Changes in effect at deer check stations statewide
POSEN — In his 20 years of cutting off heads, it’s the swapping of stories that George Barber has enjoyed the most.
But, at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources deer check station in Posen on Tuesday, Barber said coronavirus precautions have put a damper on the camaraderie that usually accompanies the ritual of reporting a successful hunt.
Storytelling will have to wait for another day as hunters mask up and stay in their vehicles at the stations, resisting the urge to take a peek in the back of other hunter’s trucks. Regular firearm season began Sunday and continues through Nov. 30.
At the Posen station, hunter Wayne Augsburger was disappointed that Barber and his coworker, Harry Pagan, couldn’t provide the age of the buck in the back of Augsburger’s truck on Tuesday.
They weren’t allowed to, Barber told him.
In an effort to minimize human interaction, deer check station crews won’t age deer this year, according to Emily Sewell, wildlife health specialist with DNR.
If a deer’s head is turned in for bovine tuberculosis testing, the deer’s age will be included in the report that comes back to the hunter about a week later.
The DNR needs 2,800 heads from the Alpena region to conduct testing to combat the communicable disease, Sewell said. Head donations are optional, but many hunters take advantage of the dropoff to make sure the deer they’re planning to feed their family is safe.
About 60% of deer that test positive for TB have had no signs of the disease, including no symptoms on their lungs or other internal organs, according to Sewell.
In 2019, 31 deer from Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency, Alcona, Oscoda, and Iosco counties were infected with bovine tuberculosis out of the 25,066 deer tested statewide.
If a deer tests positive, the hunter will be issued an antlerless tag the hunter can use to replace its meat, Sewell said.
In Presque Isle County, TB numbers have stayed low, according to Pagan, and hunters are willing to send in their heads to help keep it that way.
“They want to make sure that that stuff stays away,” Pagan said.
At the Posen station, seven heads were dropped off on Sunday, Pagan said. The station has gotten a little busier since then, and he anticipates head donations will pick up as hunters get their big buck and head back out with the $5 antlerless license being offered by the DNR in Northeast Michigan this year.
The Alpena check station has had half as many hunters stopping by during the first three days of hunting season — usually very busy days for Up North hunters — as during the same time period last year, Sewell said.
Eight 24-hour, unmanned dropboxes are located around northern Michigan as an additional convenience to hunters. Premiered last year in three northern locations, the boxes allow hunters to share information about their donations through a code scanned on their smartphones.
Dropbox and deer check locations can be found online at michigan.gov/deercheck.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.