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Traditional northern deer camps fading? Hunters take aim south

A 1952 photo of P.H. Tison with a buck he shot near Hillman. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
November 03, 2010 - In the 1950s, Goodrich resident Larry Tison recalls making the four hour trek north to deer camp via M-15 before I-75 was built.

"We camped in trailers, tents and even in the back of cars," said Tison, 67. "There were years when it would snow and the temperature would drop below zero. We've had as many as 15 hunting in the Hillman area—cousins, nephews, uncles or brothers— we all went up there."

Around 1950, P.H. Tison, the father of Larry, first started hunting on a tract of state land on the east side of Montmorency County known as the Long Swamp part of the Truax Creek basin. The dense northern swamp included a section of standing water, which Larry said always seemed to have plenty of deer.

Tison, along with about 400,000 hunters statewide, will participate in the firearm deer season which opens Nov. 15.

"We'd hike back about a half mile from the camp—sometime we'd use waders to get there. You could hear the deer running through the water or cracking the ice. There were other hunters back there, sometimes you'd have to compete for a good spot."

"When we first started hunting the schools were closed on opening day of the season and the small town of Hillman was full of people," he said.

"The first few days of the season it sounded like World War II out hunting—the hunting pressure moved the deer around. We were very successful, too. In 1989 we took nine bucks among 11 hunters in our group."

However, in recent years the number of family members making the trek north and the hunting pressure in the northeastern Michigan hunting area has waned, said Tison.

"We just see fewer hunters in the area besides many of the family going in other directions rather than coming to camp," he said. "I think many are staying in the southern counties. There's plenty of deer downstate. The small town of Hillman along with other northern Michigan towns are like ghost towns on Nov. 15 now. There's just too many other options for hunters rather than firearm deer season."

Rudolph said the DNR has opened up a host of hunting choices, including archery, muzzle-loading and cross bow seasons, in addition to early and late deer hunting.

"Even with the choices for hunters, the numbers are still slipping statewide. Couple that with the poor economy, plus it's a long drive up north, too," he said. "Hunters are simply staying closer to home in the southern parts of the state where there are more deer."

Rudolph said when hunters don't participate, deer just are not pushed around.

"Deer are going to have less motivation to get them up and move—they hear a few shots and will just stay put in the heavy cover."

As for hunting in the southern tier of counties this year, Rudolph said last fall the corn harvest was late—with plenty of standing corn in mid-November.

"Now much of the corn is cut so deer hiding places are gone."

Rudolph reported that deer numbers in Oakland and Genesee counties are about 20-25 per square mile, compared with 15-18 deer per square mile in the northern counties.

"Folks should see more bucks this year—there's plenty of food, and the conditions are favorable for a great season."

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