DNR reports decrease for firearm deer harvest in St. Clair, Sanilac counties

Hunters and the state Department of Natural Resources say the deer harvest is down. (Courtesy | AP)

Hunters and the state Department of Natural Resources say the deer harvest is down. (Courtesy | AP)

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

Hunters and the state Department of Natural Resources are reporting fewer deer killed during the 2014 firearm season compared to last year in St. Clair and Sanilac counties.

Several DNR check stations are experencing a drop in deer checked by this time last year with preliminary numbers showing a 6 to 7 percent decrease through Nov. 30 in Michigan.

“In St. Clair County, we have seen approximately 10 percent fewer deer checked during the firearm season, but hunters have until Jan. 9 to have their deer checked in,” said Joe Robison, a DNR wildlife biologist supervisor.

The estimated number of deer checked to date during the firearm season from Sanilac County is down 28 percent since 2013. Hunters in this county also have until Jan. 9, but Robison said state game biologists won’t have a better assessment until all the data is in around mid-January.

As the chief of the Wildlife Division for the Michigan DNR, Russ Mason said St. Clair and Sanilac counties are not the only areas experiencing a delcine in the number of deer harvested.

With a historic decrease in deer harvest in the Upper Peninsula and a 10 percent decline in the Lower Peninsula, Mason said even states such as Wisconsin don’t have the same uptick in deer population as there once were.

“Those were entirely a function of the two hard winters, as well as the heavy snow,” Mason said. “Some locations could be the lingering effects of EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease). The other factor in southern Michigan could be the high numbers of coyotes, which would explain the decline in the turkey population.”

The drop in the numbers of deer harvested also is affecting hurting local meat processing companies.

Bob Roskey, manager at Jimmy Rankin Meats in Port Huron Township, said he has seen a drop in the number of hunters bringing their deer in for processing.

Roskey said the shop has processed 100 fewer deer than its average — and other deer processing companies have packed up shop early.

“Hunters we were talking to said they have not seen (deer) in the woods,” he said. “As a result all the processors are down in numbers. It’s not something we are doing wrong. The deer count is just down all throughout the Thumb.”

Hunters might not even buy a hunting license if all they are going to see are trees, Roskey said.

“They are not going to spend all that money just to sit out in the woods and see nothing,” Roskey said. “Hunters give back to the economy in a big way. They buy shells, guns and clothes. If they don’t do something to get the deer population back, local businesses are going to suffer.”

Joshua Leach, of North Branch, has been hunting for 22 years and hasn’t seen the deer harvest this low since the mid-90s.

“I know for a fact the deer numbers are down,” Leach said. “I used to see 30 to 60 deer in my hay field. Now I’m lucky if I see two.”

Leach was able to snag a six-point buck on opening day.

He said he isn’t surprised to see a fall in numbers based on the number of doe permits the state sells.

“I know farmers that have shot 30 doe in a matter of two weeks. Since then I see less and less,” Leach said. “I don’t mind buying the permits because I know it’s for a good cause, but we need to find a better way of replenishing the population.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 12, 2014)

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