In a recent op-ed, (writer and outdoorsman) Richard P. Smith suggested that we need to turn back our Upper Peninsula rules and kill more bucks here in the U.P., as they are going to die anyway.
Effectively, this would be a step backwards with our U.P. deer management. To throw up ones hands, and suggest killing more deer in a declining deer herd is just plain crazy. Does anyone really believe we have too many bucks and need to kill more? That is exactly what he is suggesting.
The buck rules for the U.P., were put in place to maintain some age classes of bucks that would have a better chance of making it through the winter. Bucks that have been around for a winter or two are the survivors.
Killing buck fawns after they made it through their first winter gets us nowhere. Killing off the few buck fawns that survive this winter and would be yearlings next fall, would be the last thing you would want to do from a sustainable deer herd perspective.
This is why U.P. Whitetails has pushed, "Let-em-go, Let-em-grow", for the last 25-plus years and not, "If it's brown, it's down".
We can't control what winter brings on, but three things we can control are:
We can control the take. With the new license package, hunters can purchase a true, one buck tag, or our current combo, (which protects approximately 75 percent of yearling bucks).
The average 2-year-old buck brought to the check stations in the U.P. has 7.2 points. Which means a hunter could put either of his combo tags on it.
We can control predators. It's not just what they kill directly. When deer are jumped on a daily basis, they burn up their fat reserves long before winter is over. This has a compounding effect on winter mortality that dramatically increases winter losses, fawn numbers, low birth weights, etc.
We can control winter habitat. The new license fees allow for substantial increases in monies for habitat work in deer wintering complexes. We need to make sure that these monies are spent in ways that will do the most for the resource, when and where it will do the most good for the herd.
Sustainability is what we need to strive for. It's not about you, the individual, or what some hunters want to be able to do, it's about the resource, the deer herd itself, comes first.
Support for the U.P. buck rules was at 59 percent last yr. This does not mean that 41 percent want to go back to the old rules, because a number of those, want to further restrict the take.
In the latest, Miichigan Deer Harvest Survey Report, (2012), those that hunt in the U.P. had the highest buck success rate, highest hunter satisfaction, most satisfied with the number of deer seen, number of bucks seen, most satisfied with the number of deer harvested, and had the most support for the U.P. buck regulations.
I'm not sure what that says about the deer hunting in rest of the state, but it is the largest survey of its kind in Michigan and can't be brushed off.
In the same Michigan Department of Natural Resources surveys that Mr. Smith quotes, the questions that got the highest support were: concerns for the number of bucks, and the number of mature bucks.
The U.P. Sportsmen Alliance and U.P. Whitetails did surveys around the U.P. and the super majority wanted bucks to be managed for 3 1/2 yrs. old. You simply can't get there by killing more of them when they are young.
The U.P. Deer Advisory Team spent a great deal of time looking at various options for buck management here in the U.P.
It was decided that the rules we have now, help with getting better age classes to our bucks, in the least restrictive way to hunters. No one said that our buck kill would go up, but the ages of bucks harvested, has gone up substantially.
These are bucks with meat on their bones. We have gone from yearlings, (1 1/2 year old) making up two thirds of the take, to being less than one third. We have a higher percentage of 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 year old bucks in the herd than we have had in many years. These are the deer that are going to survive and bring depth and stability to our deer herd.
In any kind of stressed population, you try to take pressure off the animal, not increase it.
Editor's note: George Lindquist of Negaunee is a trustee of Upper Peninsula Whitetails of Marquette County, a member of the U.P. Deer Advisory Team and is active in numerous conservation organizations.