U.P. deer hunting not over just yet

The second half of the firearm deer season played out a lot like the first half – unpredictable, varied and challenging. One thing has been static, though, whether the reports are coming from hunters, wildlife managers or deer counters at the Mackinac Bridge – the deer kill was definitely down across the Upper Peninsula.

At the Mackinac Bridge, for example, the annual count of whitetails being hauled downstate by hunters tallied 4,207 deer this season, which compares to 6,420 during the 2012 firearm season.

That 34 percent drop is a bit higher than what Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials are estimating, with about a 25 percent reduction in the harvest being observed across the U.P.

In regard to hunters’ reports, deer numbers are definitely down across the region, although the level of the drop varies depending on who you talk to and where they hunted.

Generally, though, as predicted prior to the season by DNR officials and hunters, the U.P. deer herd was hit fairly hard by the winter of 2012-13, the severity of which lingered much later than usual.

On the upside this year, there were some healthy older bucks with nice racks taken. These are the deer that were hearty enough to make it through last winter in OK shape.

However, the younger deer last winter – such as young-of-the-year – were the ones that didn’t make it through the winter and were noticeably missing this fall. Worse yet, those deer would have been 2 1/2-year-olds for the 2014 season and would have included some decent bucks.

From a more personal perspective, deer were scarce on my hunting grounds this year, with only does being regular visitors to the apple piles – during the day at least. We had some trail cam photos of bucks, but they must have been stopping by after the taverns closed as their busy times at the pile centered around 3 a.m. or so.

But at a buddy’s camp down the road aways they did good on bucks, with three hunters all scoring. Their harvest included an 8-point, 6-point and forkhorn, with all three being nice size deer.

So what factors besides fewer deer played into a reduced harvest? Perhaps the fickle U.P. weather played a role, at least that’s what many hunters have been saying. We did have quite a variety of weather conditions, from 50 degrees and rain to single-digit temperatures and high winds.

In addition, the full moon during the early days of the season probably reduced daytime travel by deer as they were able to wander the woods all night in dusk- or dawn-like conditions.

There is still hope for this year, though, as the second firearm season gets under way today and lasts through Dec. 15. This season is, of course, the muzzleloading hunt, which more and more hunters are enjoying every year.

Similar to the late season archery hunt, which runs through Jan. 1, the muzzleloading season is a much more laid back affair than the regular firearm season. Even though there are more hunters participating in black powder hunting as mentioned earlier, the numbers are still way, way below the regular season.

The woods are different, too, as they take on their winter feeling and look that has a special appeal to many of us who get out in the woods often. I love taking a slow walk through a cedar swamp or along a stream as it begins to freeze over or sitting along a well used deer trail with a muzzleloader in hand.

Deer behavior is changing, as well, with the rut behind them and the shift into their winter mode getting under way. Up north we can even have deer starting to migrate as snow piles up on their summer and fall ranges.

These various factors at this time of year probably create conditions that aren’t ripe for getting a buck, but the real joy I derive from hunting is getting out in the northwoods and soaking in all they have to offer.

That said, I certainly wouldn’t pass on the opportunity of filling the freezer with fresh venison if a buck happens to get in my crosshairs.

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