MARQUETTE - When the final assessments are in, state wildlife biologists and check station counters expect this year's firearm deer season, concluded Wednesday, to rank as better than average.
"Everybody is reporting up," said Brian Roell, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologist in Marquette. "We won't have hard numbers for quite awhile."
At DNR check stations across the Upper Peninsula, the number of checked deer were up an average of about 15 percent this year over last year, Roell said. Eventually, survey data -including that compiled from hunters across Michigan- will be compiled to help assess the success of the season.
Northern Michigan University student Alex Ermatinger was the first hunter to bring a buck to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources check station off U.S. 41 on opening day of firearm deer season. DNR officials believe that the 2012 season, which concluded Wednesday, was better than average. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
At the Mackinac Bridge, toll booth operators counting deer carcasses on southbound vehicles over the season said their tally was up 40 percent this season over last year.
As of 7 a.m. Dec. 1, which was the last tally for the season, a total of 5,731 deer had been counted since the firearm deer season began Nov. 15. That figure compares to 4,092 deer tallied last year.
Biologists attribute the better deer harvest to mild conditions over the past two winters. Those conditions allowed more deer to be produced, to survive and to develop more pronounced antler growth earlier than is typical for the northern part of the U.P.
"It's all a result of these two mild winters," Roell said.
Continued La Nina weather conditions could produce another similar winter this year, which would improve deer herd conditions even further, going forward, Roell said.
With high temperatures forecast in the mid-40s for Marquette County, and snow on the ground in some areas, the weather conditions for the opening day of the firearm deer season were better than those of many openers of the past.
Mixed weather conditions were in evidence over the rest of the season and varied widely depending on geography. In some places, hunters were treated to good tracking snow and colder temperatures, while in others, rain showers fell and no snow materialized.
Hunters were reporting seeing a lot of bucks and in general, a lot of deer in the woods.
Heading into the hunting season, state officials had predicted more antlered deer would be harvested in the U.P. this fall.
"Within the U.P., deer populations continue to slowly increase following a second mild winter in a row," said Brent Rudolph, DNR Deer and Elk Program leader in a new statewide forecast. "Fawn production should be good, though predation may have produced some losses. Antlered buck numbers will likely be on the rise, as the increased production of fawns in 2010 should lead to greater antlered buck numbers this year."
As is typical, more deer were expected to be found in the southern U.P. near Lake Michigan and fewer deer found in the northern part of the region near Lake Superior.
According to the state's October deer forecast, more than 100,000 hunters have pursued deer in the U.P. in recent years, including approximately 30,000 participants in the archery season, over 90,000 firearm hunters, and more than 20,000 hunters pursuing deer with a muzzleloader.
The muzzleloading season for deer began Friday and continues through Dec. 11. The second portion of the archery season for deer resumed Dec. 1 and continues through Jan. 1.
According to DNR officials, over the last few years, roughly 700,000 individuals have purchased a license to hunt deer in Michigan. These hunters ultimately spend more than 9.6 million days afield and take a total of more than 400,000 deer. Over 300,000 hunters participate in Michigan's archery season, about 600,000 hunt with a firearm and 200,000 with a muzzleloader.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.