Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Deer For Benzie & Grand Traverse Counties

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It’’s rather sad what has happened to the whitetail deer populations in Benzie and Grand Traverse counties. Deer numbers are low, buck numbers even lower, and the area has some fairly heavy hunting pressure on holidays and weekends.

Years ago, deer numbers in both counties (which I still actively hunt) were much higher. A good bit of my hunting in Benzie County was near Point Betsie which is now off-limits. I used to hunt the sand dunes south of Empire as well, but no more. Used to hunt along the Platte River but that has fallen on hard times.

Leelanau County used to provide a buck every year or two, and many came from long-range rifle shots from one sand dune to the other. Now the sand dunes have many other hunters, and going there to hunt just doesn’t seem anything like it once was. Hunting some of the juniper clumps near Glen Haven isn’t the same as in bygone days.

Am I taking a tour on the pity pot, feeling sorry for myself because some of my favorite hunting areas are not like they used to be? No, it’s not that way at all. I cherish my memories of hunting those areas but the draw isn’t there.

Grand Traverse County, where I live, has a major shortage of deer. Areas that once supported fairly large numbers of whitetails have fewer animals every year. They aren’t being killed off, but the animals are running out of quality habitat. I plant food plots to help the few deer that roam through my land, and it makes me feel good to do it.

However, one of my favorite haunts from 30 years ago is gone. Big money came in, built a bunch of houses, and many acres of good agricultural land that used to host a decent deer population has disappeared under a canvas of blacktop and cement. The land now available for wildlife has almost vanished.

Wexford County was another favorite spot. I used to hunt the Anderson Creek area and the High Rollways along the Manistee River, but no more. Others have moved into the area from downstate, and now it is their favorite hunting spot. Sure, there’s state land or hunting on my personal property or that of a friend with 80 acres.

He’s kind enough to let me hunt, and I appreciate it, but I’m never comfortable about putting up a tree stand on his property. He’s often busy, and doesn’t have time to show me his boundaries. Far be it from me to hang a stand only to discover it’s just across the line on the neighbor’s land. Not good.

I’ve looked for land to lease, enough land to afford me the freedom to have a half-dozen stands so I’m not locked into hunting the same spot day after day. The land either offers poor habitat or is too expensive.

My wife and I leased 300 acres in Missaukee County for 15 years. It was fairly expensive, but when my father grew ill and moved in with us, it became nearly impossible to get away to hunt. We reluctantly gave up our lease. We don’t miss the one-hour drive down and back every night, and especially once we get into December with all of the snow and icy roads.

We hunt almost every day in one place or another in all the counties listed, and we’ve uncovered a few good spots that can keep venison on our table but we wonder how long it will last. Will this be the last year before the landowner puts the property up for sale and we go back to looking around? Life is a gamble at times, and finding good land to hunt is getting mighty difficult.

Paradise up north is getting crowded, and that’s OK ... up to a point. What chews up land are the little two-acre or five-acre plots of land with a No Trespassing sign where it was once possible to hunt. Many of my great turkey spots from 15 years ago are nothing more than a dim memory now.

I love this area, and so do thousands of others. There’s room here for all of us to enjoy our outdoor recreation, but year by year it becomes more crowded. One wonders, as I frequently am wont to do, what Traverse City will be like 20 years from now. I certainly hope they don’t change its name to Paradise Lost.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/18 at 05:11 PM
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