It looks like results from the state's survey of deer hunters is pretty close to what I've heard from hunters - the deer kill was down quite a bit. The annual mail survey, results of which were released earlier this week, estimated the 2009 statewide deer harvest was about 9 percent below 2008, according to Department of Natural Resources and Environment wildlife biologists.
Statewide, hunters in all deer hunting seasons killed an estimated 444,047 whitetails last year, down from 489,922 in 2008, according to the survey. Included were about 5 percent fewer antlerless deer taken and 14 percent fewer antlered bucks.
The buck-kill figure is the one most telling to me, seeing there's little doubt there were far fewer bucks in the woods for hunters to take aim at, particularly here in the Upper Peninsula.
Adam Dollar, 14, was among the successful deer hunters last fall, when he made his first buck a big one with the 10-pointer he is shown with. The trophy buck, which dressed out at 188 pounds, was taken on opening day of the firearm deer season near his family’s 80-acre property in a remote area of northwestern Marquette County, west of Big Bay. (Journal file photo by Steve Brownlee)
As far as hunter success goes, 43 percent reported shooting at least one deer in 2009, which was down from 47 percent in 2008. Skewing the success rate slightly was the fact that archery success was actually up 1 percent, which biologist attributed to the more liberal crossbow rules last year.
The biggest drop in success was during the regular firearm season, with 6 percent fewer hunters saying they killed a deer in 2009 compared to 2008. However, because of higher hunter numbers, 53 percent of all deer harvested were taken during the Nov. 15-30 firearm season.
Breaking this down a little further, the survey found 62 percent of bucks and 46 percent of antlerless deer were taken during the firearm season. This compares to 30 percent of bucks and 24 percent of antlerless deer being taken during the archery seasons.
Fewer bucks were taken in 2009 during the muzzleloading season, which was down to only 6 percent of the total harvest. Special seasons accounted for the remainder of deer taken. Hunter success was also the lowest during the muzzleloading season, at 19 percent.
Also down was hunter numbers, dropping about 1 percent to an estimated 686,000, but hunting effort was estimated to be up about 5 percent to 10.2 million hunter days in the woods.
Perhaps the most startling figure to me in the survey is that less than 40 percent of deer hunters were satisfied with deer seen, bucks seen, deer taken and overall hunting experience in 2009.
To me, this figure doesn't bode well for the sport of deer hunting in Michigan. First, it tells me that the deer numbers are dropping from what hunters have been used to. This shouldn't be a surprise, seeing a few severe winters in a row recently significantly reduced deer numbers in the northern portion of the state - especially the U.P. - and increased antlerless licenses and special seasons have reduced the deer population elsewhere.
More troubling to me, though, is the fact that more than 60 percent of deer hunters were not satisfied with their hunting.
Reflecting on my own hunting experience, the calendar at camp shows I spent 11 days out the 16 during the firearm season in the woods, which is above average for me. During those days I saw probably fewer than a dozen different does and two sub-legal bucks, shooting none because I hunt in a bucks-only area.
There were signs of bigger bucks and more deer in the woods I hunt, but there were also a lot of signs of coyote and wolves - yes, there are wolves in northern Marquette County - which appeared to make the deer spooky and just about fully nocturnal.
However, I had the privilege of spending 11 wonderful days in some of the most beautiful woods on Earth with good hunting partners, good times at camp and at other hunting camps I visited. Food was delicious, drink was plentiful and sleep came easy and was deep after trekking the northwoods all day.
This is why we call it hunting instead of shooting - there are no guarantees when you enter the woods with firearm or bow in hand in pursuit of the wily whitetail.
To learn more about the deer harvest survey, visit the website www.michigan.gov/dnrhunting.
Editor's note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His e-mail address is dschneider @miningjournal.net.