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Open Season: As hunt begins, program protects future deer herds

ONTONAGON – A public-private cooperative effort working to sustain and enhance the deer herd for future generations is underway as deer hunters head to the woods this week.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Whitetails Unlimited chapters around the Upper Peninsula and private landowners have joined in the preservation initiative.

Ontonagon County Whitetails has deer habitat sites throughout the county. One is south of Ewen on Choate Road, and another is south of the village of Ontonagon on Norwich Road. Both places are on sites of former hay fields.

According to Terry Minzey of the MDNR Wildlife Division, the deer habitat area on the Choate Road was a part of a grant program. “The maximum you can get on the grant is $10,000,” he said. “The local sportsman club applies for this grant. They have to have a 25 percent match for them to do deer habitat work.”

“We’re working on preserving the winter deer yards, and expanding them,” said George Lindquist, vice president of Michigan United Conservation Clubs and a member of the group. Other members include large private landowners and the Ottawa and Hiawatha national forests.

According to the DNR, the U.P. experiences high snowfall that requires deer to seek conifer shelter to survive typical winters. Recent consecutive severe winters, declining deer numbers and concerns of winter shelter reductions are the focus of the Upper Peninsula Habitat Workgroup. This workgroup’s mission is to improve and conserve critical winter deer habitat.

The projects in Ontonagon County with Ontonagon Whitetails are funded through the Deer Habitat Improvement Partnership Initiative (DHIPI). This is a separate program from the one that the U.P. Habitat Workgroup works on. However, both are attempting to ensure that deer hunters will have the opportunity for a successful hunt this year and for years to come.

Last year 42 percent of the licensed hunters were successful. Of the 607,113 hunters, 335,000 deer were harvested. About 19 percent of the hunters took antlerless deer, 29 percent took antlered buck, 12 percent took two or more deer of any type and less than 4 percent took two bucks.

Of the days hunting, 49 percent of the time was for the archery season, 40 percent for the firearm season, and 12 percent of the days hunting was spent during the muzzleloader and late antlerless season.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, hunters have decreased since 2006. During a 20-year average, Michigan ranks fourth in paid hunting license holders. Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas are first through third. The average age of the hunter in the Great Lakes region is 43.6, with 86 percent of the hunters being men.

Due to hunter surveys and research, the DNR is joining with volunteer organizations like Whitetails Unlimited, Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the Upper Peninsula Sportsman Alliance in focusing on deer habitat.

“We put $100,000 a year into the DHIPI across the U.P.,” Minzey said.

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