In today’s society, instant gratification is virtually nonnegotiable. We want it, and we want it now, whether “it” entails grabbing a burger from McDonald’s or speeding down the highway on your way home from work. Simply put, we don’t like to wait around for stuff anymore. If we don’t have to, we won’t.
That attitude has trickled down to nearly every aspect of our lives, including deer hunting. Growing up, the U.P. looked to me like a paradigm of the great outdoors. It was brimming with wildlife, a special, almost mythical quality surrounding all it had to offer. Nowadays, the U.P.’s accrued a slightly less glowing reputation. People seem to think the deer population has depleted. As a result, the droves of hunters flocking across the bridge have steadily dwindled. What those hunters don’t realize, though, is it’s not the deer count that’s changed; it’s them.
Despite the collective thought circulating among hunters that the U.P.’s no longer the glorious hunting ground we once believed it to be, the reality is actually quite the opposite. In fact, the deer population is on the rise, especially after two consecutive years of mild weather. The conditions are gradually turning in favor of a spike in deer numbers, thanks to mild winters and early springs, which experts believe to be a major contributor to food sources and lower predation. As a result, stress levels for the herd reduce, and we’ve got a lot more bull’s-eyes to choose from in the forests of the U.P. The Great Lakes Echo cites the words of wildlife biologist Terry McFadden, who works with the Michigan Department of Natural Resource’s Marquette Operations Service Center, saying that “no matter what sort of weather comes between now and spring, I expect a substantial increase in deer populations.” In fact, McFadden predicts “more incidents of deer damaging crops and property.” If there are enough deer to munch on crops, there should be plenty available to fill the crosshairs of U.P. hunters.
With twenty-five years of hunting experience in the U.P., I’ve collected an arsenal of techniques that allow me to take full advantage of the U.P.’s stellar opportunities for sportsmen. Because I’ve focused most of my hunting in the eastern region of the U.P., namely Mackinac and Chippewa counties, I’ve adapted some specific skills that are most beneficial in those particular areas. To start with, my U.P. hunting experiences have always been premised on pre-season scouting. Over time, I’ve noticed that there are pockets of deer, meaning that deer signs and sightings can be abundant in one area, but just seven or eight miles away, be sparse at best. It’s only through pre-season scouting that I’m able to catch on to these important patterns of behavior.
These pockets change over time, thus necessitating annual preparatory scouting. If hunters expect to go back to the same spots year after year, expecting the same results, they’ll be disappointed with the lackluster results, not to mention they’ll be eliciting the beginning symptoms of insanity. I’ve come to understand, just how imperative it is that I familiarize myself with my hunting area as much as possible before embarking on a hunt. I’ve learned the hard way the difficulties in attempting to navigate an area with which I’m barely familiar.
With the advent of technology have come a slew of developments that can ameliorate the sometimes tedious and time-consuming task of pre-season scouting. Family and work commitments don’t leave a whole lot of time for repeat trips to the U.P., though preparatory work is practically mandatory in order to have a successful hunting trip. These new tools allow a more hands-off approach to scouting. The game camera, for instance, can be checked minimally, while still giving you a realistic picture of how many deer are hanging around your hunting area. Instead of making educated guesses as to the amount of deer around your blind, the game camera provides an actual photo of potential mounters for you to drool over. So while pre-season scouting is important in order to ensure a good hunt, there are tools out there to make it a little easier and less stressful.
I run a small outfitting and guiding company in the eastern U.P., and I often hear people say that they want to come to the U.P. to hunt, whether for the first time or for one of many trips, but they can’t justify running up there to scout, maybe bait, and then hunt. These numerous trips can become a hassle that detracts from the joy of the hunt. In fact, one hunter in particular remembers the multi-generational hunting trips that were a tradition among him, his father and his grandfather. He was the first generation to pull the plug on the annual U.P. deer hunts because of the excessive costs involved. It simply became too much of a struggle to fund the transportation costs for the multiple trips prior to the hunting excursion. For situations like this, outfitting businesses such as my own provide a solution, allowing those who don’t have the time or resources to scout and bait to still enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Pure, unadulterated nostalgia-filled fun without the pesky preparatory details is possible with the help of an outfitting business.
Deer hunting has become a lot like the rest of our lives. We can watch one successful hunt after another on TV, but going out there for yourself and attempting to snag a worthy buck is quite another story. I continue to cherish the twenty-five years of hunting I’ve shared with my dad. From our big breakfast each morning to our shared stories around the dinner table, the worst part of the whole trip was heading south across the Mighty Mac on the way back home. I look forward to making those same memories with my own son as well. Now that I share my camp with clients, I’ve found most of them want to create the same type of memories as their father or grandfather did, without having to make several trips up north before the season even begins or, conversely, coming up short because of the lack of pre-season scouting. For these people, taking the outfitter route is especially ideal.
A typical day in a deer blind in the U.P. may not rival the influx that occurs in the L.P., as it usually consists of a couple handfuls of deer throughout the day, or maybe just a single deer. It’s that incidence of deer sightings that’s caused hunters to incorrectly assume that the U.P. simply isn’t what it used to be. What’s really going on, though, is that while the L.P. is teeming with deer, as well as hunters as close as one-hundred yards from your deer stand, the U.P.’s maintained all that you remember it to have possessed. It’s still got a solid amount of deer, and it still exists as a hideaway from the oft-overpopulated woods of Michigan’s bottom half.
Sure, deer hunting in the U.P. has its challenges, many of which have chased off some good hunters. In spite of that, the successes are still there; you just have to look a little closer than you’re accustomed. Just a short drive across the bridge, the U.P. exists as a paradise all its own, offering an untouched wilderness and an abundance of wildlife free from the fast pace of the L.P.. It might not be for the hunter who runs out the back door to the neighbor’s cornfield one-hundred yards away, in hopes for a legal buck, but it’s got a flavor all its own that is exactly what some are looking for. It’s an escape for many a hunter, where the biggest worry is enlisting enough help in dragging the latest bruiser out to your pickup. Unlike downstate, the U.P. is still your grandpa’s hunting spot, just as you remember it to be…and that’s a good thing.