As has been the case in recent years, the recently completed firearm deer season appears to have been a mixed bag for area hunters. Depending on who you talk to, there were more deer cruising the northwoods than in recent years or this was one of the worst years for seeing deer, let alone any nice bucks.
There are the bright spots, of course, such as a young hunter knocking down a buck during his or her first year or a seasoned veteran of the hunting ranks bagging a 12-pointer - his first deer in many years.
I certainly would have liked to have fallen into the latter category but, alas, another firearm season went by without a sighting of a mature buck. I did see more deer this year than in 2009, but they were all young ones except for a few older does.
The large number of young deer roaming the woods is undoubtedly the result of the mild winter of 2009-10 and is a positive sign that the next few years hold promise for better deer hunting - if this winter isn't too severe.
There are big bucks out there, as we all know from finding rubs and scrapes, but they really seemed to have gone nocturnal up in my neck of the woods. This was really evident once there was some snow on the ground and their tracks started showing up on top of the boot tracks I had made the afternoon before.
Perhaps the older bucks are simply getting smarter and laying low more during the day to avoid hunters, including not only those with a gun but predators, as well. Once it snowed it was certainly easier to realize those four-legged hunters were working the same woods as I was, too, with numerous sets of fresh coyote and a few sets of fresh wolf tracks observed among the fresh deer tracks.
The aforementioned large number of young deer could be severely impacted by these predators as well as by the weather, which could also dim our hopes for bountiful seasons in the years ahead.
However, there's a lot more to hunting than simply shooting a deer and we all need to take stock of how successful we were in these other aspects of the sport. I think of this every time a non-hunter asks, "did you get your deer?"
First of all, none of them are my deer, and even when I don't get a deer I always smile and say, "No, but I had a great season."
Many questioners often look perplexed at this answer, seeing that most non-hunters are under the impression that if a hunter doesn't shoot a deer they had a disappointing time in the woods.
There always is a little disappointment as far as not having a deer to butcher up and stuff the freezer with, but there's plenty of things to be very satisfied about. For example, I spent 11 days out of the 16 days of the firearm season sitting in and traipsing through the woods of northern Marquette and eastern Baraga counties.
These aren't just any woods, either, but forests full of lakes, streams, swamps and uplands that I've grown to love with a passion. Spending that many days over a relatively short period of time in the woods lets you get in tune with the environment and really appreciate the wonderful location we live in.
Then again there are the hunting companions, family and friends who find pleasure in the same activities you cherish. This is especially satisfying in an age when all of us seem to be too busy to spend much time pursuing hobbies and sports we really enjoy with the people whose company we enjoy just as much.
And the best thing is, it's not over yet.
The muzzleloading season got under way at dawn this morning and runs through Dec. 12, providing another 10 days for hunters to pursue deer with a gun. The late archery season is also open, running through Jan. 1.
This time of year can be particularly wonderful time in the northwoods, as well, with far fewer hunters to contend with, usually low enough snow depths for easy travel both in vehicles to camp and on foot when hunting, and bucks that may let their guard down in their post-rut frame of mind. So get out there and enjoy the rest of the hunt - even if you don't knock over a deer.
Editor's note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.