Opening day has double meaning

The day has finally arrived and thousands of deer hunters are now sitting in their blinds, walking that favorite ridge, creeping through a swamp or watching over a scrape line – all having visions of big bucks crossing their path.

All week the anticipation built up until it reached its crescendo the night before the opener. Everything was in order for the hunt: All gear was checked and double-checked, camp was warm from the wood stove, a hearty dinner was enjoyed, deer tales of seasons past were shared and a good nights sleep began early in the night.

This was perhaps the scenario in hundreds of deer camps spread across the Upper Peninsula, where the opening day of deer season takes on a full holiday appearance.

In addition, today is considered the busiest hunting day of the year, as well as the day that usually accounts for more deer taken than on any other single day, including during the regular firearm, muzzleloading and archery seasons.

So how did it go this morning? That question, of course, is impossible to answer in this column, seeing it’s being written in advance, but it’s always fun to speculate.

First, let’s see what the wildlife biologists who track our whitetails predicted it would be like this season.

In their annual outlook for the season, biologists point out that last winter was a rather fickle affair, starting out mild and remaining so through January, but picking up in severity in February and lingering late into April.

This late period of the winter is a critical time of year for deer, particularly young deer and pregnant does that were hit the hardest by the weather. As a result, deer were in poor condition by the end of the winter. This lead to a very poor birthing season, so there won’t be many fawns out there, which is fine with hunters – this year. Down the road two or three years, the poor fawn production in 2013 could result in fewer nice bucks.

For this year, though, biologists predict there should be a good number of 2 1/2- and 3 1/2-year-old bucks out there, which is what we’re after, anyway.

This sounds logical seeing that the few previous winters were on the mild side, which built up the U.P. deer population.

Also on the positive side was good mast production in the U.P. this year, so hunters targeting oak and beech stands, as well as such fruit producing trees and shrubs as apple and sumac, should be in a good position to see deer.

And as always, the outlook for the season throws in that unpredictable variable of “each area is influenced by local factors and conditions that affect deer density and sightings in that area.”

So what do we have here? Well, it looks like the season should be OK for most of us, especially those who spend a good deal of time in the woods.

In addition, your hunting grounds could be one of those special places that produces just the buck you’ve been looking for, and that deer happens to cross your path while you are hunting.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes over the 16-day firearm season, as well as through the muzzleloading season, which is from Dec. 6 through 15 this year in the U.P., and the late archery season that runs through Jan. 1.

There’s another aspect of this year’s deer season that deserves a mention here. Today is historic in that it not only marks the opening day of the firearm deer season, but also the opening day of the first managed wolf hunt in Michigan.

I’m not forgetting that throughout Michigan’s history wolves were viewed like any other predator and even had a bounty paid on them. Once present throughout the state, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources wolves were eliminated from the southern Lower Peninsula by about 1840 and the entire LP by 1935.

Wolves hung on in the U.P. a few more decades, with the last documented pups born in the mid-1950s in Alger County. Removal of the bounty came in 1960 and full legal protection was given the animals in 1965.

They started rebounding in the 1980s, with migration of wolves from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ontario establishing territories and reproducing.

Fast forward to today and we find more than 650 wolves spread across the U.P. Along with the growing population came more conflicts with those of us who live here, particularly livestock raisers, hunting dog owners and deer hunters, who blamed low deer numbers on the growing wolf population.

So now we’re having a wolf hunt, with the DNR selling 1,200 licenses and setting a quota of a total of 43 wolves killed in three hunt units in the U.P.

There’s been a running debate between hunting advocates and well-organized special interest groups trying to stop the hunt, but let’s just let it take its course and evaluate the hunt when it’s over.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.