Deer harvest numbers down 15 to 25 percent

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NORTHERN MICHIGAN — Initial figures from the end of the 2009 firearm deer season show a 15 to 25 percent drop in deer harvested in Northern Lower Michigan, according to Department of Natural Resources deer program leader Brent Rudolph.

Rudolph said numbers also showed a decrease of 10 to 20 percent statewide.

Rudolph said a combination of factors could have lead to decrease in harvest numbers including a harsh winter last year, and warm temperatures during this year’s firearm season.

“We underestimated the winter in some of the regions,” he said.

Rudolph said that last year’s winter could have killed off fawns, which could have decreased this year’s potential amount of yearlings.

“Yearlings typically make up a huge portion of the crop,” Rudolph said.

Severe winters could also force does that are poorly nourished to have stillborns or abandon their fawns.

“We always expect that in the U.P,” Rudolph said of the winter impacts. “Effects are more scattered in Northern Lower (Michigan).”

The warm temperatures experienced by hunters this year also potentially impacted the harvest numbers.

“It wasn’t the best conditions,” Rudolph said. “Deer don’t have to move very much in mild weather.”

He also said that spotty acorn production and still-standing corn could have also had an impact on this year’s harvest numbers.

“The corn harvest was around 35 percent by Nov. 16,” Rudolph said in a DNR press release received prior to an interview with Rudolph. “In an average year it’s 80 percent. So it’s likely that some deer never left the standing corn. That may become apparent during the muzzleloader season.”

The DNR used information collected from deer check stations and information collected from conservation officers’ observations while in the field to monitor the season’s success rate. However, the closure of many check stations led the DNR to calculate the harvest rate in a different fashion than it did in prior years.

“Because we operated so many fewer deer check stations, we could not utilize the models as we have in previous years for our preliminary estimate of the firearm season harvest,” Rudolph said in the press release. “But we'll have solid numbers next spring after the mail survey is completed and those are the numbers we use for making management decisions.”

Rudolph said the model used in previous years recorded the correlation between the early numbers reported from the check stations and the final numbers received from the hunter survey, so early indicator numbers could be plugged into the model to predict a final estimate.

A final report based on responses from the hunters survey is expected to be finished around April 2010.

Rudolph said these numbers are used to potentially affect future hunting regulations, and that is why the reason the harvest numbers went down is important.

“Did the decrease seem to reflect fewer deer (in the herd)?” Rudolph asked. “Or, could we have more deer slip through if it was due to the mild weather?”

Though the exact reason as to why the harvest numbers went down is still unknown, Rudolph said it was unlikely due to the bating restrictions in the Lower Peninsula.

“We’re still trying to get info on compliance on bating,” Rudolph said. “Baiting doesn’t always have a big impact on firearm harvest.”

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