HOUGHTON - After what can best be described as an off year for whitetailed deer hunting in 2009, favorable weather conditions both in the long- and short-term could lay the groundwork for a better hunt in the 2010 firearm season, which begins Monday.
A series of factors combined to make for poor hunting in 2009, in particular, two years of long winters and an unusually warm opener.
However, a mild 2009-10 winter has led to a fawn crop above average and bolstered the health of the animals that were already out and about last year.
There was lots of natural food available for U.P. deer this summer, which should be great for rack development as hunters head into the woods for Monday’s firearm deer opener. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
In addition to the hospitable living conditions, conditions for deer's natural food were prime.
"It was a very good fall, lots of natural food out there on the landscape, especially acorns and apples," DNRE wildlife biologist Bill Scullon said.
Just enough rain fell during the summer to keep grasses and plants growing, which should mean that the older bucks out there have had means to develop good racks, Scullon said.
At 50 degrees and above, deer aren't burning enough calories trying to stay warm for outside feed to be necessary. Even the lunar phases were conspiring against hunters, as Scullon said the fact that a full moon came near the opener meant the deer could see enough for a midnight snack and avoid the commotion caused by the thousands of hunters making their way into the forest.
"Deer get spooky, so they start moving around at night instead of the daytime," he said.
With this year's traditional Nov. 15 opener falling on a Monday, hunting pressure is expected to be a little lower at the start.
If the weather stays cool and snow predicted for the weekend accumulates, conditions could be ideal.
"It would help if we had temperatures in the 40s and some tracking snow," Scullon said.
One new regulation hunters should note is that it is now legal to take a coyote during firearm deer season, provided that the hunter has a furbearer or small-game license.
However, anyone who takes aim at a coyote must be very careful.
"People have to distinguish the target clearly, because you cannot shoot a wolf. Understand there will be ramifications if they make mistakes," Scullon said.
Wolves are significantly larger (70 pounds or more) than coyotes, which typically max out at 40 pounds, have a small, pointy head and muzzle and travel with their tails down.
"They're a more dainty animal in comparison," Scullon said.
Successful hunters who wish to register their deer with the DNRE can do so at McLain State Park or Porcupine Mountains State Park but should call ahead. Checkers will be available at the DNRE's Baraga office during its normal hours and from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on the first weekend of the season.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.