BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — The jury is still out on proposed deer hunting changes throughout much of the northwest Lower Peninsula.
This year's firearms deer season — which starts today — won't be affected at all, but if Leelanau County's Deer Management Unit is expanded, it could be in place by next season.
Deer Management Unit 045 in Leelanau County — which mandates that any deer taken have at least three points on one side, and four on one side for the second deer on a combo license — has been going strong for eight years, producing old bucks and bigger racks for hunters there.
The Department of Natural Resources is collecting surveys it sent out to hunters on whether to implement the regulations in Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Osceola and Wexford counties.
Ashley Autenrieth, a DNR regional biologist based in Gaylord, said they are still wrapping up the survey and expect results to be done in the next month or two.
She said the DNR hopes to release the results to the public sometime in December.
"The poll that we've unofficially taken here at the check station, most of the hunters are in favor of it," said Steve Griffith, a DNR wildlife habitat biologist at the Traverse City field office. "I do talk to a few people that are not."
Detroit Free Press outdoors columnist Eric Sharp wrote that if the regulations pass and prove to increase the number of older bucks, there will be a push for the rules statewide.
"After a year or two those bucks that are protected by the antler point restrictions get into those older age classes," Griffith said. "After the initial lag time, you'll end up with the same number of legal bucks in the area."
But bigger, of course.
Upper Peninsula regulations were changed in 2008 to require that one buck must have a minimum of three points on one antler and the other buck must have a minimum of four points on one antler. The DNR Michigan Deer Harvest Survey Report says that 51 percent of hunters favor the regulations, including 56 percent who hunt mainly in the U.P.
Another issue facing deer hunters is the spread of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in white-tailed deer. While the disease doesn't affect humans and the meat is still edible, it can impact the size of the state's herd.
"Much more of a downstate issue," Griffith said. "We've had a few. We had a confirmed (case) in Manistee County and some probable last I knew in Benzie. But very limited."
Since EHD is spread mostly via flies, and with some snowfall and several frosts, that threat is mainly gone. Infected deer typically die within three days of contracting it.
"Most deer, if they're going to succumb to it, usually do it relatively fast," Griffith said. "In this area, any deer that had gotten it and was going to succumb to it is probably already gone."
Deer with EHD can also demonstrate several symptoms, which can include fluid around the heart, hemorrhages on the stomach's exterior, fluid under the skin and growth interruptions in the hooves and sometimes peeling of the hoof walls.
And it appears Mother Nature may cooperate to produce some near-ideal hunting weather.
"The weather looks great," Griffith said. "I don't know that we'll have any snow. The low are looking in the upper 30s and the highs in the mid and upper 40s. Cold enough where you'll have plenty of deer moving around.
"We've definitely got elevated deer populations compared to recent years."