Firearm deer hunting opener: Dollars or deer, it's still big bucks

Tuesday’s warm firearm season opener brought in plentiful big bucks of varying kinds — deer and dollars.

Despite a DNR news release claiming only tens of thousands of hunters in the woods, the numbers were likely much larger — closer to half a million licenses sold. The economic benefits run to over $2 billion a year.

“It’s been a good opener,” said Russ Mason, DNR wildlife chief. “We’ve seen a lot of good deer. ... I saw some real dandies in Eagle and DeWitt, 10 points, a lot of mass, big bodied. I saw one atypical that was absolutely spectacular.”

Pat and Gary’s Party Store in Indian River reported that its biggest buck as of 6:30 p.m. was 196 pounds and the smallest was a four-pointer that weighed 99 pounds. At noon, the store was slightly ahead of last year’s pace, said owner Gary Lang.

As of Monday night, 506,318 unique licenses and 1,063,242 kill tags had been purchased, according to Mason.

It’s a boost to the economy, but not as big as it could be. Those numbers represent roughly a 3.7% decline in tags and a 4.3% decline in individual hunters from last year. It’s an anticipated decline.

“It always happens when we have a mid-week season opener,” Mason said.

This downturn in sales drastically affects the DNR budget as well as retail sales, but Mason says hunters are attached to that date.

“Hunters have had their opening day in Michigan on Nov. 15 since 1927, and surveys say they prefer to keep it that way,” Mason said. “Sixty-three percent of young people said that they liked the Nov. 15 opener despite the fact that they can’t go because they hunt primarily on weekend. Other states that try the weekend opener see a blip, but it’s transitory. It doesn’t produce a sustaining change in participation.”

Tom Knutson, owner of Knutson’s Sporting Goods in Brooklyn, hosts an annual buck pole. By late afternoon, he said there were 40 deer on the pole, down from the 100 or so at that time of day during last year’s opener, though the 2015 opener was on a Sunday.

Knutson says that mid-week openers cut deeply into his profit.

“I think if you were to ask people specifically whether they would prefer a Saturday or a mid-week opener, they would invariable answer Saturday,” he said. “I think I calculated that we won’t have another Saturday opener for another decade due to leap year.”

Mark Copeland, general manager of Jay’s Sporting Goods in Gaylord, skipped hunting Tuesday for his hot tub, but says that the archers make up much of the losses that come with a mid-week opener.

“Sales have been excellent,” he said. “The day before opener is essentially our black Friday. Bowhunters came in steadily over the weekend trying to get their hunting in before firearm opener, so it still turned out pretty good despite the mid-week opener. The one thing hunters were all wishing for was colder weather. That would have boosted their success and ours. Winter clothes aren’t moving so well.”

Deer hunting seasons

Through Nov. 30: Firearm

Dec. 1-Jan. 1: Bow

Dec. 2-18: Muzzleloading

Dec. 19-Jan. 1: Late antlerless firearm

(2016 © Detroit Free Press)


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