OSCEOLA COUNTY -- It's unclear why, but the state saw 100,000 new deer hunters in the 2020 season. That statewide growth is also seen when comparing the increases in licenses for Osceola County's number from 2019 to 2020, according to data from the Department of Natural Resources. Ashley Autenrieth, deer program biologist for the DNR, said she does not remember the last time the state had a jump in new hunters to this degree. "Our license sales certainly painted one picture," Autenrieth said. "We ended up about 5% over what we were last year but we had 100,000 new hunters. That's everything from first time license buyers to apprentice license buyers, etc." But she said there are a list of questions to seek answers for in regards to the 2020 hunting season. "It will be up to us to determine are these brand new hunters to the sport, are they youth hunters just coming in or are they adults just that had time this year's and decided to take this up?" she said. OSCEOLA COUNTY BY THE NUMBERS For 2020, Osceola County saw an increase of 0.3% in deer license customers compared to 2019, as of Nov. 22, 2020, DNR data. Osceola County had 4,406 deer license customers as of Nov. 22. A person can purchase more than one deer license per season. Compared to its neighbors, Osceola County was on the higher end of the spectrum as far as increases in deer license customers. Most of Osceola County's neighboring counties also saw an increase in deer license customers from 2019 to 2020: \u2022 Clare County: 3.8% \u2022 Lake County: -0.39% \u2022 Mecosta County: 6% \u2022 Missaukee County: -0.7% \u2022 Wexford County: 2.8% REGION, STATE TRENDS As of Nov. 22 data, the state had a 45% increase in apprentice license buyers. Compared to the previous year, the state had a 14% increase in female customers buying licenses as of Nov. 22 data. The state also had an increase of about 68% in first-time license buyers, as of Nov. 22. Autenrieth said the DNR does not know why there was an increase in new hunter numbers, but it is asking questions to better understand. The DNR is asking hunters those questions for its deer hunter harvest survey which shows posted results of the findings in late spring or early summer on the DNR website. Autenrieth said they are asking about topics such as: "Did the pandemic, (and) having these changes to our society increase your likelihood of buying? Did you stay home or hunt closer to home?" "We are trying to determine why that happened. We're happy it did in terms of new hunters, but we don't exactly know what was driving it," she said. But while the state saw more in license sales, the DNR deer check stations had significantly fewer visits. "(That's) not a huge surprise because we had fewer hours, fewer check stations overall just because of the nature of the pandemic," Autenrieth said. "We just wanted to make sure that the public and our staff were as safe as possible. So of course that meant minimizing our presence essentially." She said they also are lacking a good idea on how many deer were harvested for the 2020 season. Normally the DNR can get a better picture of whether the deer harvest was the same, increased or decreased compared with the previous year based on check station data. "We really don't know this year," Autenrieth said. "That's a lot of factors looking into that. We don't know if people did come to check stations because we had decreased our days and hours, or if they were in light of the pandemic not wanting to risk any sort of exposure, or maybe they were staying home or closer to home, and so those we would normally see up north didn't go north this year. There's just a ton of unknowns this year." Autenrieth said northern Michigan saw fewer people traveling to the region to hunt compared to normal. Last year saw more local hunting compared to usual, she said. "Which isn't a surprise. I think it was the day before firearm season opened, the governor's address was basically the modified stay at home order was announced," she recalled. "We feel pretty certain that that likely had an impact on hunters' plans." CHANGES IN WHO HUNTED Aside from the new hunters, the state also saw more women and more youth. "Female hunters went up significantly. A jump this big we weren't expecting, but we actually do anticipate female hunting numbers to continue to increase." While Osceola County's breakdown for women and men hunters was not readily available, the numbers for the state are. They show women made up nearly 11% compared to the almost 90% men accounted for of all deer hunters last year in the state. Autenrieth said the expectation is that women will account for about 20% of the hunting community in the next decade. "They went from 1% to eventually 20%," she said. "That's really significant in our opinion, and it's something we want to work more on in terms of making sure that we're engaging with female hunters and that we understand what their needs are and differences between what male hunters might say versus what female hunters." Part of that change means the DNR expects to see the number of men participating decrease while the number of women continues to increase. Overall, this could mean that the state loses roughly 25% of its hunting base in the next 10 years but that there is an expectation of female participation going from 10% to 20% in that same timeframe. Herald Review Editor Bradley Massman contributed to this report.