ESCANABA — U.P. Whitetails Association co-founder Alan Ettenhofer has hunted deer for 50 years.

He says many people are aware that the Upper Peninsula deer herd is struggling, but there may be limits to what any of us can do about it.

“Old Man Winter is the main killer (of deer) for us up here,” Ettenhofer said. “The actual hunters are second, so we need to look at what our winter kill is, (and) our habitat, which we’re working on.”

A Bark River forester says big changes may be coming for deer management in the next few years and the DNR wants to work with the public to determine what those should be.

“I think we can, first, commend the Michigan DNR for doing the emergency lifting of the supplemental feeding (ban) for this year, which is a huge help in order to sustain our huntable population,” Cannon Forestry Resources owner Shawn Cannon said. “I think in the future, we may look at, or hopefully, as hunters, maybe seeing that ban lifted earlier.”

One hunter told the Delta and Menominee County DNR Sportsman’s Coalition that after paying $120 for firearm licenses this year, not only did he not take any deer, he didn’t even see any deer.

A DNR staff member said during the meeting that about 70% of hunters who set foot in the woods can expect to leave them at the end of the season without taking a deer. Ettenhofer has been in that group every season for more than 15 years now, but he says that doesn’t bother him.

“Just because you buy a license doesn’t mean you have to actually kill an animal,” he said. “It’s the recreational time, the family time, getting the kids out in the woods; that’s our big thing. The object of taking the kids out and taking them on the youth hunt and then leaving them home during the regular deer season, that’s the wrong way of going about it. We want to see the family unit.”

At a Marquette sportsmen’s meeting Wednesday, the topic of eliminating the late archery season came up.

“It will not make a bit of difference to get rid of that late bow season,” Ettenhofer said. “There’s so few people that actually use it. Those people are also trying to cut out the second weekend of muzzleloading season. There again, it will not make a bit of difference for the overall herd.”

Habitat inprovement may be the biggest thing we humans can do to help the herd recover. An increase in license fees has also allowed the DNR to make more than a million dollars available for habitat grants this year.

“(Those monies) go towards improving not only public land, but private land,” Cannon said.

“We’ve got a long (way) to go,” Ettenhofer said. “We only started, but that is going to make a heck of a difference for our kids and the future of hunting.”

Muzzleloader season began Friday and lasts through December 14th. Late archery season continues through New Year’s Day.