2016-11-10 / Outdoors

Muskegon man’s buck part of biggest island haul in 18 years

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

MIKE SMITH of Muskegon shot this 14-point buck during the North Manitou Island Deer Hunt. MIKE SMITH of Muskegon shot this 14-point buck during the North Manitou Island Deer Hunt. Mike Smith of Muskegon missed the 2015 North Manitou Island deer hunt — but he made up for it this year.

Smith took home the trophy of this year’s 33-deer harvest — a 14-point beauty of a buck shot in a clearing near the center of the island.

“That’s the largest deer I’ve ever shot,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that came into play with this. It was a whole ordeal of sorts.”

Including a career change.

“I retired from the military and moved home. We went to come on the trip last year, and my mother-in-law passed away in Texas so we canceled the absolute night before getting on the boat. Well, this year we tried again and actually made it here, and the anniversary of my mother-in-law’s passing was the day I shot the deer. I got off the phone with my wife, found the place, sat down and was sitting there thinking about everything — and it just walked out. I was like wow. This is a pretty emotional day.”

SAM TUCKER of Coldwater shows off the 9-point beauty he took from the northwest side of the island. SAM TUCKER of Coldwater shows off the 9-point beauty he took from the northwest side of the island. The 14-point was one of 19 bucks shot during the Sunday-to-Sunday trip, which was delayed one day due to windy conditions on Oct. 29.

Hunter participation and harvest totals both increased this year as 75 hunters made the trip, the most since 2003 when 86 crossed the passage.

The 33 harvested deer, meanwhile, were the most since 1998 when 52 were taken. Last year, 49 hunters tagged 32 deer, including 21 bucks.

Phil Akers, chief ranger with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, said this year’s harvest total may grow, as one group with a boat stayed back Sunday. Deer season on the island officially ends Nov. 13.

“It was a pretty smooth hunt,” Akers said. “Maybe a few less ticks this year. When you would go in and look at the deer, they had considerably less ticks on them, which was nice. Ticks are out there, but it seemed like a little lighter than last year. Last year was bad.”

One hunter, Hunter Ruggles of Ludington, said he probably had about 20 ticks on him throughout the week, including one in the middle of his back.

But hunters had few complaints after stepping off the Mishe Mokwa at about 11:20 a.m. on Sunday, even if the weather was a bit warm for some.

“They’re always worried about their meat going bad,” Akers said. “There were a lot of trees down this year, so it was a bit harder for folks to get around with their buck totes, and the leaves were pretty green. The guys who have been coming for 20 years or more remember a time when they would go out and the leaves were down.

“The world’s changing a little bit as far as that goes, and for sure that was the biggest complaint: The leaves were impeding their ability to see the animals. But it was pretty active, for sure. For them to get 33 with 75 hunters, I think there’s still quality bucks out there, and does just alike.”

Don Andersen, who lives near Traverse City and participated in his 20th island hunt this year, took home a nice 8-point but said a lack of rain made the hunt a bit challenging.

“The leaves are like Corn Flakes,” Andersen said. “You can’t sneak up on ‘em.”

Another one of the beauties taken from the island was a 9-point shot Monday near the Pole Bridge by Sam Tucker of Coldwater.

Tucker said he first saw a fawn, then a doe that kept turning its head back toward the woods. The buck followed shortly thereafter.

“Broad side, about 40 yards,” Tucker said. “I was tickled pink.”

Akers said Smith’s deer and Tucker’s deer were “very different bucks,” but that the neck of Tucker’s buck was “swollen as could be.”

“It was the biggest deer I’ve seen out there as far as body mass and strength,” he said. “And the 14-point was just very unique because it was non-typical; it had an extra tine.”

Learn more about the North Manitou Island Deer Hunt by visiting nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/nmihunting.htm.

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