Like many avid outdoorsmen, November 15th is a national holiday worth celebrating. This year was no different. Unlike most mornings, getting up at the crack of dawn was no issue for me today. It was long awaited. I was eager to get in the woods before daylight to hear the raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels, but more importantly, the see the deer scurrying along the fence rows. I sat for five long hours and not a deer in sight. Was this going to be a fruitless day? As my mind began to drift, I suddenly heard movement in the distance –12 turkeys. Now, anyone who understands deer hunting knows that turkeys are very weary birds — and deer use them to their advantage. Not long after, a group of six does and one buck were approaching. Now being from central lower Michigan, there are many farm fields packed with hunters, essentially World War III. My cousin was in a tree stand a couple hundred yards ahead of me. The deer began to cautiously trot closer and closer. Shortly thereafter, I heard a single gun shot. And within seconds the group came charging near my vicinity. Letting out a couple grunts, I was hoping to lure in the big eight point buck I saw a few days prior during bow season — but no such luck. However, there was a large doe which stopped dead in its tracks. I quickly pulled up my 12-gauge and took a 60 yard shot. Down goes the doe! My heart was racing — this was my first successful kill of the year. I waited 15 minutes before climbing out of my stand to check on the deer. Forty yards from where my doe laid was the big buck I was initially out to get. My cousin dropped it instead. After dragging then both out of the woods and dressing them, we proudly showed our harvested deer to our grandpa. It was indeed a good day!
Understanding wildlife diseases is also an important concept for all hunters to grasp. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is no different. This disease attacks the lymph nods and brain of deer, which in turn slowly kills the deer. Well, I live in the region where this is a serious problem. So after we were done taking pictures, we headed over to the nearest DNR check station in Eagle Township. To test deer for CWD, they cut off the head and send it to a lab for further testing. When the DNR biologists test the head, they take the lymph nods from behind the ears, as well as brain matter, and check for unwanted bacteria. With CWD, it is recommended that you not eat the meat. Also at the check station, the DNR will provide you two things: 1) a patch that shows you had your deer tested, and 2) an orange slip that identifies the specimen number which allows you to track the test results online. Luckily, my doe tested negative. However, if your deer does test positive, the DNR will provide you another deer tag to fill.
This entire process was a good learning experience for me. First, there are only a handful of counties in Michigan of which CWD has been documented — and I happen to hunt in one of those counties (Clinton County). Second, it allowed me to talk with other hunters who were getting their deer tested, and hear some of their interesting outdoor experiences (although I’m sure the turdy point buck is still on the prowl!). And finally, it showed me the true dedication that the Department of Natural Resources has to Michigan’s great outdoors. Their enthusiasm and willingness to share their knowledge to our youth is nothing short of exceptional. Last fall, I was privileged to job shadow a DNR wildlife biologist (Chad Fedewa) at one of these check stations. Mr. Fedewa taught me how to cut the heads off, how to determine the age of the deer, and much more. Needless to say, the day flew by and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience.
Graham Smith – YCC member, Lyons