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Into the woods - Michigan's firearms deer season starts today

sandhill crane
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Hunter Gabe Van Wormer walks in the woods a few days before the start of firearms deer season.

Today across Michigan many businesses are closed, absenteeism is up and even state legislators are taking the day off. This is Michigan’s unofficial state holiday, the first day of firearm deer season.

Hunter Gabe Van Wormer and I recently went walking through some woods just north of Lansing. The area is hemmed in with suburban neighborhoods. But there are deer in these woods.  

"It’s a nice little thicket back here…there’s a bedding area where there are some deer back in this area," Van Wormer says as we climb a small hill, "What I’m doing is looking for some sign…maybe a scrap or a rub where the deer left their calling card if you will.”  

As we walk, Van Wormer says hunting for him is about being in nature. He says its also about family.  

“My dad got me into it about 20 years ago…and actually before that he was taking me out into the tree stand with him and deer blinds…tradition runs strong in my family," says Van Wormer.  

Van Wormer says he’s looking forward to bringing his two young sons out hunting with him next year.  That’s good news for the state officials in charge of hunting in Michigan.  They’re concerned not enough young people are taking up the sport. That has a few ripple effects, one of them being economic.   

Rodney Stokes is the director of the state Department of Natural Resources. He says the two week firearm deer season generates about a half billion dollars for the Michigan economy. 

"And this creates jobs. It creates economic opportunity," says Stokes, "A lot of people say the two weeks of firearm deer season…in many of the small businesses in our state…it equates to Black Friday after Thanksgiving…(in the way) it brings economic opportunity into those small communities.”   

“This is just one of our coolers…I have got four coolers here," says Bret Griffis. The owner of the theJerome Country Market, located US 12 in Hillsdale County, is showing me around his business.   

“This cooler alone will hold 600 deer….and you can see a few of the deer carcasses we have hanging there," says Griffis.  

During the fall, the Jerome Country Market’s team of butchers will process about 4,000, up to 350 a day at the height of deer season. Griffis says deer season represents about 50 percent of his business. 

"So we rely on the deer season to kind of get us through …over the hump and through the slow months that are coming," says Griffis.  

During the first two days of firearm deer season, the deer are not just in the store. The market features what it calls the state's largest buck pole, where Griffis says up to 200 bucks will hang, to judged and prizes will be awarded.  

Hunter Gabe Van Wormer expects the deer he’ll harvest this fall will feed his family into July.  

Back in the woods, Van Wormer and I stumbled across a pair of young bucks.  The two darted from their hiding place in some high thickets. But one paused. 

“He doesn’t want to leave...he keeps looking down in that thicket…because I’m assuming he’s got a doe down there," says Van Wormer.  

The deer stands still for a few moments, then bolts to the relative safety of a clump of trees. 

"There he goes….very cool," says Van Wormer in a low breath, "It’s always neat to see deer in the woods.”   

That’s something the more than 600,000 licensed deer hunters would also like to see during the next few weeks.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.