DNR biologist expects good UP deer hunt

ESCANABA — Opening day for firearm season is here and hunters in the local area can expect a good hunt, but should also keep the Department of Natural Resource’s chronic wasting disease sampling effort in mind.

Karen Sexton, a wildlife biologist at the Department of Natural Resources office in Escanaba, said the deer forecast this year looks good for local hunters.

“This is shaping up to be a really great season,” Sexton said.

She said the DNR is able to predict how the deer numbers for hunting season will look based on the previous winter and past data on deer herds. Last year’s winter was typical, but bordering on severe. Sexton says that means some local areas will see a reduction in the harvest, but overall the deer herds in the U.P. look great.

For the south central U.P., which is the southern part of Delta County, southern part of Dickinson County and the majority of Menominee County, Sexton said the deer herd is looking strong because there was a lower snowfall in this area.

Sexton mentioned that during bow season local hunters were reporting many mature buck sitings.

With the recent announcement of the first case of CWD in the U.P., the local DNR has put its focus on the sampling effort.

Sexton said the sampling effort is important so the DNR can understand more about CWD in the area — if the CWD case in Dickinson County’s Waucedah Township was an isolated matter or if multiple animals in the area have CWD.

“We are relying on hunters to give deer heads for sampling,” Sexton said.

A roughly 10-mile core area has been set up, centered in Waucedah Township. Specialty disease control permits have been offered to landowners within a two-mile radius within the core area to help the DNR with their sampling efforts.

There are drop boxes at department facilities within the core area and expanded CWD surveillance area. Sexton said there are nine different drop box locations and the boxes are self-service so hunters can submit their deer heads at any time. She said the boxes have CWD survey tags and instructions for hunters.

The DNR will collect the samplings from the boxes and send them to a diagnostic lab in Lansing where the tests are completed.

“When hunters are removing the head, we want about two to three inches below the jaw-line,” Sexton said. “Give a bit of the neck to help with the testing.”

She said the tissue that is collected for the testing is within the range of the neck and the base of the skull. Sexton mentioned some of the deer head samples already submitted were tough to get sample tissue from because hunters were cutting really close to the base of the skull.

When it comes to the sampling effort, some hunters have been curious on what to do if they want to keep the antlers. Sexton said if hunters want to keep the antlers when they submit the deer head for testing, the hunter can cut the antlers off.

She said if hunters want to submit the deer head for testing, but also want to do a more traditional taxidermy mount where part of the skull is used, to contact their local office to make arraignments. Sexton said the wildlife staff will work with the hunters to get the samples needed.

If hunters see a sickly deer, the first step should be to contact the local DNR office so the wildlife staff can interview and determine if a disease control permit is needed or not.

Sexton said there are more reasons than just CWD for a deer to look sickly, a rough winter being one of them.

“In the last few weeks there has been an increase of awareness,” she said. “We have issued three permissions so far and there were no positive results.”

Hunters can find check stations and keep up-to-date on the current CWD case by visiting michigan.gov/CWD.

Clarissa Kell can be reached at ckell@dailypress.net.