- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) - Hunters in the Upper Peninsula bagged fewer deer during firearm season but came away with high-quality bucks, state officials said.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said Friday that preliminary deer check station data showed a drop of about 13.5 percent through the season that ended Monday. Wildlife officials predicted a drop after three consecutive severe winters in the region.

“It was a challenging firearm deer hunting season, as anticipated,” David Jentoft, a DNR wildlife biologist at the Sault Ste. Marie Field Office, said in a news release. “The number of bucks being checked is generally down, but check stations have seen a higher proportion of mature bucks coming in.”

Results varied by area: The Escanaba station was down about 25 percent from last year; Marquette increased roughly 20 percent.

Earlier this year, wildlife policy makers approved restrictions to antlerless deer hunting during bow season in the peninsula as the whitetail population plummeted. Short and long-term work also is being done to improve deer habitats.

Officials say the biggest factor for herd recovery is out of their hands.

“While we know deer numbers are low and we have taken several steps to help the herd recover, the most important component will be the weather,” said Ashley Autenrieth, a deer program biologist in Gaylord. “Luckily … we’ve been seeing above-average temperatures and very low snowfall levels. If the trend continues, we should see a milder winter, which would be a great start to allowing the deer herd to recover.”

More than 500,000 people were expected to join the annual hunt statewide. It’s a cultural and sporting tradition but also a big economic driver, generating more than $2.3 billion in spending on products and services including food, lodging and equipment, according to the state.

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