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Health officials urge caution as hunters gather for deer season

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Patrick LaBrecque, of Flushing, front, and Tom Lancaster, of Gaylord, sight in their guns Friday at the Alpena Sportsmen’s Club.

ALPENA — Hunters in Northeast Michigan are eager for opening day of firearm deer season to kick off on Sunday, with many hunters already sighting in their guns and preparing to head off to hunting camps in the region.

However, this year, hunting season begins as a second wave of coronavirus infections sweeps across northern Michigan, and that has local public health officials concerned an influx of visitors to the region will drive further upward the number of coronavirus cases.

As of Friday, more than 300 Northeast Michiganders were actively infected with the virus, meaning they’d been confirmed infected but hadn’t died or recovered. That’s more than triple the worst point of the first COVID-19 wave in the spring.

State health officials say hunting is allowed as long as hunters stay six feet away from people who don’t live in their household. Hunters are not required to wear a mask outdoors, except when they are within six feet of another person.

“The main concern with hunting is that it often involves people from different households gathering and staying together,” Josh Meyerson, medical director at District Health Department No. 4, said in an email to The News. “It is the indoor activities that are the risks.”

Meyerson said the risk of contracting the disease increases if people from different households stay in the same cabin and share meals. He said many of the current infections can be attributed to small, private gatherings of people from different households, whether they’re friends or relatives.

“My recommendation is that people coming together for any reason should keep their gatherings small and the number of different households gathering indoors should be two or less,” he said.

Despite the risks, hunters still plan to carry out their annual traditions.

Tom Lancaster, of Gaylord, was sighting in his gun at the Alpena Sportsmen’s Club on Friday. A member of a hunting camp, Lancaster said Sunday will mark his 43rd year of hunting on opening day, and he didn’t want to miss it.

“If somebody is sick, we’re going to ask them not to come,” he said. “But everybody seems to be in good shape.”

Rangers at the Sportsmen’s Club said they’ve seen the same number of hunters this year as in years past and they expect to see a lot of hunters coming to the club today to sight in their guns.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials have already seen an increase in the number of licenses sold this year.

According to Deer Program Biologist Ashley Autenreith, officials expect about 10% more hunters this year compared to last year.

“Our license sales right now are up about 10% this year from the same time last year,” she said. “This could still change, since Nov. 14 is the most popular day to purchase a deer license, so we may see that number increase or decrease based on hunter behavior.”

Autenreith said an estimated 540,176 hunters participated last year, and 917,826 deer licenses were sold.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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