Hunters mull having opener of deer season on a Saturday

Area deer hunters are offering mixed reaction to the state legislature’s proposal to change the start of the firearm deer hunting season from Nov. 15 to the nearest Saturday.

State Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant recently introduced House Bill 4259, which would move the opening day from the traditional Nov. 15 to the Saturday closest to that date.

Ken Roggow of Hersey is among the area hunters who tends to support the change.

“I think it would be good as long as they keep it in the range before they go into the rut,” Roggow said, “as long as they don’t move it up too late, if they keep the weekends in-between the 10th and 15th

Roggow said a Saturday date would mean more hunters on opening day.

“There’s a lot of them that can’t get off work,” he said.

DNR officials note that the firearm season is timed to begin after the peak of the rut, or the breeding season and that bucks are most vulnerable to hunting in early November when breeding with does is all they have on their mind.

Scott Benson, an avid deer hunter and teacher at Pine River High School, wouldn’t mind a Saturday opener.

“I think it’d be a good thing so everyone could plan for it,” he said. “It’d be good for me.”

Benson noted that while area schools take Nov. 15 off, a Saturday opener would insure that he and other school employees would be off for the first two days.

Mary Dettloff, the press secretary for the Department of Natural Resources Environment (DNRE) in Lansing, said her department is not taking sides on the issue.

“We’ve provided the bill’s sponsor with all the information we’ve gathered over the years from hunters’ surveys and other things related to the opening day of deer season,” she said. “We presented him with all the research we have regarding the rut and all the biological reasons Nov. 15-30 is the optimum time for the firearm season.

“It’s the same information we give to the Natural Resources Commission every year,” Dettloff said. “They’re the body that sets the dates.”

Hunters have been surveyed on this issue, Dettloff noted.

“We ask it every two or three years,” she said. “In 2009, 84 percent of the hunters said they preferred keeping it on Nov. 15. So we presented that information as well to the representative and to the NRC. It’ s been (these dates) for decades.

“Our research on that shows if the opener is the middle of the week, say a Wednesday or Thursday, hunters spend more time in the field. They’ll take those days off work and make it a long weekend basically. That’s good for the economy in that most of those hunters are traveling from southern Michigan into the northern Lower Peninsula and hunting up there. That’s good for those communities in the northern Lower Peninsula.”

Dettloff said research also shows that “if the opening is on a Friday or Saturday, we sell more licenses, but hunters spend fewer days hunting.”

Jim Maturen of Reed City, an avid local turkey hunter, is also among the deer hunters who has strong reservations about changing the date.

“We should leave the opener on the 15th alone,” Maturen said. “If you start looking at the calendar, pretty soon it’s going to be a week earlier which will cut into your bow season. People are saying we have less hunters because it’s opening in the middle of the week instead of the weekend.

“I remember DNR stats that say you have hunters hunting longer. If you have it on the weekend, it’s a two-day hunt and everybody is gone. If you have it on the middle of the week, like say it opens on a Thursday, you’ll hunt Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If it’s Wednesday, they might hunt until the following weekend. You have hunters out there for a longer period of time. You have more hunter recreation hours than you do by having a Saturday opener.”

According to DNR historical accounts, the opening season of Nov. 15 to 30 was set in 1925 and continued until 1962. At that point, and up until 1967, the state experimented with Saturday openers and split seasons. The legislature put the dates back to Nov. 15-30 in the late 1960s.

“As recent as 1992, Michigan had 1,171,721 licenses hunters,” Maturen said, citing an article he wrote for his own turkey hunting publication. “By 2008, hunter numbers have fallen to 790, 789. So we lost 390,000 hunters in 16 years. One third of the hunters have disappeared. It’s not because we don’t have a Saturday opener. That Saturday opener might appease some people. But as far as getting more people to participate for a longer period of time, you’re going to have that by having the opener on a weekday.”

Maturen is a retired Michigan State police officer.

“When I was working and I knew Nov. 15 was coming, I made preparations to get that as a vacation day as soon as possible or maybe a week’s vacation,” he said. “If someone is serious about deer hunting, they’ll make that extra effort.”