Traverse City -- Phil Keilman set his alarm clock for 5 a.m. today.
He planned to load his gun, drape himself in camouflage and stuff his backpack full of food and ammunition.
It's an annual tradition for Keilman who, like thousands of Michigan residents, will take to his tree blind with hopes of bagging a 10-point deer.
"I feel guilty if I'm not out there," said Keilman, 60, of Freesoil, as he shopped for hunting gear last week. "It's great to be away from everything. Best medicine for you."
The state's firearms deer hunting season began at daylight today and continues through Nov. 30.
Despite last year's harsh winter, hunters in northwest Michigan could see plenty of deer through their scopes this season, according to the Department of Natural Resources' deer forecast.
"We didn't really find too many deer lost last winter," said Larry Smith, DNR wildlife biologist. "They're built to tolerate winters."
That's good news for Bob Hutchinson, who failed to obtain an antler mount last year.
Hutchinson stocked up on hunting supplies last week at Gander Mountain in Traverse City.
He focuses on hunting by keeping his tree blind free of television sets and cell phones. But even if Hutchinson doesn't bag a deer, he's content to perch in his blind on state property in Honor.
"I don't have my work yelling at me, my wife yelling at me ... I just relax," said Hutchinson, 42.
Hutchinson is on vacation this week, so he plans on spending several hours in his stand.
And his wife of 23 years has grown accustomed to his November tradition.
"She's got a lot of patience," he said. "But we're certainly not going bowling this Sunday."
Hutchinson and Keilman hunt in northwestern Michigan, but Kevin Paveglio heads south to test his luck.
Paveglio, 33, hunts near Saginaw. It paid off last year as the Traverse City resident bagged two deer -- 4-point and 8-point bucks.
"I'm seeing less deer this year," said Paveglio, who got a head start on deer season by using his bow in October.
No matter the season, hunters in the Lower Peninsula are not allowed to feed or bait deer.
Hunters for decades legally used corn, carrots, sugar beets and apples to attract deer, but doing so today is a misdemeanor violation, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 90 days in jail, said DNR spokeswoman Mary Dettloff.
Natural Resources Commission officials enacted the ban in 2008, after a deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Kent County.
The bait and feed ban does not apply to Upper Peninsula hunters, where many choose to pursue venison.
It's an annual rite: Vehicles will head north over the Mackinac Bridge and return south a week later with deer strapped to their roofs, said Dean Steiner, bridge services manager.
Keith's Hunting and Fishing in Cheboygan doesn't keep bait on its shelves, but will special order it for customers who plan on hunting in the U.P., an employee said.
Gas stations and sporting goods stores throughout northwest Michigan sell bait, but that doesn't break the law, even though hunting over bait is a violation.
And that makes it tough to police, said Mike Borkovich, a DNR conservation officer based in Leelanau County.
"You're setting someone up for a fall," Borkovich said. "We certainly can't tolerate cheaters. We spend a lot of wasted hours on bait."
Conservation officers in Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Wexford counties all have cited individuals for illegal hunting this season.
Jay Shankle found piles of corn and sugar beets on his property in Kalkaska.
A DNR official took photographs of the bait on Monday, but didn't remove it, Shankle said.
Corn and sugar beets deposited on his land -- most likely used by a nearby hunter to bait deer -- contained bite marks.
"I now have signs on my property line that read 'No Hunting or Trespassing,'" Shankle said.
Deer a cash crop
Whether or not hunters succeed in bagging a deer this season, Michigan will reap the financial benefits. Hunters contribute $1 billion to Michigan's economy every year, Dettloff said.
More than 490,000 Michigan deer hunting licenses were sold as of Wednesday. But that number could reach 700,000 by season's end, said Brian Frawley, DNR researcher.
"The next couple of days, we're going to sell a boatload of licenses," Frawley said.
Last year, 688,000 deer hunting licenses were sold throughout the state. Michigan hunters used those licenses to bag 490,000 deer, with 292,000 killed during firearm season.
All those hunters need a place to stay. Rooms are hard to come by at the 15-unit Honor Motel in Benzie County during firearms deer season, owner Chris Theobald said.
"Right now, I'm sitting at 10 reservations for Saturday, and 90 percent of them are hunters," said Theobald, who expects to be full by Saturday.
And Adam Sleder expects to serve more drinks to hunters at Dick's Pour House in Lake Leelanau.
Dick's Pour House also sells hunting licenses, which Sleder said could bring in extra foot traffic.
"We get quite a few hunters who come in for a beer after they're done in the woods," said Sleder, a bartender.