2017-10-26 / Outdoors

Anticipation builds for island hunt

Number of applicants reaches 104
By Jay Bushen
Sports Editor

To Lenny McNeil of Lake Leelanau, the allure of a North Manitou Island hunt has much to do with seclusion.

“There’s no place in Leelanau County you can’t hear a motor running,” McNeil said. “On the island, the only engine you hear is from the occasional airplane that flies over. To me, that’s the big draw: serenity and quiet.”

McNeil didn’t mind the unlimited hunting, either. He once harvested three bucks in a two-year span, including a 9-point and an 8-point.

This year, 104 sportsmen have sought permits from the National Park Service — the most since 2003.

The advent of two light winters and recent success on the island may have something to do with the increase.

Sportsmen harvested 33 adult deer in 2016 — including a 14-point buck — the most since 39 were taken in 1998.

And the empty-handed hunters still appreciated a peaceful getaway.

“People enjoy the adventure,” said Phil Akers, chief ranger for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

If there’s one thing experienced island hunters know, it’s that Mother Nature can have a big impact on the adventure. Sometimes she calls for cold, wet, windy or all of the above.

And, for sportsmen, that may not be the most challenging part of the hunt.

“Nowadays, the deer are full of ticks,” McNeil said. “It’s one reason we quit going there. The island just got infested with ticks.”

The National Park Service website warns that the blood-feeding parasites often congregate in tall grass and shrubs, waiting for a host to pass.

McNeil said two women from Michigan State University were conducting a study on North Manitou Island during his last trip.

“They gave everyone a pair of tweezers and a little glass vial to put the ticks in,” he said.

Researchers later sent results of the study back to participating sportsmen, McNeil said, and 48 percent of trapped ticks tested positive for Lyme disease.

“That’s when we decided we don’t want to go back there anymore,” McNeil said, “although now the ticks are just as prevalent on the mainland.

“We might go back. They’ve got a lot of precautions you can take now.”

McNeil said he misses the wilderness experience of the island, something he became quite familiar with.

Prior to his 2-for-3 stretch, McNeil shot one buck in 14 years.

“It’s not easy,” he said, “but it’s a neat experience.”

Hunters will board the Mishe Mokwa for their weeklong trip Saturday morning. They’re expected to return by about noon on Nov. 4.

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