The headline this week was that the 2014 deer harvest was down across the state by significant amounts.
The DNR blamed the lower numbers on bad weather and a shrinking deer herd.
The bad weather in the Upper Peninsula was two really horrible winters in a row, resulting in a lot of winterkill and sending hunter harvest numbers plummeting by 30 percent to 40 percent.
Northern Lower Peninsula numbers were down 10 percent, partly because of harsh winter weather.
And southern Lower Peninsula success was down, the DNR suggests, because the herd hadn’t rebounded from the epizootic hemorrhagic disease outbreak of the long hot summer two years ago.
Hunters took 329,000 deer in 2014, down statewide 15 percent from 2013.
But that isn’t the number that should worry us.
More significantly, I think, the number of hunters was down by a substantial number as well. Remember when the woods turned orange in November because 800,000 people picked up firearms and went looking for venison?
About 615,000 people hunted Michigan deer in 2014, down 7 percent from 2013. About 12 percent fewer people bought deer hunting licenses last year as compared to 10 years earlier.
If there is good news, it’s that the there were increases in the number of licenses bought by older and younger hunters. The bad news is that hunters between the ages of 14 and 50 aren’t participating.
The increasing number of older hunters, the DNR figures, is due to the aging of the population in general. Unfortunately, as baby boomer demographers assure us, that can’t last forever.
The increasing numbers of younger hunters isn’t necessary the greatest news either. The change there is mainly because the DNR keeps changing the rules to sell licenses to younger and younger hunters. Yes, more 10-year-olds are hunting deer, but the number of teenagers helping manage the state’s deer herd declined last year.
It matters for a number of reasons.
Keeping hunters returning to the woods have preserve and protect our sport. When both hunters and non-hunters see deer hunting as a mainstream activity – that is, when it seems like everyone is doing it – then the public in general supports what we do. When it becomes a fringe activity, anti-hunting groups have an easier time convincing voters and officials that what we do is unnecessary.
And it is necessary. Weather is a totally unreliable tool for managing deer numbers. And it’s cruel.
Hunting feeds families but also keeps deer from suffering from diseases like VHS, slowly starving to death in the winter woods, or catapulting themselves into car-deer collisions.
And hunters need to step up their responsibility, too. The DNR sets antlerless quotas in hunting units based on good data and sound science. Yet in many management units last year, antlerless license quotas were undersubscribed.
We can’t help the DNR create a balance, well-distributed deer herd if we don’t hunt. And we can’t do it if we don’t take the management of antlerless deer seriously.
Hunters can apply for public land antlerless licenses through Aug. 15.
Contact Michael Eckert at email@example.com, (810) 989-6264, on Facebook @michaeleckert or on Twitter @michaeleckert.