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.