GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - It’s not revered in the same way as firearm deer season, but legions of hunters are expected to go afield today for the opener of Michigan’s small game season – albeit in fewer numbers.
Hunters, especially young ones, appear to be a dwindling breed.
“Everyone did it, but nowadays you have competition from cell phones and games; kids are distracted by the games,’’ said Vic Havens, owner of Frank’s Sporting Goods in Morley, which has been doing business in Mecosta County since 1939.
“Typically we’d be fairly busy, but today I’ve only had two or three hunters come in,’’ Havens said Thursday morning. “I’d say the small game season has been in decline.’’
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources estimates about 150,000 hunters will go afield during small game season, a 20 percent decline from 2007.
“Generally, we’ve had a decline in small game hunters and it’s leveling off,’’ said Al Stewart, an upland game bird specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“Hunting is a great opportunity to get outdoors and you can still play Pokemon Go,’’ he added with a laugh.
The DNR is looking to reverse, or at least slow the decline in hunters by offering discounted licenses to kids through its Mentored Youth Hunting program which eliminates the minimum hunting age in Michigan.
And it is touting what it expects will be a good year for several small game species. Sept. 15 is opening day for squirrels, rabbits and ruffed grouse.
Cottontail rabbit populations are good across the state; fox and grey squirrel numbers are at moderate to high levels and the cyclical population of ruffed grouse is on the rebound.
“People come from Georgia, West Virginia and other states primarily for our grouse,’’ Stewart said. “We’re number two or three in the nation for grouse harvests.’’
Michigan is also the nation’s leading state for woodcock hunting, but for that you’ll have to wait until Sept. 24. Fall turkey hunting also got underway Thursday in some areas of the state, but requires a special license.
The annual small game season pumps millions of dollars into the local economy, with the average grouse hunter spending about $235, Stewart said.
Getting a handle on how many small game hunters are out there is difficult because of a 2013 change in how licenses are sold.
People wanting to hunt specific game must now buy a base hunting license for $11 followed by a license for specific type of game. The base license, however, is good for small game hunting.
“If you want to go deer hunting you have to buy a base license and then a deer license, so the base license is really our small game license,’’ DNR spokesman Ed Golder said. “Previously, we sold these separate small game licenses. So there may be people who buy a base license who don’t hunt small game. They do so in order to get their deer license.’’
Michigan’s regular firearm deer season opens on November 15; deer archery season commences Oct. 1.
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