Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 15, 2013

In search of the perfect buck

BY MICHELLE MERLIN mmerlin@record-eagle.com and GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BENZONIA — David Spaw drove upstate from Howell for deer camp in Benzie County with a group of carpenters, a mixed bag of friends and family.

“The same group of guys has been hunting for almost 20 years,” Spaw said.

The Spaw entourage is taking part in an annual, woodsy Michigan ritual enjoyed by hundreds of thousands across the state. They plan to tromp and trudge into the forests, hills, valleys and cedar swamps today, when they’ll don blaze orange and camoflauge, on the first day of firearm deer season, each of them looking to take the perfect, multi-point buck.

For Spaw, there’s the thrill of the hunt, but it’s vacation, too, a time to relax into traditions that range from eating specialty chili made at the camp to hunting with his son.

Deer camp up north in the Northport area translates into family time as well for brothers Matt Wirwicki, of Perry, and Mark Smith, who came in from Florida.

Wirwicki and Smith, like Spaw, stopped into Gander Mountain’s Garfield Township store this week for some last-minute supplies before they headed out to camp. Wirwicki and Smith said their family has hunted together for generations, and every season starts off with the toot of a bicycle horn.

“Part of it is getting out of town,” said Smith. “It’s not just the hunt, but getting together.”

State officials said the number of deer kill tag sales spiked this year by 2 percent. As of Wednesday, 553,721 people purchased 1.21 million deer kill tags in Michigan. That’s up from 1.11 million for the same time in 2012.

This is a unique year for deer hunting in northern Michigan because the state’s Natural Resources Commission implemented an antler point restrictions rule that encompasses all of the Grand Traverse region. Hunters in those 13 counties now may only shoot a buck if it has three points, or tines, on one side of its antlers.

The provision is designed to allow bucks to grow to trophy status as they roam the county’s woods, swamps and fruit orchards.

“It will mean something this year,” said Ashley Autenrieth, a deer program biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Gaylord. “It’s a three-on-a-side antler point restriction, and in those counties, a large majority of those bucks (harvested) have been yearling bucks, meaning 1.5 years old. This is designed to protect those 1.5 year old bucks, so we are expecting a drop in the buck harvest. They are no longer legal targets.”

Still, Autenrieth expects a good deer kill for hunters, even if younger bucks are breathing a collective sigh of relief.

“Weather-wise we’ve had four mild winters in a row so we are anticipating a fairly good season,” she said. “We’ve had good acorn production and we had good apple production.”

Ryan Ratajczak, a leader of the Quality Deer Management Association’s northwest Michigan chapter, said the antler point restrictions will benefit the region int eh long run. As the bucks grow bigger, more hunters will want to come to the area to hunt, he said.

Ratajczak contends the lack of an antler point restriction caused the region to lose about 20 percent of hunters who used to prowl northern Michigan woods. Many hunters chose to head to other parts of Michigan where the bucks are bigger, but he thinks restrictions will bring them back.

“Hunters are getting to the point where they want to see more mature bucks when they go out hunting, and this should help obtain that goal,” he said.