Northwest Michigan’s robust deer herds signal a promising season for the region’s hunters.
“All the trends show it’s a healthy, growing population,” said Steve Griffith, wildlife habitat biologist at Traverse City’s Department of Natural Resource Customer Service Center. “The wet, cooler spring may have taken some fawns. That affect will not be seen this year, but in the future.”
The 2019 deer hunting season starts Sept. 21 when the early antlerless firearm season opens. Archery season begins Oct. 1 followed by regular firearm season Nov. 15-30.
Griffith reports the region’s bucks are “looking healthy and have decent antler growth.”
The hunt is expected to match last year’s. In 2018, hunters killed 32,150 deer within the 13-county Northwest Michigan DNR district during the regular firearm season.
This season’s hunters contend with a deer baiting and feeding ban in effect since Jan. 1 for Michigan’s entire Lower Peninsula. The ban aims to curtail the spread of chronic wasting disease, a contagious and fatal disease impacting herds in several downstate counties.
The ban prompts many hunters to change approaches to bagging deer. Ed Shaw recently led three DNR Outdoor Skills Academy clinics teaching natural deer hunting skills. Shaw serves as the program’s director and as park interpreter based at the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center at William Mitchell State Park at Cadillac.
“We have a generation of folks who have never hunted without baiting,” Shaw said. “We wanted to provide an open door for hunters to be as successful as last year.”
He said trail hunting success under the ban is all about doing the homework. Key clinic topics included topographical maps, habitat types, where to set up along trails and use of mobile apps like the DNR’s MI-HUNT. The MI-HUNT app shows approximate boundaries of lands open to public hunting, ground cover types, nearby recreational facilities, trails and more.
“You can do all your research before you leave home,” Shaw said.
Trail cameras, another tech hunting tool, were legally used by an estimated 48 percent of Northwest Michigan deer hunters in 2018, according to DNR reports.
Manufactured food and urine-scents used in lieu of baiting require these materials have the Archery Trade symbol on the package or bottle.
Hunters should also be aware that due to PFAS contamination the DNR maintains a “do not eat advisory” for deer harvested within a 5-mile radius of Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda. PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl synthetic chemicals) are believed to cause adverse human health effects.
Low levels of PFAS have also been identified in deer near Camp Grayling which spans Crawford, Kalkaska and Otsego counties. Grayling Army Air Field (GAAF) and Lake Margrethe are two of the 19 areas of interest in the Camp Grayling assessment, according to a 2018 Michigan Department of Health and Human Services report. An advisory has not been issued for the Grayling area or Northwest Michigan. Griffith said there is no reason to suspect there is an issue in this part of the state.
Adaptations to the baiting ban could lead hunters to seek natural food sources, such as wild apple stands and places producing this year’s bountiful acorn crop. Griffith pointed out that deer concentrate in woods near agriculture lands where they have both cover and a food source.
“Hunters are quite innovative,” the biologist noted.
Traditional winter yarding spots in Grand Traverse County include Weidenhamer Swamp, the Boardman River Valley, and riparian lands along Parker, Yuba and Tobeco creeks. Battle Creek near the Grand Traverse/Kalkaska County line supports an especially high concentration of deer. The recent succession of mild winters allowed deer populations to increase across Northwest Michigan making these lands less important to the season’s hunters, but they remain significant sites, as do traditional deer travel corridors.
More than 90,000 hunters took part in the 2018 hunt during the Northwest Michigan’s regular firearm season. Shaw said most local hunters aren’t seeking trophy bucks, but table fare and a shared outdoor experience with family and friends.
“You don’t need expensive clothing or expensive gear,” Shaw said. “All you need to do is go out and do your homework.”
“We have a generation of folks who have never hunted without baiting.
We wanted to provide an open door for hunters to be as successful as last year.” Ed Shaw, DNR