UP buck harvest up, but fewer yearlings in the mix, DNR says

BARAGA — More deer were harvested in 2018, but a further breakdown of numbers complicates the forecast for future years, the Western Upper Peninsula Citizens Advisory Council was told this week.

The buck harvest was up about 10 percent from the previous year, said Terry Minzey, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Upper Peninsula regional wildlife coordinator.

However, the percentage of the harvest composed of yearlings was far lower than usual — 17 percent versus a typical average of 45 percent, Minzey said.

Minzey’s first guess was many yearlings had died as the result of a late-breaking cold snap in April, when parts of the Upper Peninsula received 2 feet of snow.

But that hypothesis was contradicted by numbers from the DNR’s deer movement study. Of 28 yearling bucks logged in the Western U.P. on June 1, 82 percent survived until December.

“That’s an astronomical number for bucks making it through a deer season,” Minzey said.

His new interpretation is that April’s harsh winter didn’t kill off the yearlings but reduced their nutritional intake enough to keep their antler growth below the legal harvesting level.

“I was pretty pessimistic as to what we were going to see next year,” he said. “Now I’m confused as to what we’re going to see next year, to be honest with you.”

The state also tracks the number of deer seen by toll booth operators at the Mackinac Bridge. This year’s number was 3,317, up 11 percent from 2017, according to the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

Council Vice Chairman Waaren Suchovsky asked Minzey if toll booth workers asked drivers at the window so that they could include people who processed the deer before returning downstate.

Minzey said the count uses only visible animal carcasses.

“Most of those people that go back home, they want to brag, and they want to show off that animal,” he said. “I’m not sure I’d even eat some of those animals that went back. They’re covered with an awful lot of road grime and salt.”

Minzey said there won’t be numbers on how many people hunted during the season until June.

Garrett Neese can be reached at gneese@mininggazette.com.