Upper Peninsula Deer on the Rebound

By Glen Wunderlich


Michigan’s Upper Peninsula can sure provide a level of solitude many deer hunters seek.  It was always known for its big bucks and, although the herd contained fewer deer per square mile than land downstate, deer hunters were drawn to the North country, nonetheless.  I became one of them.

Over 30 years have passed since my first deer hunt in Iron County and much has changed.  Deer numbers are down substantially, as well as the number of hunters pursuing them.  In fact, conditions had worsened to the point that some officials were talking about closing the season completely in the recent past. 

The multi-faceted decline can be attributed to many factors, but the dominant determination as to the herd’s size and health is driven by the winter weather.  When harsh conditions extend well into the spring of a given year, whitetail die-offs can be staggering.  And, when such weather persists for a number of seasons, the results can be even more devastating to the general deer population.  That’s what has happened, but there’s reason for hope.

The past two winters in the U.P. have been relatively mild, and according to wildlife biologist, Brian Roell, of Marquette, hunters – and, especially locals – are very pleased with the state of the herd this year and with the prospects for the future.  The reason is simple:  They’re seeing and taking more deer this year.

Biologist Roell credits Mother Nature first of all, but adds that a rule prohibiting taking of antlerless deer during archery season has helped the herd, as well.  If you are wondering just how much difference a few good years have made, consider that the Marquette deer check station reports a whopping 70-percent increase of deer checked compared to last year!  If we are to look at buck-only figures, they’re up 67 percent and compared to the 10-year average it’s up 13 percent.  And, although final tallies are yet to come, Roell indicates the deer kill in the entire U.P. may be as much as 30 percent higher, but again, this is only a preliminary estimate.

I had to ask Mr. Roell about the effect of depredation by wolves on the herd, since the ban on hunting the predators was put into place a few years ago and remains a battle for the courts.  He indicated that an outbreak of distemper has hit the canine community, but at the same time it has not been population limiting relative to wolves.  Wolf counts have been stable over the past four years and the DNR will update population counts this winter.

In any event, Mother Nature holds the cards for the promise of the future of the U.P. deer herd and the continuance of good news for our Yooper friends.

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