By DAN SMALLWOOD
Capital News Service
LANSING – Deer Day on Nov. 15 may be a thing of the past if a bill proposed in the House becomes law.
The legislation would change the beginning of the firearm deer season from Nov. 15 to the second or third Saturday of November, whichever is closer to the current date.
Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, says the bill would have a beneficial economic impact by getting more hunters in the field.
A study by Michigan State University researchers concluded that opening the season at the beginning of the week reduces hunter numbers throughout the season.
Cotter said Saturday is the best day to get the most hunters out hunting.
“If you don’t get in the field that first day, your chances are greatly reduced,” he said.
Co-sponsors include Reps. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth; Frank Foster, R-Pellston; Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City; Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck; Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills; and Hugh Crawford, R-Novi.
While past attempts to change deer season have faced steadfast opposition, some groups are now more open to the idea, said Dave Nyberg, the legislative affairs manager for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), the state’s largest coalition of outdoors groups.
MUCC, he said, is studying the issue’s potential impact on hunters and wildlife before it takes a stance on the specific legislation.
“We have to look at the factors,” he said, including biological factors such as the impact on deer populations, “social impact on hunters, and whether it would benefit local economies, if at all.”
Hunters, he said, have long enjoyed the “tradition” of Deer Day and, therefore, have mixed feelings about any change.
And while Cotter acknowledged the tradition argument, he said the state should “balance that idea of tradition against potentially millions of dollars” in economic activity.
“Hunters spend a lot of money in local communities,” he said.
The state, he continued, should make it easier for them to do so, as well as to attract more out-of-state hunters. The tradition argument “doesn’t hold water” when weighed against convenience.
The current economic impact of the hunting economy, Nyberg said, is nearly $3.4 billion at retail, but has an even larger $5.9 billion overall ripple effect.
“If there are valid reasons for moving, we’ll support it,” he said. “But we need to make sure we have all the facts correct.”
Nyberg said one important issue in MUCC’s consideration is Michigan’s lackluster hunter replacement numbers. Michigan has the lowest rate in the country, with only 26 new hunters for every 100 who stop hunting. The national average is 69 percent.
Therefore, he said MUCC wants to examine the potential impact of the proposal on young hunters.
Cotter said reversing the downward trend is a potential benefit because the change would make it more convenient for families to participate.
In addition, the legislation would ensure that the 16-day season spans three weekends.
“I think it’s a winner all the way around,” he said of the proposal.
The bill echoes the current firearm deer hunting season in Indiana, which would start the same Saturday, but would still open well before the full deer seasons in Wisconsin and Ohio.
The legislation is pending in the Natural Resources, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation committee.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.