The Opener: What Can We Do About U.P. Deer?

White-tailed_deerYes, I'm sure the 2014 Firearm Deer Season has probably gotten a lot of hunters riled up, especially in the Upper Peninsula. Individuals that live in or hunt in the U.P. have often jumped on the "one buck" bandwagon after a poor year and almost always I hear it is "the DNR's fault". Sometimes, people even think MUCC or some of the other organized hunting groups are to blame for not doing more. This year, the new hunting, fishing, and trapping license restructuring is another scape goat for a bad season.
And this was clearly one of the WORST firearm deer seasons in recent history in terms of the number of deer harvested in the U.P., no question about it. The Mackinac Bridge keeps track of harvested deer crossing the bridge, and this year there were 2,233, down 47 percent since last year and the lowest number since the bridge was built. The DNR's preliminary estimate is that U.P. harvest was down 30-40 percent, while the Northern Lower was down 10 percent, and Southern Lower was down 5 percent.
But you know what? Wisconsin had the same result. In the Northern counties of Wisconsin, harvest was down by 39 percent and across the state harvest has declined by 15.5 percent since last year. Minnesota deer hunter harvest was also down about 20 percent through the end of their firearm season.
Back here in Michigan, before we look at changing the management or license structure or pointing fingers, maybe we should have a conversation about what has changed since the Mackinac Bridge was built in 1957; things like:
  • hunter effort,
  • hunting technology,
  • weather,
  • climate,
  • habitat,
  • land ownership,
  • forest management,
  • license prices,
  • gas prices,
  • agriculture practices,
  • baiting and feeding practices,
  • predator populations,
  • the Southern Lower Peninsula deer herd,
  • Tb, CWD, etc.
  • and the list goes on and on.
As much as we'd all like to believe that gas priced at 31 cents/gal is coming back, its not very likely.
Here is some info that the DNR put together for the U.P. Deer Advisory Team when they looked at various management options in 2012.
As MUCC's Statewide Vice President and U.P. resident George Lindquist has said in an email to several U.P. leaders,
Do we need to do something? You bet we do. Changing our tag system may not be the answer. With the new license system, those that want a one buck tag can do just that. Please read these options over with a clear head...There are other things that need to happen that could do more for our U.P. deer herd: Do we really need a 3+ month deer season?...What are you or your club doing to manage coyotes? What can we do to encourage more trapping and hunting of these year-round predators?...We need real habitat work to get done. U.P. clubs and organizations really need to get on board with these wildlife habitat grants that are available. We need to get organized with this. The money is there, the DNR can help guide you.....We can't just point our fingers and say they should be doing this, or they should be doing that. We have to look at what WE can be doing to better the resource. It is up to US.
MUCC can help and will help our MUCC clubs move forward on what they want to do for U.P. habitat, including looking at new ways to acquire and manage deer yards, looking at forest management practices, and working with private and public land partners. We should also be looking at whether harvest alone is a good metric to define a good hunting year...or are there other ways to measure success? Finally, we hope that 2014 will go down as the worst year of hunting ever, because that means it will only go up from here.

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