Hunters saw plenty of deer in Northeast Michigan this firearm season but brought fewer to most local check stations, according to preliminary numbers from the Department of Natural Resources.
Hunters across the region reported seeing lots of deer, including good numbers of bucks aged 2 1/2 years or older, DNR deer program biologist Ashley Autenrieth said. The deer coming into check stations had good antler development and plenty of fat stores, which bodes well as winter weather intensifies.
Even still, the number of deer coming into local check stations is down. In Alpena County, 810 were checked as of Monday, according to preliminary figures. Compare that to 936 from the same point in 2012, and an average of 887 from 2010-12.
"That could be for a number of reasons," Autenrieth said. "We didn't have the best weather. It was good for the first two days of firearm season, but after that the weather took a nasty turn."
Hunters in Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties had no new regulations to contend with, although an antler point restriction is still in effect, Autenrieth said. For Deer Management Unit 487, which includes these four counties, a deer tagged with a combination archery and firearm license must have at least three legal points per antler.
Check station personnel reported seeing more older bucks this year, Autenrieth said. It's a shift from historic trends, when most hunters brought in 1 1/2-year-old bucks. Antler point restrictions could be a contributing factor to the new age structure. However, more hunters are willingly passing up young bucks in favor of larger ones.
Overall, license sales were up about 1.8 percent from last year as of Monday, Autenrieth said. With opening day falling on a Friday, the DNR expected the increase.
"It was looking like it was going to be a pretty good year going into it," she said. "Hunters were seeing a lot of deer, getting great pictures of deer on their trail cameras. While (check station numbers) may be down from last year, it was still a pretty good year."
Hunters and check station personnel identified nine deer potentially infected with bovine tuberculosis, Autenrieth said. Two of the suspects were taken in Alcona County, five in Oscoda County and one each from Alcona and Montmorency counties. It takes some time to confirm the disease, so the final reports won't be out for a while.
For those who didn't get a deer yet, there's still time. Archery season lasts until Jan. 1 and muzzleloading season is Dec. 13-22 for the northern Lower Peninsula, according to DNR regulations. The late antlerless firearm season is Dec. 23 to Jan. 1 on private lands in DMU 487.
"It looks like hopefully bow hunters will be out and enjoying themselves," Autenrieth said. "Winter is here to stay, so it should be good sighting conditions for the most part, and good tracking conditions."