2018-11-15 / Outdoors

Hunters prep for opening day

By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Thank you, Mr. Weatherman.

While that may not be the calling of county residents hoping for a few more weeks of pleasantness, the cold temps and snow that controlled outdoors in Leelanau County over the past week have been a godsend for deer hunters.

It may be enough to save what had been a very quiet archery season, which started on Oct. 1. The firearms deer season starts today.

“I think this weather should stir them up,” said Dave Korson, president of the Northport Sportsman’s Club. “This is leading up to a dandy one, even if temps get up to 40 on opening day.”

Korson is hoping for a repeat performance of his firearms season of 2001, when he downed an 11-point buck that scored 148 5/8ths inch. It was a trophy in any hunter’s book.

“I look at it every day,” he said, referring to a shoulder mount hanging at his home.

Mike Gabourie, manager of Gabe’s Country Smoked Meats at the corner of M-72 and Maple City Road, said it’s been a slow archery season due mostly to heavy winds and rain that have dominated the weather. He was relieved to see snow start falling over the weekend — both in terms of hunters’ luck and his ability to process their harvests.

He recalls wearing a T-shirt in 2017 while quartering deer brought to the store. Gabe’s refrigerated lockers filled quickly, forcing him to turn away deer that Gabourie was afraid would spoil.

“I probably turned away 100 (deer) that we didn’t have room for, so I’m excited with this snow. They don’t have to come in that minute. I can leave them outside where it’s cold,” Gabourie said.

He keeps detailed records. Gabe’s as of earlier this week had taken in 140 deer for processing, compared to 180 heading into the 2017 firearms season. The store’s record is 496 deer, set four years ago. Last season ended up at 483 whitetails.

The snow and rut produced a sharp uptick in business as 10 inches of snow were recorded in Maple City from Friday through Sunday. Gabourie said ten “good bucks” had been brought in over the last week. Three 3 1/2-year-old bucks turned up Monday.

Gabourie anticipates much interest in the firearms season. “I’ve got tons of sausage ordered for deep camps. This morning alone there were 10 guys here getting (sign-up) sheets for processing and wondering if I can get them turned around by Sunday. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this many hunters up here,” he said.

Even Gabourie plans to hunt the firearms opener. He usually connects during archery season, but poor weather here and a last-minute, successful hunting trip last week to Indiana have kept him out of county woods. He joined his nephew in filling out-of-state tags on a relative’s farm in Indiana, a state known for growing large bucks.

“We’ve seen an increase in the last week similar to what Gabe’s is seeing,” said Tim Lyon, a MDNR wildlife technician, after hearing about ramped-up butchering business at the Maple City store. Lyon has been stationed for the past eight years at a Traverse City Customer Service station.

Last year at this time some 51 deer killed in Leelanau County had been checked by MDNR wildlife staffers, compared to only 28 in 2018.

But Lyon isn’t worried about a harvest drop-off.

“We’re seeing deer moving much more frequently, and more during the day. I think we’re going to catch up to that number. I think the firearms season is going to be great,” Lyon said.

The MDNR has heard complaints from farmers and orchardists about crop damage — but at about the same frequency as past years, he added. Over a five-county area that includes Leelanau between six and eight permits were issued to landowners to shoot bucks causing damage to young trees in orchards. Maybe two or three were issued for Leelanau County, he estimated.

But having a permit and filling it are two different subjects, Lyon added.

“To tell you the truth, I think there are a lot of orchardists who want to have these permits but the majority don’t get used,” he said.

Chip Smith, owner of Jon’s Barber and Sport Shop in Suttons Bay, said very few of his clients have been talking about successful deer hunts.

“But as soon as that snow came on it started getting better, and they started rutting from what the hunters have told me,” Smith said.

He was planning to be sitting in a swamp this morning.

“I’m hardly seeing any tracks, but this snow will help. It drives them down low, so they’re ore apt to be in a swamp,” he said.

The firearms deer season extends until Nov. 30.

Return to top