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Firearm deer harvest down from last year

The 2014 firearm deer season wrapped up Nov. 30, and challenging conditions and lower deer numbers in some areas likely have led to fewer deer being taken this year. Each year the Department of Natural Resources generates preliminary estimates of the firearm deer harvest shortly after the season closes. Those estimates are later replaced by a rigorous assessment of harvest and participation over all deer seasons using an annual hunter mail survey.

The 2014 firearm deer season harvest appears to have decreased in all regions this year, but particularly in the Upper Peninsula. Experiences can differ widely within regions. DNR biologists estimate that, compared to 2013, the harvest was down approximately 30 to 40 percent across the Upper Peninsula, decreased perhaps as much as 10 percent in the northern Lower Peninsula, and was down about 5 percent in the southern Lower Peninsula.

Deer populations in the Upper Peninsula are down after two severe past winters. The DNR significantly reduced antlerless quotas prior to this season and has invested in habitat improvement and research assessing the role of predators, habitat and weather conditions in driving U.P. deer abundance. The 2014 deer season forecast indicated hunters should expect to see fewer deer in the region, and some locations also saw more than 40 inches of snow accumulation before the firearm season opened, making hunting access challenging and driving deer to migrate out of such areas earlier than normal.

“The number of deer brought to our check stations declined as much as 60 percent in some locations, though hunter success was somewhat better in areas with higher deer densities,” noted Upper Peninsula Regional Supervisor Terry Minzey. “Winter severity has moderated since then, but we’ll continue to monitor conditions and regional deer populations through the months to come.”

Deer harvest did not decline so dramatically in the Lower Peninsula. “The tough winter last year did not impact deer populations below the bridge as it did in the Upper Peninsula,” noted Ashley Autenrieth, Wildlife Division deer biologist for the northern regions. “But reduced antler size this season indicated deer condition was affected.”

Concentrations of standing corn that provide secure cover for deer contributed to adverse hunting conditions in some locations. Brent Rudolph, Wildlife Division research specialist, also shared that “department research in one southern Michigan study area indicates deer numbers are still only slowly rebounding following an extensive outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease several summers ago.” The research project is being conducted in collaboration with Michigan State University, with assistance from many hunter volunteers, and also has received financial support from Safari Club International.

Rudolph also stressed the importance of cooperation with Michigan’s hunter harvest survey, what he called “a vital tool for Michigan’s deer program, and another important way in which data provided by hunters contributes to our information base.”

Hunters who do not receive a survey in the mail but who wish to provide their hunting and harvest information may visit www.michigan.gov/deer and select the “Complete a Deer Harvest Survey Online” link. Hunters should only provide this information once they have completed all of their 2014 deer hunting activities.

For more information about hunting opportunities or deer management in Michigan, go online to www.michigan.gov/hunting or www.michigan.gov/deer.

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Firearm deer season makes gains

The Department of Natural Resources has indicated the 2011 firearm deer season harvest appears to have increased slightly compared to the 2010 season. Southern Michigan is the only region where final firearm harvest figures are expected to decrease. Preliminary estimates are based on cumulative reports from the field, license sales figures, and check station activity, and are later replaced by the final harvest figures generated using the annual mail survey.

Experiences can differ widely even within regions, but DNR biologists estimate the harvest compared to 2010 was unchanged to up perhaps 10 percent across the Upper Peninsula, likely increased in the Northern Lower Peninsula by as much as 10 percent, and the southern Lower Peninsula appeared down 5 to 10 percent.

License sales through opening day of the firearm season showed a 2 to 3 percent decrease compared to 2010. “That typically reflects expected final license sales figures and hunting activity through the end of the full hunting season,” said DNR Deer Program Leader Brent Rudolph, “but we saw more than the usual number of hunters purchasing a license after opening day. Perhaps a somewhat slow start to the season encouraged more hunters to try their hand later on.”

Check station activity was also initially less than last year, but increased traffic saw some locations meet or exceed their marks from 2010 as the season progressed.

As expected, with the mild conditions experienced in the previous two winters, deer numbers in both the Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower Peninsula look to be slowly increasing following prior declines. Ashley Hippler, DNR Deer Program biologist for the northern regions, noted, “deer in these regions are not as abundant as they were in the 1990s, but deer sightings were generally up even though hunter numbers appeared down compared to 2010.”

Deer from throughout the state were reported to be in good condition, as indicated by overall observations and measurements of antler development collected at check stations.

“We greatly appreciate the efforts our hunters make to bring deer to our check stations located throughout the state,” said Russ Mason, chief of the DNR Wildlife Division. “These data are important to our deer program, but check station visits also provide valuable opportunities to gather hunter impressions and feedback and even celebrate the annual traditions built around Michigan deer hunting.”

Rudolph emphasized the annual mail survey completed once all deer seasons are concluded provides the final estimates of harvest and participation over all deer seasons, including the firearm season. Preliminary estimates last year projected the firearm harvest ranged from a 15 percent decrease to 10 percent increase by region, while the final mail survey indicated a slightly less than 6 percent drop in deer taken during firearm season statewide.

For more information about hunting opportunities in Michigan, to fill out your 2011 deer hunting survey, or for additional information about deer, go online to www.michigan.gov/deer.

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