Year of Deer: Early in season, deer hunters thankful for bountiful harvest

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette John DePue, wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources in Baraga, takes measurements of a deer head brought Tuesday to the deer check station in Baraga. The deer harvest appears to be up so far this year, DePue said, based on deer check numbers and anecdotal evidence from hunters.

BARAGA — Five days into the firearm deer hunting season, the deer harvest looks to have rebounded from a series of down years.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, 74 deer had been brought to the Department of Natural Resources deer check station in Baraga, said DNR wildlife biologist John DePue.

“I’d say we’re up pretty big numbers, certainly from the past several years,” he said.

Weather conditions have favored hunters. With snow on the ground, deer are on the move and chasing does more than in warmer years, DePue said.

Snow-covered ground also makes food harder to find, which draws more deer to bait piles.

The bigger harvest also reflects resurgent deer numbers.

“The winters of ’13-14 and ’14-15 were really harsh on the deer population, and it’s taken a few years to recover,” DePue said. “We’re still in the process.”

For the deers brought to the DNR office, DePue takes down a number of statistics. Age of the deer helps the DNR forecast what future deer populations will look like. Measuring the diameter of the antlers can indicate if the deer’s body underwent stress.

There has been a good number of 2 1/2-year-old deer so far, and, even more encouraging, some 3 1/2-year-olds, DePue said.

This year’s crop of deer has also looked healthy, with bigger bodies and more fat reserves, he said.

Deer hunters have been happy so far, DePue said. Admittedly, the unsuccessful hunters do not stop by the deer check station. But the ones who stop by have told DePue they’ve seen more deer than in recent years.

“They’ve seen a lot of action in the woods, and they’ve seen a lot of does,” he said. “They might have killed a smaller deer but had a bigger one on camera.”

After the discovery of a deer with chronic wasting disease in Dickinson County, more people are also voluntarily getting deer heads tested.

Last year, only a handful were sent to the DNR’s lab to be tested. This year there has already been seven collected since the start of opening day. Another six came in during bow season.

One hunter who came in Tuesday afternoon was Jon Henkel, along with his wife, Kate. He brought in two deer shot a half-hour apart on Nov. 15 — a seven-point buck shot at his property on U.S. 41, and a six-pointer shot at Superior Tree Farm.

“I’ve never had one opening morning, a half-hour after daylight,” he said.

“We went home and our son had his up,” Kate said. “We were all in shock. They’re avid hunters, very experienced and very good shots.”

DePue encouraged hunters to get out and enjoy the good hunting conditions.

“Even if you’re not after some big buck, buy a license and go out and spend some time outside,” he said. “Get away from your computer and your iPhone and sit quietly and enjoy the woods that we have in the U.P.”