters are looking forward to the season: "They want to get out in the woods and get away from it all."

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN