Although the bulk of the big bucks bagged in our state during the fall of 2010 are bound to come from the state’s four southernmost tiers of counties in Region 3, as they usually do, counties in the U.P. — Region 1 — are poised better than ever to give the south a run for its money.
Last winter was a record mild one in the U.P., with less than normal snowfall and one of the earliest spring breakups on record (early to mid-March). So little snow fell in the southern half of the U.P. that deer in that portion of the region were not tightly yarded as usual.
Nutritional stress during winter is one of the major factors that holds many U.P. bucks back from experiencing their best antler development. After a tough winter, spring greenup is usually delayed, too, so it takes bucks longer to recover from the effects of winter, hampering maximum antler growth. Neither of those conditions played a role this year. Due to an early spring, greenup was also early and so was antler development.
For the first time I can remember, I saw adult bucks in the U.P. with a good start on their antlers by late April instead of mid-May. The antlers of one 4-year-old buck that I’ve been watching were starting to fork by the end of April. Growth was at least two weeks ahead of schedule. The early start on antlers in the U.P. should give racks a major boost this year, and the same thing is true for bucks in the northern Lower Peninsula.
Winter was not the only season that was mild in the U.P. Last fall’s gun deer season was much warmer than normal, the result being no snow during most of the last two weeks of November. The warm weather reduced daytime activity of deer along with hunter success. The end result is a good carryover of adult bucks into 2010 that should all be carrying terrific sets of antlers this fall.
How do I know there is a good carryover of bucks in the U.P. from 2009? I saw some of them. I bowhunted during late December and saw more bucks than I normally do. I saw four bucks in two days, two of which had already lost their antlers. In another area, I saw four more adult bucks during winter. With the mild winter and early spring, those bucks should have survived along with plenty of others that avoided hunters last fall.
Even though deer hunting conditions were tough in the U.P. last fall due to less than ideal weather and reduced deer numbers in some areas, those who hunted hard and were persistent still managed to do well. Vern Hansen from Marquette is a perfect example. Hansen, a serious bowhunter, continues hunting with bow and arrow during gun season. He arrowed two mature bucks during 2009, one of which had antlers large enough for Pope and Young entry.
He got the 130-class 8-pointer at around 2 p.m. on Nov. 17 in north Marquette County. Hansen said he hadn’t seen a deer for 16 days when he climbed into his tree stand around 1 p.m. on that day. But he continued hunting because there were some large rubbed trees in the vicinity that he was sure had been visited by a trophy buck. He had only been in position about 10 minutes when an 8-pointer with a 16-inch spread walked by.
Vern passed that one up, convinced it was not the whitetail making the large rubs he had seen. The fact that he had taken a 4 1/2-year-old 7-pointer in Iron County earlier in the fall made it easier for him to let that buck go. Forty-five minutes later, the much-bigger 8-point buck responded to some doe bleats that Hansen made.
The antlers on the big 8 had a 19 1/2-inch inside spread and the deer had a dressed weight of 196 pounds. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment aged the buck at 5 1/2 years, according to Hansen. Even though Vern knew the rack was big enough for both state and national records, he didn’t bother having it officially measured. And I suspect there are a significant number of book bucks bagged in the U.P. every year that are not entered in state records.
Two of the highest-scoring bucks bagged in Michigan during 2008 were shot in the U.P., for instance, but one of them was not entered in state records. Bob Vitton from Hancock collected the 17-pointer in Houghton County on Nov. 21. The antlers grossed 201 1/8 and netted 195 2/8. The rack was measured while at the taxidermist.
Another non-typical from Luce County that netted a couple of inches more than Vitton’s was entered into both state and national records. The lucky hunter was Bill Rushford from Newberry, who got that 14-point, 197 3/8-inch buck on Nov. 27.
The 2008 firearms season was the opposite of 2009, with plenty of snow over most of the two weeks, making bucks more vulnerable to hunters. The Vitton and Rushford bucks clearly show what the U.P. is capable of producing. If weather conditions are more favorable for hunters in 2010 than last fall, expect to see more whoppers from the Northcountry.
There are book bucks in every U.P. county, but those where the odds of connecting are the best include Menominee, Delta, Iron, Dickinson, Schoolcraft, Houghton and Keweenaw. Dean Hulce operates a commercial deer camp in Menominee County. He said that although total deer numbers seen by his hunters was down during 2009, the number and size of bucks they saw and shot was up due to healthy antlerless harvests in previous years. He said they took 12 bucks out of his camp, one of which was 5 1/2 years old and another 4 1/2. The remaining antlered whitetails were all 2 1/2. He expects even better buck hunting this year.
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