2018-12-06 / Outdoors

Observances point to firearms deer season on par with those in past

By Alan Campbell
of the Enterprise staff


BOB WHEELER of Leelanau Township harvested a big buck that was chasing a doe. BOB WHEELER of Leelanau Township harvested a big buck that was chasing a doe. Tim Lyon is perplexed that more successful hunters didn’t bring deer into the Traverse City service center in exchange for “successful harvest” patches, but the dropoff may not be a reflection of the overall success for the 2018 firearms season.

Lyon, a wildlife technician with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, reported that only about 153 deer have been checked at the Traverse City station, and another 88 were checked at the Kalkaska station. That compares to 171 and 120 deer that were checked by this time at the two stations in 2017.

“Why that is, I’m not exactly sure,” said Lyon, who said the overall deer population appears to be compatible with previous years. The state years ago discontinued the use of in-field surveys to estimate deer herd size.

Hunters who have checked in deer have reported positive experiences hunting — but that’s somewhat expected, Lyon said.


LILY JULIAN waited until the last days of the firearms season before tagging a mature doe in Kasson Township. She is a student at Glen Lake High School. LILY JULIAN waited until the last days of the firearms season before tagging a mature doe in Kasson Township. She is a student at Glen Lake High School. “When people come into a check station, typically they are happy. They’ve seen deer, they’ve harvested deer ... but we do have some who come in who said they have seen more deer in the past,” Lyon said.

Typical complaints include the advent of antler point restrictions — antlered bucks must have at least one side with three points to be legally harvested in most of northwest Michigan — and liberal issuance of antlerless deer tags, Lyon said.

Bob Wheeler’s observances over the firearms season point to a herd about equal in size to previous years. The Omena hunter saw two does on the evening hunts of Nov. 15 and 16 — the first two days of the season — but then harvested a buck estimated to be at least 4 1/2 years old at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 17.


BEN BAKKER needed help dragging a 235-pound buck out of a swamp in Leelanau Township. BEN BAKKER needed help dragging a 235-pound buck out of a swamp in Leelanau Township. “It seems like all the good bucks I’ve gotten are between 10 and 2 o’clock,” Wheeler said. “I’ve gone out since then, probably four or five times, and not seen anything. It seems like it’s shut down.”

Still, he believes the deer herd is at “about the same population” as previous years. He pointed to six bucks that were hanging earlier at Hallett’s Camp near Omena as proof.

Wheeler, owner of Wheels Construction and Remodeling, must have a knack for tagging mature bucks with untypical antlers. Two years ago he killed a nine-point with a double beam on one side.

In 2018, it was a buck with a misdirected antler point.

“It’s not busted, it’s bent. It’s funky where it comes off the beam. This one looks like it got hit or in a fight while it was in velvet,” Wheeler said.

One day after Wheeler connected, Ben Bakker downed an 8-point while hunting low ground in Leelanau Township.

“It was heavy,” Bakker said. “It took several of us to drag him up the hill and out of the swamp.”

Bakker did take his deer to the MDNR field office. It weighed 235 pounds and was estimated to be 5 1/2-years-old.

The firearms deer season ended Friday, but that doesn’t mean deer are safe from hunting. The late archery season resumed on Friday, and the 10-day muzzle loader season starts tomorrow.

Then a late antlerless firearms season will be held from Dec. 17-Jan. 1.

Lyon encourages hunters to get out and fill their tags.

“The deer are still moving, and we’re still seeing them in the fields,” Lyon said. “Personally, I like to get out during muzzle loader season. I think they are not as nocturnal. There is ample opportunity to get out for deer, especially with that late antlerless season.”

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