Thursday, June 25, 2015

Deer Hunting: Southern Michigan vs Northern Michigan

                I have floated my way through many conversations revolving around the difference between Southern Michigan deer hunting and Northern Michigan deer hunting, whether how much different or what differences there are. It’s obvious there are many differences when comparing the two, which is why one produces larger racks and yet the other is more accessible to hunters. There is no specific line where Southern Michigan meets Northern Michigan, but for the purpose of this article, let us say it’s where the corn field’s end and the Jack pines start.
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                 Much of Southern Michigan is covered in crop fields such as corn and beans. As most hunters know, that’s what deer love to eat. On the other side of the spectrum, Northern Michigan has oak trees which produce acorns. Although very abundant, oak trees do not always produce a fruitful crop. When the acorns are limited, the deer are restricted to cedar, twigs, and other browse. Limited food is a common issue in areas of Northern Michigan with less agriculture.

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                 Food plays a huge roll in how deer develop and survive. An abundance of food will give bucks a good head start on antler growth and will also support the survival rate for fawns and for all deer in that matter when considering Michigan’s harsh winters. Southern Michigan’s abundance in food helps sustain a healthy deer herd and sometimes an overpopulated deer herd. Northern Michigan is not so lucky. With limited forage, deer are restricted to browsing the tops of trees and eating bitter acorns, which can be detrimental to the winter survival rates and fawn recruitment. Most of all, it affects antler growth because many bucks cannot sustain a healthy enough diet to reach their true antler potential.
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                 Antlers will start growing as soon as the previous years have shed. Most do not know this because we don’t begin to see the new antler growth until the end of April or later. When a buck sheds his antlers, nutrition greatly affects how fast the new antlers will form. The pedestals on the head begin to form slowly until food is more abundant. How long a winter lasts and food is scares play a huge roll in when a bucks antlers can begin growing at a faster rate. If you have ever driven through Michigan in the middle of April, you can expect to start in the southern third seeing green fields and budding trees. When you get to Northern Michigan, you may still see snow and angler’s ice fishing. Because of an already limited food source in Northern Michigan, the deer must wait until the snow melts to get green forage. This can delay the antler growth process and also affect fawn recruitment.
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                 Northern Michigan has an abundance of public land. Any hunter can take up hunting with ample choices of where to hunt. Southern Michigan is far more restricted for the most part. Getting access from farmers and land owners is harder than it has ever been. This is a big reason why a lot of hunters travel from areas like Sterling Heights to as far as Big bay. This is not to say hunters do not travel to southern Michigan because a lot do have access to hunting land. If I had land to hunt in Hillsdale or Jackson County, I would have no problem traveling and neither would anyone I hunt with. But as access becomes limited, so does hunting pressure. Success rates and average age of harvested bucks can be reflected by the amount of hunters deer see and encounter. A lot of neighboring property owners are now joining forces to start a management program. This is easier to do when their land is most likely already land locked by other private property. In Northern Michigan where public land dominates deer hunting, our management plan is almost nonexistent and at the will of the DNR.

                 There are a lot of variable that affect a deer herd. Weather, nutrition and hunting pressure are just to name a few. I wish I had the number of hunters per county as I would like to speculate on that, however I do not. I am sure it would be relatively close all across the state and can be credited to Michigan’s huge tradition in deer hunting. Whether you hunt Hillsdale County for Boone and Crocket bucks or just take a trip across the bridge for a fun week at deer camp, the purpose is all the same in the end. We love to deer hunt.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Combination Deer Tag Proposal- Michigan Deer Hunting

In Michigan we have an endless list of mixed feelings when it comes to deer hunting, management and ethics. I am firm believer in a hunter’s choice to harvest what he pleases and by any legal standard. With that being said, I have my own standards that I hold to, even on the high pressured public land I hunt in northern Michigan. Michigan as a deer hunting state has produced less than pleasing results in all categories of desired reasons to deer hunt. It has never been more obvious, with every hunter’s best interest in mind; Michigan needs to make a change to our combination tag system as well as the season structures. We need to go back to the roots of our purpose, the reason we are all the hunting enthusiasts we are today.
Michigan brings in about 2.3 billion dollars annually from deer hunting. A big part of this reason is due to the fact that a hunter can harvest two deer in a season and that’s without purchasing any antlerless tags. A hunter can harvest a deer in both archery season and rifle season, or two in either season. This extends our season and instead of just a week or two of hunting, it’s what we do for three months. Although this is great on one side of the spectrum, it is also a problem on the other. Allowing a hunter to harvest two bucks during rifle season, one being an antlered buck with at least one antler three inches or longer, is a recipe for a low buck population as well as an unbalanced heard, which is what we have in the majority of the state already. One solution to this issue would be allowing a hunter to harvest only one buck during the rifle season. We could also instill an antler point restriction for that one rifle tag which is already in place if you buy a rifle tag separately from the combination tag. This would not only allow more bucks to make it through the season, but it would also entice hunters to consider passing less than desired bucks.
Arron Sitkiewicz and Nick Purgiel with a
Public land Ten point harvested in Northern Michigan.
If we cut our combo tag to just one legal buck during rifle season, with antler point restrictions, we could limit the archery season to just one buck of legal size or an antlerless deer. Like I said, I’m a firm believer in a hunter’s choice to harvest what he pleases but we have to meet somewhere in the middle as to favor the majority of hunters. By allowing an archery hunter to have that choice and not have any antler restrictions in the archery season; it will encourage rifle only hunters to consider archery hunting while also forcing trophy hunters to be more selective with their one archery tag.

To sum up the previously listed, we could still have our combo tag and the ability to harvest two bucks in a year. The combo tag would consist of an archery tag that allows you to harvest an antlerless deer or a buck with at least one antler three inches or longer, while the rifle tag would grant us one buck with appropriate antler point restrictions.
I mentioned it briefly before that this system would encourage a hunter to be more selective. Instead of shooting a spike horn on the opening day of archery season, because they have another tag available, they may pass on that buck. But with that being said, I believe any animal harvested with archery equipment is a trophy. I don’t care if it is a squirrel or a doe. For archery season I believe we should leave the choice to the hunter. Let them be the judge as to what is appropriate and what they would be happy harvesting.
Rifle season is a little more complicated. Although many hunters would agree with leaving the choice to hunters during rifle season as well, we have to meet in the middle somewhere between trophy hunting and meat hunting and I think rifle season is the most appropriate place. After Michigan approved every hunter the use of a crossbow during archery season, it has become easier for hunters to participate in archery hunting. Because of this, it makes it that much easier for me to consider stricter laws pertaining to rifle season.
Author Alvin Sitkiewicz with a
Northern Michigan Public land eight point.
I’ve heard ideas of cutting seasons short or completely removing them entirely. Some have even considered not opening archery season until October 10th or later. I feel the results would be very minute from a move like this, as do other hunters I’ve spoken with. I like that we have a black powder season and feel that it is appropriate. Those brave enough to weather the cold should have a second chance at filling a rifle tag with a somewhat restricted firearm.
My only issue that I share with a lot of other hunters is the fact that a youth hunter can harvest a buck during the youth season. Some feel that this season is being abused and that it spoils young hunters that get a chance at some very impressive bucks before any other seasons have opened. Some hunters would like to see the youth season removed entirely. I think the youth hunt is appropriate because it does get young hunters involved while also giving plenty of time between the youth hunt and the prime Rut.
The biggest issue being discussed is the length of our rifle season. I’ve heard some hunters suggest as low as three days for a rifle season. Although sixteen days may be a little excessive when considered in a management discussion, I think Michigan’s rifle season and deer camp traditions are too rich to infringe upon with anything less than a ten day season.
Although I could go on and on about these topics, the problem does not come from a youngster shooting a basket rack eight point during the youth hunt, nor is it caused from a sixteen day hunting season. Those are all minute variables that play a little role in deer management. The real issue lies within the age structure and buck-to-doe ratio. Without infringing upon hunting traditions and participation, we need to formulate a management plan that considers all types of hunters. Michigan is home to over 700,000 deer hunters. Not every hunter feels the same way about deer hunting as the next. Some hunt for a trophy, some hunt for the meat and others just use deer hunting as a gateway to a peaceful day in god’s country. No matter our reason, it is very important that we consider all sides of the spectrum. We need to instill regulations that not only improve our deer herd but also improve our experience when we are afield.

By Alvin Sitkiewicz
Co Founder and Executive Producer of Michigan Gone Wild

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Expandable vs. Fixed Blade Broad Heads

                  When it comes to choosing what broad head you should use for Bow hunting, the choices are endless. So many variables can deter an archer from using one or the other. In my thirteen years of bow hunting I have used both fixed blades and expandable broad heads. I have now rested on using an expandable broad head for the last five years. But what is right for my setup may not be for yours.
                  I can remember when I first heard about expandable broad heads. The biggest selling point was that it shot like a field tip. There is no doubt that an expandable shoots pretty close in accuracy to that of a field point. Any experience I have had with fixed blade broad heads has resulted in buying an extra pack just to sight in my bow. I can’t say this is true for all brands of fixed blades, but in my experience expandable broad heads take the cake when it comes to accuracy.
                 This is a very loose statement when I say fixed blades are better for penetration. I have used some fixed blade broad heads that couldn’t cut through butter. With that being said, I have got my best penetration results with fixed blade broad heads. Not to say expandable broad heads are not getting the job done. Like I said, I have shot expandable broad heads exclusively for the last five years. But expandable broad heads require energy to open. For hunters shooting less than 50 pounds, it can take away some of the kinetic energy needed for sufficient penetration.

  I also worry about expandable’s when a shot gets into the paddle bone on the shoulder. Let’s face it, we are not all Olympic shooters and I will be the first to admit it. Even in the best conditions our emotions can get the best of us. For that reason, even with an expandable broad head, I like to shoot a heavy arrow. I have been fortunate enough to get through that paddle bone on two separate occasions but I have lost deer due to hitting that bone and not getting enough penetration.
  Without retracting my previous statement, I have to add that the expandable broad heads that have hit the market in the last five years, combined with an arrow that delivers a high amount of kinetic energy and a bow that shoots 70+ pounds, can result in some devastating blows. I just favor a good fixed blade over an expandable when I have any concerns about penetration pertaining to the rest of an bow hunter’s setup.
                 Here is where I draw the line. I will mention that the expandable broad heads have gotten a lot better in durability, but I can never count on more than two shots with the same broad head. I have used a couple different models from several brands and still to this day I can’t get more than two fatal shots out of one broad head. Keep in mind I am shooting 70 pounds with a 30 inch draw. 
                 The majority of fixed blades that I have used were never a problem with durability. This is not to say that you will not run into problems with lower end brands. Generally speaking, you will most always find that a fixed blade will be more durable than an expandable in the same price range.
Terminal Damage
            If it sounds like I’ve been hating on all the expandable lovers out there, this one’s for you! Just remember, I use expandable broad heads. Here is why! By far the most gruesome terminal damage I have ever seen has come from expandables. I have witnessed blood trails that Freddy Krueger himself would find terrifying. Without mentioning any brands, there are some two bladed monsters on the market that have been compensating for bad shots since their first pass through an animal. With some brands offering a 2 inch cutting diameter, there is no doubt they will get the blood flowing.

Cost Effective
             Now that my terminal damage rant is over, I can get on to the cost effectiveness. This should have been added to the durability category but I made it one of its own. Being that fixed blades are typically more durable and you can use them over and over, I have to imagine you’ll get the picture on which style is the most cost effective. A solid fixed blade will really only ever need to be sharpened. On the other hand, an expandable will need replacement blades and some even need O-rings to hold the blades in place.
            Whether the cost or minor differences in durability, accuracy or penetration make that much of a difference is up to you, the shooter. If I haven’t said it enough, I shoot expandable broad heads. I’m happy with my setup, but I may try a couple new products, as they are only getting better with each passing year. There are so many choices in the market today. This is just a heads up for what I have learned along the way. Just remember, you can have the best broad head on the market but if you don’t practice with your bow, you may never even hit a deer. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hunter Accountability

There is nothing like the first flush of the year or the last second before you let an arrow fly towards a Whitetail. These are the moments that keep us coming back for years and what also keeps us so passionate about our respected hunting sports. We as hunters also have the responsibility of upholding an ethical image for our sport. As hunting becomes more popular with each passing day, keep in mind the traditions and ethics you must pass on or keep to in order to keep hunting the rich tradition and ethical sport that has made us the hunting enthusiasts we are today.
                                Your Hunt
          If you’ve ever heard the story: “I would have let him walk, but it was the last day of the season.” You probably know that this is in reference to a hunter giving an excuse as to why he harvested an animal that he or she fears others may not approve of. Well I’m here to tell you that we as hunters should not fear what other hunters may think or say. I’ve always told hunters that came to my camp; we do not have any expectations or size minimum. As long as the deer is legal and the hunter harvesting the animal is happy with their harvest, it’s no one’s business as to what another hunters sees fit to harvest?
               I firmly believe in that a hunter’s choice is his own. Like I said, given that the law or rules approve of the harvest, a hunter should be happy with any kill regardless of what others may say. I am a meat hunter first. I will harvest a doe before I shoot a first year buck. Then I am a trophy hunter, but not by any other hunters trophy standards. My personal standards are judged by me and only me. That means when I shoot a Deer, Bear or Turkey, you can bet I am absolutely thrilled with that harvest.
              You owe it to yourself to harvest what you want as long as it’s by your own standards. If you know you are capable of passing on a younger deer or bear, than do so. Don’t shoot an animal you will not be absolutely thrilled about. Your hunting experience will be far better when you can leave the woods with or without your quarry, knowing your standards were met by your own choice.

Respect other Hunters
              We as hunters have the opportunity to share our beloved sports with many others like us. That doesn’t mean that these interactions are all positive. However, there’s no reason they should be anything but sincere. It goes back to elementary school when we were all taught not to treat others any different than the way we would like to be treated. I’ve seen other hunters spot another hunter’s harvest and without hesitating, mention something negative: “Why would you shoot that?” “That’s small!” “Who told you too shoot that!” I can honestly say this makes me sick to my stomach.
Tommy with his first spike horn in the 2013
 youth hunt. Shot with a crossbow!!!!
                When I was in the sixth grade, my father and I participated in the opening day of Michigan’s rifle season. We hunted all morning. Around 3:00 pm I was awoken from a nap by a loud gun shot. My father had shot a spike horn. I cannot tell you how blessed I was to share that experience with him.  My father had gone at least four years without shooting a deer, not hard to do in Michigan where the deer herd isn’t exactly up to par. But my father is also a paraplegic. So getting to good areas to hunt is rather hard with his limited accessibility.   
Are we to expect that every hunter meet the same trophy standards as others? As long as a harvest is legal and the hunter is happy with his or her quarry, shouldn’t we be happy for them? After all, that’s what hunting is supposed to be about. The measure of joyful moments and memories go far beyond the weight or size on an animal.

                                                   Pass it on
             Could you imagine if your father or grandpa had never taken you hunting? I am forever grateful that my father, even being restricted to a wheelchair, still made the effort and time to teach my brother and me how to hunt. We spent many hours staring out the peek hole in the front of the blind that our dad made for us. Maybe once every five times we went hunting did we actually see a deer. That was the best thing that ever happened for my hunting career. It taught my brother and me that hunting was far more than just shooting trophy deer. It was about bonding and spending time together.
             We as hunters not only owe it to the future generation, but also to the sport of hunting to pass on the ethics and traditions that make hunting great. In our lives, we will work hard to harvest our game. We cannot replace those animals, but we can give back to the sport by passing it on. It’s very important that we start and continue to get new hunters involved with sport that we love so much, but to also get them started off the right way. Ultimately, the next generations of hunter’s are the most important for they will carry on the sport we love dearly.
             We as hunters love our respected hunting activities. We spend a lot of money to enjoy the pursuit of the many different game animals of our choosing. We owe it to ourselves, to other hunters and to first time hunters to show this sport the respect it deserves. Whether you are a Deer hunter, Turkey hunter or upland bird hunter, we all have the responsibility of not only being an ethical and respectful hunter, but to also pass the traditions of hunting to following generations. We must put into hunting what we take from it. That is the true goal.